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LOOKING BACK: Staff Reflections on Our Year in Chicago Theatre in 2019

The Chicago Inclusion Project has seen a lot of growth and change -- as our community has -- and as we continue to learn from the challenges set in front of us, we thought it fitting to meditate on the last 12 months as artists and as members of this organization...


I'm grateful for the kinds of artists I am lucky enough to connect with. I am grateful for opportunities to get my

artist friends to engage with life outside of the art they make; just humans connecting as humans and not talking about our art. I had a lot of that this year, and I think it's important for our sanity to be intentional about that.

I'm looking forward to directing my first show with Interrobang, writing, more of the above, more TCIP trainings and being surprised by life. - Elana Elyce, Chicago Inclusion Project Business Manager

This year I was thankful for:

  • The generosity of our community: their spaces, their time, their energy, their thoughts, their resources and their talents

  • The opportunity to fail

  • The love and space to learn from those failures

  • Rooms where marginalized artists and leaders could find each other, breathe, share and reassure that we are not alone

  • The brave and inspiring teachers and students who inspired us this year during our professional training series

  • The expanded definition of what accessibility in the arts can mean and the passionate, sometimes difficult conversations that surround it

  • The reminder that we all know so little and that that’s what is so exciting about truly listening to one another

- Emjoy Gavino, Chicago Inclusion Project Executive Director

This year, I was tremendously heartened and thankful to see more and more theatre artists of all backgrounds embracing the power of "no" as a tool for change-- refusing to indulge and cater to the machinations of privilege (obstinately and wilfully wielded by leaders so convinced of their own allyship that they cannot see the forest for the trees). The glorious sound of "NO" has been ringing out in many forms all over Chicago these past few years, growing in volume and scope, in venues big and small: from the lone artist demanding the protection of union oversight before addressing abuses with leadership of an artistic juggernaut; to the creative team driven to call out repeated institutional racism on social media and in the press; to the artist unwilling to remain complicit in allowing antiquated, destructive depictions of their marginalized community to persist in theatrical portrayals, and calling upon fellow community members to lift up their own voices in celebration of their own stories.

I was also very very thankful for the new and growing generation of casting directors who have taken up the mantle of inclusion and run with it, such that I am personally able to take a step back from casting in pursuit of my own artistic endeavors, with the full knowledge that there are now many qualified casting directors doing the work we have championed here at The Chicago Inclusion Project from our inception.

Looking ahead, into the here and now of 2020, I'm excited to see how the growing multitude of voices in our artistic communities will help us evolve into better listeners, better friends, better artists, better humans.

- Stephanie Diaz, Chicago Inclusion Project Grant Writer

There are many things that I am thankful for this year, and many things I’m excited for in 2020 – most of these things fall under these two categories: Unlearning Instead of “is this good or bad?” I’ve been reframing that question to “What can I learn or unlearn from this experience?” We often situate our thoughts into various binaries, but this binary of learning/ unlearning has provided me a space for reflective consideration that challenges me to refract thoughts beyond a binary and towards movement and action. Unlearning has been a very healthy tool to engage my past, present, and future in an active way. I am grateful for this new practice, and excited to bring it into a new decade.

Damage v. Desire in narrative frameworks – This framework around damage v. desire first came into my world through an amazing open letter that Indigenous scholar Eve Tuck penned called “Suspending Damage”. The abstract of the letter states,

“Eve Tuck calls on communities, researchers, and educators to reconsider the long-term impact of “damage-centered” research—research that intends to document peoples’ pain and brokenness to hold

those in power accountable for their oppression. This kind of research operates with a flawed theory of

change: it is often used to leverage reparations or resources for marginalized communities yet

simultaneously reinforces and reinscribes a one-dimensional notion of these people as depleted, ruined,

and hopeless. Tuck urges communities to institute a moratorium on damage-centered research to

reformulate the ways research is framed and conducted and to reimagine how findings might be used by,

for, and with communities.”

This letter challenged me to consider the stories we tell on stage. How can we push to have a nuanced conversation around damage and desire in the stories we tell? I understand the importance of pain in representation, as it offers an antidote to the isolation that we can often times feel in our pain. But I am also curious if damage centered narratives provide a one-sided portrait of various communities. As an educator, I am uninterested in the only representation young people of color or young queer people have being tied to pain and brokenness. I am excited to explore this more in 2020 and to consider for myself my participation in the proliferation of damage-centered narratives.

- Abhi Shrestha, Chicago Inclusion Project Community Organizer

I am thankful for growing through rough times and finding joy in those times and the family and friends who made me laugh and got me through one of the hardest parts of my adult life!

- Jessica Vann, Chicago Inclusion Project Facilitator

I‘m thankful for the amount of times folks said “no” this year. I’m grateful that actors are feeling empowered to speak up and leave dangerous performance situations for their own well being, and I’m grateful for the times the community had their back.

I’m hopeful we can continue to foster a community with more transparency, prioritize each other’s humanity over the product, and honor the immeasurable power that truth & authenticity in storytelling has. Most importantly, I’m hopeful we realize we each individually have the power to make our industry one where none of the above is actually at odds with the ability to turn a profit or move a career forward.

- Arti Ishak, Chicago Inclusion Project Facilitator

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