PHOTO ESSAY: Black Drag Royalty Demands Boystown Reparations

In an effort to bring our audience an authentic look into the activism taking place “on the ground,” Rescripted will be periodically featuring protests and highlighting the unseen heroes who are bringing restorative justice to the underrepresented masses.

On June 14th, Chicago drag performer Joe Lewis, also known as “Jo Mama,” organized a queer demonstration that many would consider to be the queer march heard round the world. What began as a protest against police brutality and violence against trans individuals turned into a call for accountability and reparations for the local black drag and trans community. Amidst a crowd of upwards of 1,000 people, some of Chicago’s most prominent black drag performers called for the dismantling of white supremacy throughout the historic Boystown gayborhood. Among the notable speakers were Lucy Stoole, Miss ToTo, Lúc Ami, Tatyana Chante, Zola and Rupaul’s Drag Race competitors Dida Ritz, The Vixen and projected All Stars front runner Shea Couleé. Miss Couleé transfixed the crowd as she told local bar owners and show runners to “make room” for the black drag talents who nurture the livelihood of Boystown but are all the while pushed to the periphery of queer nightlife. Couleé’s speech along with a spoken word piece performed by local trans activist Zola garnered viral status across all social media platforms. As a result, there was a virtual town hall that brought many Boystown gatekeepers into conversation with black drag performers who came bearing grievances. Tatyana Chanté, a local activist who has also organized multiple protest in the Chicago area said that they “hope people are awake now… and committed to being anti-racist” so that “Boystown can actually be a welcoming place for more than cis-white gay men.”

Photos by Christian Bufford

Dear White American Theater: #WeSeeYou Movement is 64,000 Strong and Counting

The #WeSeeYou movement sweeping the nation is asking our theaters for accountability, and investments in anti-racism. The initial call to action was an open letter entitled “Dear White American Theater”  launched at 7pm on June 9th. This letter invited the community to sign the petition in solidarity with this letter on www.weseeyouWAT.com. Since then they have received at the moment of this publishing over 64,000 signatures and counting. In other words, if you don’t know, now you know. This is the original letter that dropped on June 8th, 2020, followed by their statement released today June 10th, 2020.

#WeSeeYou statement from June 10th:

“In reaction to civil unrest in our country, we—Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) theatremakers—formed a collective of multi-generational, multi-disciplinary, early career, emerging and established artists, theater managers, executives, students, administrators, dramaturges and producers, to address the scope and pervasiveness of anti-Blackness and racism in the American theater. Our response was to draft a strong testimonial letter, ‘DEAR WHITE AMERICAN THEATER’, collectively crafted by theatremakers from across the country, exposing the indignities and racism that BIPOC, and in particular Black theatremakers, face on a day-to-day basis in the theater industry. Continue reading “Dear White American Theater: #WeSeeYou Movement is 64,000 Strong and Counting”

Behind The Curtain: Anna D. Shapiro Speaks About Steppenwolf’s Executive Leadership Transition, Board Relationships, the Pandemic, and the Epidemic of Racism

It is no secret that Steppenwolf Theater Company is one of my artistic homes in Chicago. When the news came out about Brooke Flanagan’s appointment for Executive Director, and David Schmitz’s departure to OSF, I was excited and disappointed all at once. David deserves an excellent opportunity such as this, and Brooke seemed highly qualified for the job, but there had been no job search for the Executive Leadership position.

Once during my fellowship at Steppenwolf, Anna told me she saw my value to the institution, and to our field, in my ability ask the hard questions. With that in mind, I made a phone call, at first asking for a conversation, which became an interview. 

Rarely do our leaders seize an opportunity to tell the truth. When controversial decisions are made, I often ask arts leaders if they will sit down and speak to me about their decision-making process. They will always speak to me off the record, for my own education as an aspiring artistic leader. When it comes to going on the record? To date, every single leader has said no. Until now.

On May 27th, we spoke at length about not only Brooke’s transition, but her own transition into the position of Artistic Director, board relationships, racial inequity, the mysterious career “pipeline,” and police violence against Black people.  The world has already changed so much since then. I encourage you to read this in its totality. This is a rare offering of truth, and I hope it invites other leaders to be more transparent in their processes. My questions are in bold, all other responses are Anna’s unedited thoughts. Continue reading “Behind The Curtain: Anna D. Shapiro Speaks About Steppenwolf’s Executive Leadership Transition, Board Relationships, the Pandemic, and the Epidemic of Racism”

Erica Daniels and Board President Steve Miller Resign from Victory Gardens Theater, Board Promises Transparent Leadership Search

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.

 

Victory Gardens Boards Windows Against Black Lives, Arts Community Protests Leadership

If you have not been following the ball of confusion that is Victory Gardens Theater’s leadership transition, let me catch you up:

1) On March 2nd, 2020 over 60 artists sent an open letter to the board asking for a transparent and equitable leadership search which you can read here.

2) On May 5th, 2020 Erica Daniels was appointed Executive Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theater internally after serving as the Executive Director.  There was no transparent search, which caused the community to speak up in opposition of her appointment.

3) The Playwrights Ensemble of Victory Gardens Theater resigned in protest in an open letter originally published on Medium that you can read here.

“How can we do our best work when the basic tenets of trust and leadership are not guaranteed? We are calling on artists, audiences and donors to examine closely what happens when an institution like Victory Gardens Theater purposely ignores the mission it made for itself and abuses the very resources it claims to value and support.” – Playwrights Ensemble of Victory Gardens

4) The playwrights of the Ignition New Play Festival resigned in an open letter originally published on Medium you can read here:

“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.” – The playwrights of the Ignition Festival.

5) The opposition to her appointment revolves around many factors but that are exacerbated by the following professional concerns: Rumors persist that Daniels facilitates unsafe work spaces in the theater per her tenure teaching classes for Profiles and managing Second City. You can read about her involvement with Profiles in the Chicago Reader, and the exodus of Artists of color at Second City was widely reported on, including by CBS Chicago.

“The classes were held at the theater on Mondays or Tuesdays when there were no performances or rehearsals. But Cox knew that studying at Profiles alone wouldn’t be enough of a draw. So he asked his friend Erica Daniels, then the casting director at Steppenwolf and, therefore, a powerful person in Chicago theater, to help out. Daniels, now president of Second City Theatricals, also occasionally cast shows for Profiles, including the production ofThe Glory of Living directed by the fictitious “Carla Russell.” – Aimee Levitt, “At Profiles Theatre the drama—and abuse—is real” June 8, 2016. 

Currently there is a movement happening called #OpenYourLobby asking theatres to open their doors to protestors, and several Chicago theatres have found their lane in helping aid the current resistance movement. Steppenwolf is doing supply runs, the Goodman is opening its doors to protestors, and there are more efforts underway or in the works by our community.

The #OpenYourLobby initiative is especially relevant for Victory Gardens, outside of which protesters were arrested (photo below, Trigger Warning Police Violence). They could have provided a sanctuary space and facilitated a peaceful interaction with police, but the building was empty. As you can see, their marquis says “art will survive,” not “Black Lives Matter” which it was changed to after the incident.

On June 6, 2020,  upon learning that the institution was boarded up, scenic artists decided to lead an impromptu gathering to write messages on the boards that supported #BlackLivesMatter and the artistic community at large.

Below are original images from the protest, taken by me:

“The air is charged with an indescribable emotion. It is something that this world has not seen for centuries. It’s a combination of pride, fire, fatigue, tenacity, and righteous indignation. It is oozing from our pores, onto the streets, and into the hearts of all. This is for Emmitt. For Sandra. For Rekia. For Martin and Malcolm. Get on board little children. There’s room for many a more.”
– Sydney Charles, Actor / Director / Activist.

“VG was an institution I trusted to care about their community. It was one of the first spaces I worked at and one of the first spaces that thought me about the intersections of art and activism. Their recent actions have demonstrated a shift to the VG that I admired. Their recent decisions around their change in leadership sets a dangerous precedent in the American Theatre. I joined the artists and organizers to show solidarity and to demand that VG show us they care about their artists and they care about black lives. Theatre is and has to be a civic institution.”
– Abhi Shrestha, Steppenwolf Education Associate.

“Someone told me that they wanted to ensure my legacy at Victory Gardens would be honored.

I said that legacy does not live inside of buildings. They live in the people, artists, workers, audiences and communities. And wherever they go, the legacy of stories we told and shared will live on in these wonderful people.

That legacy was alive and well on Lincoln Avenue today.

And that legacy now belongs to these incredible citizen artists who will find another home or homes in Chicago to create and to lead where their voices, their skins, their communities are valued, and are treated equitably.

I stand with them.”
– Chay Yew, former artistic director of Victory Gardens Theater in a public Facebook post.

Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Withdraw From Ignition Festival of New Plays

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”

What Have You Done to Help Black People Stay Alive Today? or, Why I’m Not at TCG

Last year I had the privilege of attending TCG and writing almost 3000 words that ruminated on the topic: What is a Theatre Review(er) Good for? 

I didn’t re-read it, because I’m busy, doing whatever the fuck I can to help Black people stay alive. I’m neurotic, immuno-compromised, and generally traumatized but my Black ass is out here keeping supply lines tight and sending bodies where they need to be.  The far more urgent question I have for you today is: What have you done to help Black people stay alive today? Continue reading “What Have You Done to Help Black People Stay Alive Today? or, Why I’m Not at TCG”

To All The Black People Killed Before Me

A Note from the Editor: Bear Bellinger’s voice in the community is critical to me. In a moment where I didn’t know if I had the strength to speak up, I read this essay, initially published on Medium. Bear has given us permission to re-publish it here, and I hope it gives you courage to use your voice, even when you’re scared, like it did for me. Thank you for the reminder that Black Lives, our lives, and what we do with them, matter. In an effort to prevent Bear from doing additional emotional labor, please refrain from reaching out directly to the artist. If you’d like to support, please consider giving directly. Venmo: @BearBellinger

I never expected to still be here.

Some mornings, I shoot up from bed confused, breathless, lost between the dream world I just escaped and the realization that I am still here. My body is whole, my mind is intact, my spirit…struggling.

You see, I occasionally have nightmares of being shot by the police, remixing past interactions with deadly consequences. I dream of KKK rallies and unprovoked bar fights. I dream of danger. I dream of our history. I dream of our present. And, those dreams inevitably end in my death.

You get it.

To be clear: I don’t want to die. But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect to. Continue reading “To All The Black People Killed Before Me”

Two-Month-Old Letter Reveals Artists Called for Transparent Leadership Search at Victory Gardens Theater in March

Below is the unedited text of a letter sent by over sixty artists who had previously worked at or are currently affiliated with Victory Gardens’ Theater. This letter was sent on March 2nd, 2020. Erica Daniels was appointed on May 5th, 2020.  Several of the signatories of the original letter have permitted us to publish their names. 

“To The Board of Directors and Executive Leadership at Victory Gardens Theater,

We are writing as artists and artistic affiliates who have had the pleasure of working at and with Victory Gardens Theater at one point or another in its forty-six year history, witnessing first-hand its great strides as a leader and cultural change-agent in our field. Continue reading “Two-Month-Old Letter Reveals Artists Called for Transparent Leadership Search at Victory Gardens Theater in March”

Mass Resignation: A Letter from the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble

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”