In the wake of Ken-Matt Martin, Eric Ting, and my own resignation from Sideshow Theatre on July 20, 2022, I reflect on the path that led us here. I have not spoken to either of these leaders, and the thoughts and patterns represented are entirely my own unless directly quoted from other publications. This is a two-part essay. The first, “The Fixer: Artistic Directors of Color and Pandemic Leadership,” outlines the institutional and systemic barriers Artistic Directors who are people of color face in this time. This piece outlines the victories these leaders have had, and is an offering for how to create success for incoming Artistic Directors who come from under-represented communities.
This week, three Artistic Directors of color announced their intent to resign from their institutions. Ken-Matt Martin at Victory Gardens, Eric Ting at California Shakespeare Theatre, and myself at Sideshow Theatre Company. Each of us resigned for very different reasons. Inclusive, exciting work has been happening at all of these companies, and continues to happen under the tenure of leaders of color across the nation. It is essential to celebrate the successes these leaders had, discern what systemic obstacles to success are in place, and think of solutions that can provide ease to future leaders.
Not every resignation is or will be a point of pain. Sometimes they are necessary evolution for the artist and the company.
Continue reading “Resigning as Renewal: Visions for Artistic Leaders of Color”
To the Victory Gardens Board of Directors:
We, the past, present and future resident companies at Victory Gardens, are writing to express our frustration at the lack of clarity, transparency, and generosity given to Victory Gardens’ Staff and Resident artists. We stand in solidarity with Ken-Matt Martin, the Resident Artists , and staff members of Victory Gardens’ Theatre. We are equally troubled by this board’s lack of leadership, and even more troubled by its pattern of blatant and ongoing disrespect towards Roxanna and Ken-Matt, and the repeated dismissal of the Playwright’s Ensemble and staff.
Continue reading “An Open Letter From the Past, Present, and Future Resident Companies of Victory Gardens”
The following is an exclusive interview and conversation recorded during the run of Queen of the Night at Victory Gardens. Director Ken-Matt Martin (artistic director, VG) is interviewed by Terry Guest, a multidisciplinary artist who acts in this production of Queen of the Night alongside co-star André Teamer. Martin and Guest reflect on their artistic collaboration on this unique black queer family narrative, written by travis tate. Other behind the scenes insights include Martin’s directing process, his experience with and vision for Victory Gardens, and of course – Beyoncé.
Queen of the Night runs at Victory Gardens through Sunday, March 13th.
Terry Guest: Where do you call home?
Ken-Matt Martin: I think I call home wherever I’m with people I love these days… Because I’ve kind of lived in a way where work took me all over the place. Little Rock, Arkansas is where I’m from, born and raised, very proud to be from there. But I think I call home wherever I am with people I love. That’s my answer.
TG: So how does Little rock affect the art that you’re making today?
KMM: Little Rock affects every single thing that I do. Continue reading “Queen of the Night: Ken-Matt Martin and Terry Guest in Conversation”
Executive Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theater Erica Daniels has resigned, along with Board President Steve Miller. After weeks of artist appeals to the leadership of the theater and the board, they have finally decided to step aside and allow a transparent search.
If you missed the arc of the leadership transition that caused turmoil since early Spring, you can read my latest piece: “Victory Gardens Boards Windows Against Black Lives, Arts Community Protests Leadership.
Daniels’ speaks to the “vitriol” that has escalated and I think it is important to note the violence and victimhood that this statement promotes. When you hurt people of color, and women, by enabling one of the most vicious predators Chicago theatre has ever known, you should expect to be held accountable for it. Labeling it as vitriol minimizes victims’ actual pain, and their efforts to generate healing. I am re-reading “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir,” by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & asha bandele. The title alone makes clear we cannot ignore that this response aims to paint people calling for justice as bullies, or violent, and the reverberating effects of such language.
It will take more than a transparent search, it will take anti-racism efforts from the staff and board from top to bottom. It will take putting people of color in a position to make actual decisions so this never happens again. I look forward to seeing what Victory Gardens becomes in its next chapter.
Read the full statement from Erica Daniels and the board below that was sent to affiliated artists and submitted to us by an anonymous source.
All four playwrights have pulled their plays from the 2020 Ignition Festival at Victory Gardens’ Theatre. Read the full letter below, originally published on Medium.
As the 2020 Ignition Festival of New Plays at Victory Gardens approaches, we four emerging playwrights have decided to pull our respective plays from this development opportunity. We demand that leadership in Chicago theaters dispense with hollow gestures of solidarity, hold themselves accountable for past mistakes, and listen to the needs of their community and artists. Continue reading “Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Withdraw From Ignition Festival of New Plays”
On Friday May, 22nd, 2020, the Playwrights Ensemble of Victory Gardens resigned en masse via a public letter on Medium. See the full letter below.
Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Ensemble:
Luis Alfaro, Marcus Gardley, Ike Holter, Samuel D. Hunter, Naomi Iizuka, Tanya Saracho, Laura Schellhardt
We, as an ensemble of resident artists at this venerable institution, are deeply
disturbed by the notion that our creative home aspires to be a truth-telling temple on its stage, but not in its administration.
This is unacceptable.
The Board of Directors, who are of service to our community, took it upon themselves to eliminate communication with the ensemble, artistic staff, stakeholders and artists who have labored for a decade to build up this theater and its new audience.
For over five months, and after receiving a letter signed by over 60 of its biggest supporters asking for accountability, the board sat on a plan to reorganize the institution.
It ignored the limitless possibility of what the field might have presented in terms of viable local and national leadership.
Continue reading “Mass Resignation: A Letter from the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble”
Paula Vogel’s Indecent now playing at Victory Gardens begins with the cast of performers sitting upstage, almost blending into the set that transports you to an old Broadway style house, outlined with bright lights similar to a marquee. Upon first glance, the set appears to be a deep mahogany. But once the house lights go down, and the stage lights come up, the set is a cool cinder block grey. When the cast rises, ashes gush from the insides of their coats, hauntingly reflecting and foreshadowing the persecution Jews have faced. This opening image is so beautiful, it’s almost dream-like and sets the tone for the rest that will follow. Continue reading “‘Indecent’ A True Story of Breaking Artistic Barriers from 1900s-Present”
No Child at Definition Theatre Company directed by Chika Ike takes an uncomfortable and hilarious dive into the inner workings of arts education in public schools. Nilaja Sun’s play investigates the disparities in our current school systems and its effect on both teachers and students with searing wit and no shortage of laughs. The audience is introduced to the school and its history by the dynamic and talented janitor, played with gusto by debrah kneal. Continue reading “‘No Child’ Sparks A Conversation on Educational Injustice”
Pillowtalk presented at Victory Gardens Theatre was a highly moving, visceral depiction of two complex and vibrant individuals striving to lead successful lives and love one another within the constraints of white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, capitalism. Buck (AJ Moraga) is a print journalist who wants to do “good work” and change the world. Sam (Basit Shittu) is grateful to be employed by the Republicans after losing his shot at being an Olympic swimmer after a public drug scandal. The couple lives in a pricey, one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, NY, represented on stage by a minimalist set built to focus on an untidy, upright bed downstage center. The white apartment walls that flank the bed are creatively represented by two long vertical neon lights connected by a long, horizontal “ceiling” light. Continue reading “‘Pillowtalk’ Examines Love Under Oppression”