I am not a journalist nor should you settle for me.
On April 15th, Lowell Thomas released a statement citing his reasons for his resignation under duress at Steppenwolf and the theatre community shared it across all social media platforms. No major media outlets paid attention. Two weeks later, on Tuesday April 27th, I compiled an article that included large excerpts of artist statements that had been made individually by Lowell Thomas and Isaac Gomez. The only person who amplified it was Chris Jones, who said Rescripted, aka I, was calling for divestment and dissent, a mischaracterization of the piece as a whole. The hot take is that I am apparently, inciting a riot (I am not). We will unpack how dangerous this is to say about a group of people of color another time.
Continue reading “Your Journalists Are Failing You”
Steppenwolf has had internal complaints about equity from their staff of color for years, which began to accelerate after The Great Leap when Deanna Myers’ complaints of harassment on the job went viral on social media. In the past year they have struggled to retain their staff of color for a variety of reasons, many having to do with inhospitable job environments, under-resourced shows, and pay inequity. Recently, two artists affiliated with the theatre have spoken to their journeys of navigating and negotiating with this institution. This article includes all three statements from these artists including the essay published by Isaac Gomez just today.
It is only fair to present these separate and yet deeply related arguments alongside each other, in order to ask ourselves what our path of engagement or divestment may look like. It is not a short read, but diligence is required of those seeking justice. Lowell Thomas served as Video Content Producer and resigned from the company earlier this month. Here, Thomas states his reasoning in his own words, posted on Instagram April 15th:
Steppenwolf Theatre Company has committed itself to inequity. Time has revealed that the leadership of Anna Shapiro, Brooke Flanagan, and Leelai Demoz betrays the very people who have helped it maintain its renowned status. It smugly ignores the urgency of the We See You White American Theatre Demands and offers only tepid reflection as a response. It buries claims of harassment, racism, and sexism to avoid accountability and real change. There is no redemption for this kind of leadership. It will continue to exploit its artists and staff under the guise of “grit” while clutching its pearls whenever presented with the harm it has inflicted on others. Continue reading “Divestment and Dissent – Artists Speak Out on Steppenwolf Theatre”
Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s new play development initiative, SCOUT will present A Virtual Reading of Mosque4Mosque by Omer Abbas Salem on Sunday, March 28th at 2pm CST. This free reading is the culmination of a 30-hour workshop process directed by Arti Ishak.
Mosque4Mosque follows Ibrahim, the average 30-something Queer Arab American Muslim. Normal job, quiet life, easy men. Between dodging reminders of how unmarried he is from his relentlessly caring immigrant mother and helping raise his smart, popular, hijabi cheerleading sister, Ibrahim has always found comfort sinking into the background. But when his mother sees a glimpse of what could be his first real relationship, she feels compelled to take Ibrahim’s future into her own hands by seeking out the perfect man for him to marry. Mosque4Mosque is a comedy about a normal Muslim American family that asks us to wrestle with what we believe normal to be.
“I wrote Mosque4Mosque to reimagine my experience with family, religion, and being queer. I also wanted to create a world in which Arab artists felt proud to exist, because I can’t tell you how often I’ve felt ashamed by what passes for our representation. I can’t thank Steppenwolf enough for the support and opportunity to uplift our voices and begin correcting a wrong in American theater.” – Playwright, Omer Abbas Salem. Continue reading “Mosque4Mosque SCOUT Presentation Sets a New Standard at Steppenwolf”
Victory Gardens Theater has found its new Artistic Director in the multi-hyphenate and accomplished producer Ken-Matt Martin (he/him/his). Chicago artists may know him best as the Associate Producer at The Goodman, where he co-created and curated the Future Labs new play development program with Jonathan Green and Quenna Barrett. Regionally, Martin’s resume is just as impressive, beginning with his co-founding of Pyramid Theatre Company in Des Moines, IA, a company inspired by the Black Arts Movement. He served as Pyramid’s Executive Director until 2018, and it is there where his aesthetic compatibility to Chicago becomes clear. At Pyramid, Martin directed Ike Holter’s Prowess, and produced Hooded: Or Being Black for Dummies, both shows that ran to great success at Chicago companies. He then put his skills to action to national acclaim as the Producing Director of Williamstown Theatre Festival where he produced the revivals of Raisin in the Sun directed by Robert O’Hara, Ghosts starring Uma Thurman, and numerous other world premieres.
Continue reading “Victory Gardens’ Incoming Artistic Director Ken-Matt Martin on Leadership and The Road Ahead”
Sideshow Theatre Company is pleased to launch its 2021 season with a one-night-only benefit screening of its 2018 hit You For Me For You, written by Mia Chung and directed by Ensemble Member Elly Green*. The archival recording of this imaginative production will stream Sunday, February 28, 2021 at 7 pm CST via sideshowtheatre.org, as well as the company’s YouTube and Twitch channels. Tickets (pay-what-you-can) are currently available at sideshowtheatre.org.
Sideshow is also partnering with Paramount Catering to offer meal add-ons the night of the benefit. Prices start at $40, including delivery for one person, and meals can be donated to those in need starting at $30. Vegetarian and meat options are available. Sideshow will be providing its own donation of free meals to those in need through Farm, Food, Famlias during the month of March, and the meals patrons donate will be added to this number. Continue reading “Sideshow Theatre Presents ‘You For Me For You,’ Mutual-Aid Food Drive”
Sideshow Theatre Company just announced its 2021 Season, featuring an all-virtual line-up of entertainment. This announcement comes only weeks after the announcement of their new company members. The season kicks-off this month with a one-night-only benefit screening of Sideshow’s 2018 hit You For Me For You, written by Mia Chung and directed by Ensemble Member Elly Green. This summer, Sideshow presents a reading of Preston’s Choi’s new play Drive-In at the End of the World, directed by Associate Artistic Director Justin J. Sacramone and created through “The Freshness Initiative,” Sideshow’s new play development program. Throughout the year audiences can also enjoy the Sideshow House Party Series, five virtual readings by some of the company’s favorite playwrights – each followed by an interactive celebration.
Sideshow Artistic Director Regina Victor states: “The Sideshow Ensemble is excited to have cultivated a season full of curiosity and delight to gather the community in these tough times. Looking at the plays we’ve chosen to present, each one in their own way asks the question: Who am I, and who decides that, really? Power dynamics play out across race, class and gender in unconventional ways across our season, and there’s even quite a bit of magic sprinkled in. I’m so grateful, in this moment of leadership transition and COVID-19, to be able to continue to build upon Sideshow’s legacy of presenting and developing some of Chicago’s most memorable and exciting plays. I really have the ensemble’s artistic determination, and the dedication of my Executive Director and board to thank for that.” Continue reading “Sideshow Theatre Company Announces 2021 New Play Digital Season, Including a House Party Series of Fresh Plays”
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
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”
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”
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.