SWAN Day Organizers Gather at Statera's National Conference

 Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts and Co-Founder of Support Women Artists Now / SWAN Day.

Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts and Co-Founder of Support Women Artists Now / SWAN Day.

In June 2018, WomenArts announced Statera Foundation as the new organizers of  Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day 2019. As part of the transition of SWAN Day from WomenArts to Statera, WomenArts is sponsoring a gathering of key SWAN organizers on Thursday, October 4, 2018 in Milwaukee, WI as part of Statera Foundation’s Third National Conference on gender parity in the arts.

WomenArts Executive Director Martha Richards will facilitate a discussion with leading SWAN organizers from New York, Connecticut, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Kenya, and the Czech Republic.

Although these organizers have often corresponded online over the past eleven years, this will be the first time that they have met each other face-to-face. The goals of this historic gathering will be to share best practices and to find ways to increase the impact of SWAN Day. Richards, in collaboration with Statera’s Creative Director Sarah Greenman, will also moderate a panel discussion about SWAN Day as part of StateraCon on Friday, October 5th.

In a statement, Statera’s Executive Director Melinda Pfundstein said, “At Statera we have been organizing conferences and building our mentorship program because we believe in the power of women artists supporting other women artists by sharing their skills and cheering each other on. Those are the core values of SWAN Day as well. We are so grateful for Martha Richards’ vision and for the support of WomenArts. We are thrilled to be the new organizers of SWAN Day.”

At this historic SWAN Convening, SWAN Day organizers will have a chance to be a part of the leadership transition and brainstorm with Statera Foundation about ways in which SWAN Day can make an even greater impact on the gender parity movement in years to come.

“As SWAN Day starts its second decade, it is wonderful to have this burst of new energy and ideas from the Statera women,” said Martha Richards. “I have been very impressed with their skills and commitment, and I am confident that they will find ways to make SWAN Day bigger and better than ever."

Below is a video with Martha Richards, published in June 2018, about the SWAN Day transition.

Donate to SWAN Day

BIG NEWS: Statera's National Mentorship Program Launches TODAY!

THE WAIT IS OVER!
Today, Statera is officially launching our
National Mentorship Program!


Mentorship is at the core of Statera's mission of taking positive action to bring women into full and equal participation in the arts. After 18 months of beta-testing and refining our regional mentorship program in Chicago, the Statera Team is ready for a national launch! 

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Establishing the Statera Mentorship Program in your community is an incredibly rewarding and exciting endeavor! You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Statera has created materials and resources that will equip you with the tools you will need to create a lasting and successful program. You’ll have access to organizational systems, email templates, the Mentorship Program Field Guide, and face-time with Statera’s National Co-Directors. 

Do you love connecting people? Are you an organized person who is a part of a community of artists? Do you know others in your community who are excited to partner with you to create a grassroots mentorship program? If this sounds like you, then Statera invites you to step into the center of your vision and join us

Your leadership is vitally important to the growth and development of this program. We know that there will be questions along the way and we want you to know that we are here for you. 

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The Statera Mentorship Program is fantastic - both because my mentor has been such a steady and inspirational person and because it was amazing to feel a sense community with so many artists who come from different backgrounds. We are all out there hustling, and knowing I'm not alone makes the every-day struggles so much easier to handle. - Alison Plott, Actor: CHICAGO

Having worked as a professional actress in Chicago for the past 30 years, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to give back and help women in the business, as there was nothing like this when I was starting out.  Not only has it been an intensely rewarding experience to help my mentee in all areas of Chicago theatre I discovered the wealth of knowledge I have attained over the years and the immense value of it.  - Lia Mortensen, Actor: CHICAGO

 Statera’s National Mentorship Co-Directors: Minita Gandhi (top) and Erika Haaland (bottom)

Statera’s National Mentorship Co-Directors: Minita Gandhi (top) and Erika Haaland (bottom)

History of the Statera Mentorship Program


The Statera Mentorship Program officially began in January of 2016 and has been at the core of Statera’s programming ever since. The Mentorship Program was designed for theatre practitioners who identify as women and are interested in moving beyond the very real obstacles that sometimes lie between our goals and our opportunities. Statera believes that the most effective way to grow, expand and manifest change is to work together. A flourishing mentor relationship helps both mentor and mentee organize their professional challenges, nurture their creative ideas and activate their personal gifts. 

Statera’s original executive team (Melinda Pfundstein,Shelly Gaza, andSarah Greenman) built the first incarnation of the program with the help ofJennifer Tuttle, who ran the national program until November 2016. While the program was very successful, Statera quickly realized they needed a larger dedicated team to run the program effectively. It was also clear that a scaled-back program with more structure would better suit the needs of the program participants.

In January of 2017, just a year after the launch of the initial program, Statera partnered with Chicago-based theatre artistsErika Haaland and Minita Gandhi (pictured above) to build and beta-test a Chicago regional mentorship program. The new model offers mentors and mentees a structured 6-month cycle that includes local mentorship gatherings for workshops, networking, panel discussions, keynotes, and more. The Chicago program is currently running its third class of mentor pairings and has served over 200 women to date. The innovations provided by the Chicago team now make up the template for our national program.

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Become a Mentor or Mentee


Statera's Mentorship Program is currently operating in two regions:Chicago and North Carolina. A third and fourth are slated for 2019 (details coming soon). This effort is being led by region-based theatre artists, equity advocates, and business-minded women. 

If you are a Chicago or North Carolina-based theatre artist interested in engaging as a mentor or mentee in this unique program, please sign up by clicking on a region below. The next Chicago mentorship class is enrolling today through October 8th, with an official start date of November 1st. If you're in North Carolina, sign up to be notified about our next mentorship phase. We will be opening it up to other regions very soon!


We'd love to hear from you! 


If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to our National Mentorship Co-Directors directly a tmentorship@staterafoundation.org. We look forward to talking with you!

Writing Women Back into History Through Plays

"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the arts and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other.

Today's offering comes to us from songwriter, playwright, director, and actor Shellen Lubin. Shellen will present a breakout session at Statera’s upcoming National Conference called "365 Women a Year: a Playwriting Project".


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Writing Women Back into History Through Plays

BY SHELLEN LUBIN

The woman’s perspective onstage? Even when we think we’re getting a woman’s story--Antigone, Lysistrata, Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Hedda Gabler, Scarlett O’Hara-- we are too often getting a man’s perspective on what that woman’s perspective might have been. 

Even that is rare. Most often, women are considered the supporting figures in men’s stories--the mothers, muses, lovers, wives. The stories are rarely theirs. So trying to find the woman’s perspective in theatre--in plays, in theatrical history--whether based on true people or purely fiction--women’s thoughts and feelings about their own lives, about living life--is not an easy task.

Plays are stories. And just like most stories, looking at them through a different lens, from a different perspective, through a different character’s eyes, at a different moment in our own lives, we may draw different conclusions.

Many years ago, I wrote a play that was based on the bible story about Jacob contracting with Laban for his daughter Rachel’s hand in marriage only to be stuck with the older daughter, Leah. But in my play the leading character was Leah, and the story is told primarily through her eyes, looking at her life as the unappreciated daughter and sister become the unwanted bride.

However, in that play, I managed to leave out Zilpah and Bilhah, their two hand-maidens who also slept with Jacob and mothered the human race. Laban gave his two daughters hand-maidens, who they then gave to their husband for sex? That means Zilpah and Bilhah were slaves. Non-whites, non-Jews, non-believers, wives, children, all are supporting figures in our history and our literature, theatrical and otherwise. 

 Art by Sarah Greenman

Art by Sarah Greenman

Jesslyn Eisenberg Chamblee began 365 Women a Year: a Playwriting Project, Facebook group dedicated to adding to the stories and changing the known history. So many of us jumped on board to write plays that were not chronologies or historic documentation, but vital, dramatic moments or phases in these women’s lives. The group is entirely self-selected, and the plays are not all written by women, (but it is primarily). Equally exciting is the fact that the writers are not just from the major theatre cities, but across the country and around the world. 

The first festival of such plays that I produced as readings was at The Lambs. It was a random group of New York City playwrights, again by self-selection. Most of the plays were terrific, but not all, and I learned a powerful lesson: if I was going to put my time, energy, and passion into putting these plays before an audience, I was going to have to have a curation process.

Next go round, I did just that. For Edith O’Hara’s 100th Birthday in 2016, Susan Merson, then Artistic Director of the 13th Street Theatre (which O’Hara founded), worked with me to produce an entire weekend there of 365 Women a Year plays entitled In Her Name. The effect of the weekend on participants and audience alike was profound. Some of these women were unknown or barely known, but some were well-known women whose histories have been shared only in part. Seeing one play was illuminating, an individual aesthetic experience, but the effect of a whole day of such pieces was intense, a deeply felt collective awareness of how much we don’t know about our own history, how much has been hidden and deliberately left out--our stories, our perspectives, and, too, our voices as artists and as citizens.

This year, I produced another three-day festival of plays in March for SWAN Day and Women’s History Month, Untold Stories of Jewish Women at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: a Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Susan Merson and I put out a wider call for plays, and ending up working with 30 playwrights, as many directors, and over 100 actors. It was a challenge and a huge amount of work, but it was an incredible experience for both participants and audience, these stories of Jewish women from the bible right through to the transgender Martine Rothblatt.

We must learn to shift perspective or we as a society--as a culture--will forever be stuck in the throes of power, lust, and the wants and desires of privileged white men--as much as any Greek, Russian, or Shakespearean tragic figure. This country and most of the Western World was built on the unpaid, underpaid, and stolen labor--stolen stories--stolen lives--of too many people, families, and communities. The Northern cities were built by slaves. By the Civil War the North may have had no slavery, but all our cities were built by slaves. The cost of the day-to-day lives and the lives themselves in the building of our gentry, our upper classes, our corporate bigwigs, our elites (those whose lives our history and culture still most revere and support) is still barely known, recognized, told, or valued. These are the stories that must be heard now, these are the perspectives that must be honored, and these are the voices I want to participate in bringing to life and to audiences. 

Women have historically lived their own kind of slavery, having once been the property of fathers and husbands, the acclaim and remuneration for their most humble toilings, their greatest discoveries, and their most magnificent efforts all given to others, claimed by others, freely taken or stolen by others, and still now only slowly evolving from that reality.

As a a white Jewish woman from an upper middle class family? I have lived a life of privilege and indulgence, on the one hand, and deprivation and lack of recognition on the other. Sometimes my head spins from the confusing reality of it all.

But nothing can be changed until it is faced. It is only in our recognition of how we are both privileged and deprived that we can find empathy for all others who have suffered from much greater neglect, deprivation, and prohibition.

At this time of year, the beginning of the school year, the harvest, Rosh Hashonah, Yom Kippur, it is an especially good time to remember that the lessons come from everywhere, that our personal bible is every story which has held meaning and value for us as well as every one in which we play a role, whether a lead or a supporting character. So it is good to be attentive, as Rabbi Yisrael Salenter was the night he saw a shoemaker working late into the night and asked him why he worked so hard when it was so very late and the candle had burned so low. The reply? "As long as the candle is still burning, it is still possible to accomplish and to mend … shoes."

"As long as the candle is still burning, it is still possible to accomplish and to mend ..."

The candle is still burning.


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ABOUT SHELLEN

Shellen Lubin works professionally as a Songwriter, Playwright, Director, and Actor/Singer. Her songs have been featured on radio and cable TV, in Milos Forman’s first American film, Taking Off, in numerous cabaret acts including her own, and in a one-hour special on WBAI-FM, Shellen Lubin - Songwriter/Singer. Her plays have been produced and workshopped at Manhattan Class Company, the Public Theatre, Pacific Resident Theatre, West Coast Ensemble, and more. Shellen has directed across the country, and is the resident director for the Bistro Awards. She also teaches and coaches actors, singers, and writers both privately and as a guest artist. As the Artistic Director of Untold Stories of Jewish Women, she helmed a three-day theatre festival at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in March 2018. She serves as the 1st Vice President of the Women in the Arts & Media Coalition and chair of the Women Playwrights Initiative for the National Theatre Conference. Her reflections on artistry and life have been featured in five cover pieces for Back Stage Publications (archived on her website) and are read weekly in her Monday Morning Quotes think-pieces (www.mondaymorningquotes.com). Proud member of DG, SDC, AEA, and the League of Professional Theatre Women. Full bio, resume’, pictures and more: www.shellenlubin.com 

StateraCon Speaker Line-Up Has Something for Everyone - What's on your list?

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There is something for everyone at Statera’s 3rd National Conference on gender balance in the theatre. This year, Statera is partnering with Renaissance Theaterworks and the University of Milwaukee, WI Peck School of the Arts to host the largest gathering in the organization’s history.

TOUCHSTONE SPEAKERS

Statera, which has always had a strong focus on women in leadership, has announced four incredible touchstone speakers: Hana S. Sharif, Gail Barringer, Nataki Garrett, and Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway. All four are highly accomplished leaders, blazing new paths to success and acheivement for women in the theatre and film industries.

  Hana S. Sharif , Associate Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage, and newly named Artistic Director of Repertory Theatre St. Louis

Hana S. Sharif, Associate Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage, and newly named Artistic Director of Repertory Theatre St. Louis

  Nataki Garrett , Director and Former Associate Artistic Director of DCPA

Nataki Garrett, Director and Former Associate Artistic Director of DCPA

  Gail Barringer , Producer of Episodic TV including Law & Order SVU, The Punisher, Person of Interest, and Luke Cage

Gail Barringer, Producer of Episodic TV including Law & Order SVU, The Punisher, Person of Interest, and Luke Cage

  Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway , Founder and CEO of Artistic Directors of the Future

Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway, Founder and CEO of Artistic Directors of the Future

Conference attendees will be able to choose from a mind-boggling variety of topics and speakers. Conference organizers have broken these into four and five block sessions so that conference goers can choose their own track based on their trajectory in the industry (ie. Directors, Administrators, Academics, Designers, Actors, Playwrights, Audience Engagement, Social Justice Action, etc.) Take a look at the array of breakout sessions below and plan your weekend!

BREAKOUT SESSIONS

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2018

 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2018

 

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2018

PERFORMANCES

Statera also has two performances scheduled for conference attendees. The first is a world premier of Christine Jugueta’s musical play, The Red Thread. The second is Charlayne Woodard’s masterpiece, NEAT, performed by Milwaukee’s own Marti Gobel.

THE RED THREAD

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4TH AT 7PM - UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MILWAUKEE

a play by Christine Jugueta

directed by Jacqueline Stone

NEAT

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6TH AT 7PM - UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MILWAUKEE

a play by Charlayne Woodard
directed by Suzan Fete
starring Marti Gobel

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There is still time to register for Statera’s National Conference. Late registration is $275 for the whole weekend and will be available until all slots are filled.

Motherhood Bias Affects All of Us + 3 Ways to Fight It

"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the arts and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other.

Today's offering comes to us from Rachel Spencer Hewitt, founder of Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL) for the Performing Arts, a collective of individuals and theatre organizations committed to family-friendly practices in the theatre. Rachel will join her colleague, Adriana Gaviria, to present a breakout session at Statera’s upcoming National Conference called "Motherhood and Leadership: Initiatives for Upward Mobility".


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Motherhood Bias Affects All of Us + 3 Ways to Fight It

BY RACHEL SPENCER HEWITT


Imagine a world where your needs weren’t an obstacle to production but an opportunity to improve the system. A culture of “yes” that made space for new solutions and functionality. A system of diverse individuals who thrive on interconnected responsibility and quality of productivity instead of isolated responsibility and quantity of hours.

When presented as theory, these ideals seem progressive, appealing, and for many - life changing. We can unite behind these ideals. When presented in reality, the fears of misidentification and limited resources divide us. We forget we’re asking for the same things in different forms.

We cannot forget.

As more essays and initiatives and dialogue break the silence on motherhood, I’ve been challenged as an advocate for mothers, even directly, that the “motherhood” conversation could be taking space from women who choose not to have children. Their voices begin to feel unheard.

I believe them.

Here’s why - a truth anyone reading this piece will likely already understand is that the space given to women is already too small and therefore easily over-occupied. It is this fear that threatens to divide us: we don’t want to lose what little space we have left. 

This obstacle illustrates the misunderstanding of why we fight for the “motherhood-in-theatre cause”. Like our term “feminism,” language itself threatens to limit the discussion and reduce the purpose. We cannot allow it. In the motherhood fight, like the fight for feminism, motherhood is the banner presented by a specific demographic fighting for ideals that benefit everyone. To see how, let’s first explore how the motherhood bias adversely affects everyone, especially non-caregivers and then identify ways to combat these adverse effects:

 

1.     Misogyny Feeds on the Domestication of Women
Whether a mother or not, current social constructs maintain that women belong in secondary positions, at best, positions of contained leadership, while a man belongs in the lead. On the path to professional leadership, the infamous “glass ceiling” illustrates that this social construct directly informs our professional structure. As a result, when a woman’s position remains secondary professionally, so do the woman’s needs. In the professional world, women are expected to lead in secondary positions because our society pushes the expectation further, expecting women to become mothers and classifies mothers as the secondary, domesticated role. We perpetuate this archaic hierarchy by viewing theatre professionals who are mothers as domesticated beings. The mother, then, seeking professional status, becomes an easy casualty of misogyny because the needs of domesticated beings are professionally irrelevant, and, therefore, the structures have no obligation to change accordingly.

Excluding the needs of mothers from the conversation about women’s needs in the workplace by labeling it a domestic issue diminishes the number of women calling for structural overhaul of the workplace. The number of women whose needs are then determined as professionally irrelevant directly impacts gender equity, promotion, and representation.

How we fight it: Consider the needs of mothers as professionally relevant and necessary in the fight for gender equity, promotion, and representation.

How this helps everyone: By considering a mother’s needs as professionally relevant, gender-specific calls for social and professional structural overhaul increase in number, representation, and diversity of impact.

2.     The Motherhood Expectation of “Divided Commitment” Inhibits All Women

If you are not a caregiver, have you ever been asked the question in any form, “Will you have kids?” “Don’t you want kids?” “Don’t you think you’ll regret not having kids?” or even had that expectation casually or silently present in an interview or professional environment? More common than not, these inappropriate and invasive questions and expectations still permeate our work culture and feel reductive, dismissive, and ominous in terms of professional promotion. They expect you to eventually divide your commitment.

 Art by Sarah Greenman.

Art by Sarah Greenman.

Professional culture still allows us to equate motherhood with divided commitment, therefore allowing us to project a divided commitment on all women because of their potential motherhood whether they become mothers or not. This expectation wouldn’t exist if motherhood itself weren’t seen as an inherently divided commitment in the first place. No one has the right to investigate your motherhood plans and motherhood should be allowed in conversations of accessibility without the discriminating expectation that the woman in question will eventually lack professional capability. The personal reality of motherhood does not prescriptively affect professional commitment. Expectations of divided commitment, however, can inhibit it, so we must eradicate the expectation.

How we fight it: Advocate for mothers to be seen as professional individuals capable of  complete agency and leaders of their own level of personal commitment and professional goals.

How this helps everyone: If the reality of motherhood is not allowed to discriminate against a woman’s personal commitment and professional capability, then the expectation of motherhood no longer has the power to discriminate against all women in these ways as well.

3.     Work-Life Balance Viewed as the Pursuit of Working Better - Not Less - Impacts Everyone
The bias against professionals seeking work-life balance claims that they simply can’t meet the standard or want to work less. While some professionals desire and have the right to directly reduce their hours, not all professionals - mothers included - seek the reduction of work when they ask for adjustment of work. Thanks to developments of technology, progress in studies of efficacy, and emphasis on quality over quantity of hours, work-life balance has emerged as a primary topic for workplace restructuring. In many fields, including the theatre, mothers refrain from asking for creative solutions that may make work more efficient and accessible out of fear. This fear is echoed by many groups seeking change necessary for inclusion. From creating access for differently abled employees to decreasing race discrimination in employee evaluations to accommodating motherhood, finding new and improved methods of work can improve access and productivity for everyone by designing a system that fits the people working within it.

The mother’s needs contribute positively to this discussion in that they often include adjusting to different levels of physical mobility, considering the impact of an institution on outside individuals, and flexibility of function and execution to better fit the individual fulfilling the role. Even simple work-culture recommendations that positively affect everyone, as well as mothers, include telecommuting options, early schedule release for productions and projects, and including brunch and daytime in-hours networking events (instead of exclusively evening).

How to fight bias: Support motherhood accommodations according to legal rights as well as individual needs of mothers working in the institution.

How this helps everyone: The systems of the institution are then built in consideration of access needs as opposed to being maintained in conflict with access needs. Access and accommodation must become inherent principles when creating work-related systems for everyone.

 

For theatre to sustain its social impact, relevancy, and progress, we must consider how we view, include, and promote mothers. Motherhood is a valid lifestyle with professional impact and is deserving of professional rights, dignity, and accommodation. When we fight for motherhood, we fight for the unification of all professionals with access needs. Prioritizing access affects everyone and increases our power to influence equity, diversity, and efficacy.


 Rachel Spencer Hewitt

Rachel Spencer Hewitt

ABOUT RACHEL

Rachel Spencer Hewitt is the founder of Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL) for the Performing Arts, a collective of individuals and theatre organizations committed to family-friendly practices in the theatre. PAAL's mission is to empower and advocate for the parent-artist, both employee and freelance, in collaboration with theatre organizations in order to raise awareness of parent artist obstacles in the theatre and create work-life balance interventions, healthy work culture, stable protocols, and accessible pathways to employment.

Rachel received her BA in Drama from Trinity University and MFA in Acting from the Yale School of Drama. She earned her equity card understudying and performing at the Yale Repertory Theater. Her professional acting resume includes Broadway Debut in tony-nominated King Charles III at The Music Box theater, regional theater and off-Broadway productions, including the Paula Vogel/Tina Landau New York premiere of A Civil War Christmas. She recently moved to Chicago and has founded a national online community and resource initiative to highlight, identify, and create dialogue on motherhood in the theater arts on her blog AuditioningMom.com.

All Sizes Fit All: The Case for Normalizing Fatness Onstage

"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the arts and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other.

Today's offering comes to us from Maggie Rogers, Literary Manager and Dramaturg for Washington Ensemble Theatre in Seattle, WA. Maggie will be at Statera's National Conference this October leading a breakout session with her colleague Sage Martin entitled, "Fat Discrimination in the American Theatre". 

Note: “All Sizes Fit All: The Case for Normalizing Fatness Onstage” by Maggie Rogers, originally appeared in American Theatre online, 16 January 2018. It is used here with permission from Theatre Communications Group.”

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All Sizes Fit All: The Case for Normalizing Fatness Onstage

American theatre must embrace all body types, and stop shunning and shaming fat performers and their stories.

By Maggie Rogers

It is time to talk about the elephant in the room: me. I’m the elephant. I’m the fat girl playing the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet senior year of high school, because as a fat girl you only play grandmas or other “undesirable” characters. I am the fat girl who sits behind the rehearsal table as an assistant director trying to keep her mouth shut while wondering why all the characters of lower status and even lower intelligence levels in the show are fat. I am the five-year-old girl in the audience who searched for anyone onstage who looked like me in terms of size. And most importantly, I am the fat girl who was told the only way I could go to the college of my dreams was if I lost 50 pounds (in case you were wondering, reader, I didn’t). I knew, even at a young age, that what they were asking of me was absurd and hazardous for my mental health.

 Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers

Before we move forward: Yes, I use the word fat. This is my identifier. Some people don’t like this word, as it has been used as a weapon against us big folks for as long as we can remember (and yes, I have been called fat to my face by complete strangers in public more times than I can count). Don’t get me wrong—I still have my Arya Stark-esque list of people who called me fat in grade school that I recite to myself every night before I fall asleep. The only difference is that now my relationship with that word is coming from a place of love within myself as opposed to allowing it to hurt me. But this act of loving myself didn’t happen overnight and is not without trauma.

As a fat theatremaker, I dedicate an immense amount of my time focusing on developing a more body-positive theatre culture. Recently in Seattle, I directed a workshop of Amplitude (or Such a Pretty Face) by Sage Martin, a new play about navigating the world as a fat woman. During the workshop, a common shared experience kept coming up in the room. There are a few familiar phrases, often repeated by fat actors and directed toward them, no matter their age or race. They include but are not limited to: “I auditioned for that college and they told me I would be perfect if I was smaller”; “You are great but we don’t think you will be able to keep up with the physical workshops”; and (my favorite), “We can’t hire you because the stock costume for [insert name of yearly holiday show] will not be able to fit you.”

So just based on my size, you somehow know:

  1. That I am physically unfit for any type of movement.

  2. That altering a costume is too much to ask.

  3. That I will only be good at acting if I lose weight.

Imagine for a moment that you are constantly being told you are not good enough because of how you look—and this is not just in theatre but every day of your life. You see people pointing and laughing at you when you are feeling fly as hell in your cute crop top. You feel them violently shift in their seat next to you on an airplane because they got stuck sitting next to the fat person. This is pure hatred from people based on you solely existing as a person of size.

Now imagine you have all this social baggage and trauma, and then you go into the theatre, a space that prides itself on being inclusive, but you are met with the discriminatory condition, “If you lost X amount of weight, you would be great.” What is being said to me, in all these spheres, is that I do not belong here as I am. That I have nowhere to exist. What really hurts is the lack of acceptance in what is supposed to be a safe space.

“If it hurts this badly, why don’t you lose weight?” Good question, stranger in the comments section. Because that is not who I am. I am a large, loud, in-your-face woman—I will not alter myself to make you comfortable. This type of insidious thinking and language against anyone breeds eating disorders and image issues. It is detrimental to someone who is already in a vulnerable position by making theatre: by taking risks, accessing your emotions daily, and having the courage to leave a piece of yourself onstage.

The stigmatization that runs rampant in our country isn’t just in the arts, obviously. Many companies refuse to believe that fat people are able to do physical work, or think that patrons will get the wrong image of a business if a fat person is behind the counter (I was once fired from a retail chain because I wasn’t “the right image the store needed”). Telling someone they were not hired, cast, or accepted to a school because of their physical appearance is criminal. It’s discrimination.

Ultimately my question really is, in a space that strives to be progressive and equitable, why are we still adhering to poisonous social conformities? I know that I am attractive, funny, and talented. Why don’t you? I am genuinely asking heads of theatre programs, directors, teachers, casting directors, and even audience members across America: Why is weight an inhibitor to you? Size is not even something commonly found in character descriptions. There is no excuse.

To be clear, this is not just about accepting fat actors—it is about deepening storytelling to encompass the whole of the American experience. We live in such a diverse country filled with endless shapes and sizes. By only representing smaller bodies onstage, you are doing a disservice to audience members who are not a size 0 or who don’t have six-pack abs. Fatness crosses every race, creed, and culture, and you want to tell me the only people that are worth seeing onstage are thin? Please. You can get on board with helicopters landing onstage, witches flying through the air, and puppets, but not a size 22 playing a lead?

We need to normalize fatness onstage and not heroicize people for casting a fat person as a sort of token. It’s time to take us beyond the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet, Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, Helen in Fat Pig—i.e. shows where being fat is considered unattractive, or fatness is a plot point, or where loving a fat person is considered taboo.

American theatre, I challenge you: Call back fat actors for lead roles where their weight is never mentioned. Put a person of size in the sexiest role in the play. Dig deep within yourself and discover those uncomfortable feelings with size you may have and try to make sense of them.

Give us fat theatremakers a chance. They may crush your expectations (pun absolutely intended).


About Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers is a Seattle based director, dramaturg, and fat activist who proudly hails from Louisville, Kentucky. She is the Literary Manager and Resident Dramaturg at Washington Ensemble Theatre, a company member with The Horse in Motion, and the Resident Dramaturg for Cherdonna Shinatra's compnay, Donna. Before moving to Seattle to complete the Literary Apprenticeship at Seattle Repertory Theatre, she obtained her degree in directing from Columbia College Chicago and graduated as the class Valedictorian of 2014.

Statera Mentorship & Kimberly Senior at The Goodman

Last month, the Chicago Chapter of the Statera Mentorship Program hosted a conversation with renowned director Kimberly Senior. As a fierce advocate of women and emerging artists, Kimberly shared her experiences and facilitated a dynamic discussion on the necessary role Mentorship plays in our lives. The gathering was co-hosted by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. 

Although mentorship can be seen as an act of kindness or generosity, I view it as a necessity, a responsibility. If we are to continue to make work, to tell stories, or even survive another 50, 100, 1000 years, we need to raise up this next generation. So how do we do this? We hold open doors.
— Kimberly Senior

ABOUT STATERA'S MENTORSHIP PROGRAM

Statera Foundation works to connect theatre women interested in moving beyond the very real obstacles that sometimes lie between our goals and our successes. The most effective way to grow, expand and manifest change is to work together. Statera Foundation is here for you. 



Here are some photos from the event:
 

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ABOUT KIMBERLY SENIOR

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Kimberly Senior is a freelance director and the director of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar. Most recently Kimberly made her HBO debut with Chris Gethard: Career Suicide, which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Kimberly was awarded the prestigious Alan Schneider Award at the 2016 TCG Conference. She is also a 2013 Finalist for the SDCF Joe A. Callaway Award. She is the recipient of the 2016 Special Non-Equity Jeff Award for her Chicago career achievements as a trail blazer, champion and role model for emerging artists.

 In Chicago, Kimberly is a Resident Director at Writers Theatre and an Associate Artist at TimeLine Theatre. Her work has received multiple Joseph Jefferson nominations. Kimberly founded Collaboraction Theatre Company in 1997, spent ten years as an associate artist at Strawdog Theater, eight years as an associate artist at Chicago Dramatists, and six years as an associate artist at the much beloved Next Theatre. In addition, Kimberly served as the first board president of The Hypocrites many years ago.

 As an educator, Kimberly spent ten years as both an administrator and Resident Artist with Steppenwolf for Young Adults. In addition, Kimberly either ran programs or taught for Court Theater, Northlight Theater, Redmoon Theater, Roadworks Productions, Victory Gardens, Metropolis, Act One Studios, and Acting Studio Chicago. She served as adjunct faculty at Columbia College where she teaches Chekhov, Dramaturgy and Text Analysis. Kimberly has also taught numerous classes at DePaul University and University of Chicago. She is the recipient of Columbia College's 2010 Excellence in Teaching Award. Kimberly has served as Program Director and as a dramaturg for Steppenwolf's First Look Repertory of New Work and continues to develop new plays with the Ojai Playwrights Conference.

 New York Credits: Disgraced (Broadway); Chris Gethard: Career Suicide (Judd Apatow presents); The Who and The What, and Disgraced (LCT3); Discord (Primary Stages); Engagements (Second Stage Uptown). Regional Credits: Sheltered (Alliance Theatre); Support Group for Men, Disgraced, and Rapture, Blister, Burn (Goodman Theatre); The Scene, Marjorie Prime, Diary of Anne Frank, Hedda Gabler, and The Letters (Writers Theatre); Other Than Honorable (Geva); Sex with Strangers (The Geffen Playhouse); Disgraced (Mark Taper Forum, Berkley Repertory Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre); The Who and The What (La Jolla Playhouse); Little Gem (City Theatre); Want and The North Plan (Steppenwolf); Discord, 4000 Miles, and The Whipping Man (Northlight Theatre); among others. Film/TV: Chris Gethard: Career Suicide (HBO); Upcoming: The Niceties (Huntington and McCarter); Buried Child (Writers Theatre); Support Group for Men(Goodman); Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Milwaukee Rep).

Kimberly is the incredibly proud mother of Noah and Delaney. She is a member of SDC.

Adventures in Artslandia: an Interview with Statera's Sarah Greenman

As Statera Foundation wraps up their $25,000 fundraising campaign and continues preparations for their National Conference in Milwuakee, Statera's Creative Director, Sarah Greenman, takes a short break to talk with Susannah Mars in the newest episode of Portland's Adventures in Artslandia Podcast! 

Bringing women into full and equal participation in the arts is Statera Foundation's mission. How do we do it? In this interview, Sarah talks about Statera's methods, the national gender parity movement, the falsehoods of the scarcity mindset, coalition building, and how Statera Foundation is impacting the national arts scene! So grab a cup of coffee and enjoy this interview with Statera's Creative Director! 

 
 

Statera's Melinda Pfundstein Gets Personal

Dear Friend,

Statera Foundation is growing by leaps and bounds and all thanks to supporters like you. Your generosity has allowed us to host two national conferences with a third this fall, create pathways for women artists to succeed and thrive in their work through our professional mentorship program, and now to extend our reach from the national theatre scene to the international arts scene with the addition of International Support Women Artists Now (SWAN) Day. 

There are many things that get me up in the morning to do this work, among them to forge new pathways not readily available when I was coming up in the business. I do it for a brighter tomorrow. I have three daughters and I want them to see themselves represented in art. I want them to see stories and artistic expressions that honor their experiences as being as beautifully complex and as valid as their peers’, who are boys; and I want their perception of normal to be one of inclusivity and beautiful diversity, where there is enough space for all of us. Our mission is not to tear anything down, but rather to create more space for more of what is working to balance our arts.   

WomenArts has given Statera a $25,000 matching challenge gift to be met by June 30th. We are well over halfway there, and we need your help. If you could give $100, $500, $1000, $2000, or $5000, your impact will be doubled, and I promise we will continue to put your generosity to work in creating a more balanced arts landscape, with more opportunity and better pay, toward a more inclusive industry for women in the arts.



There are two ways to make your tax-deductible donation: 

  • Send a check, payable to Statera Foundation to 755 S. Main St. Suite 4 #281, Cedar City UT 84720
  • Donate online at www.staterafoundation.org/donate (Statera pays 3% for this service) 


Your gift designates you as an advocate for the arts and ensures the continued vibrancy of Statera’s unique programming, including the launch of our Diversity & Inclusion Training this fall. Whether you consider yourself an art maker or an art lover, this work is for you. Thank you for your invaluable support! 

Sincerely,

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Melinda Pfundstein
Executive Director

Statera Seven: Suzan Fete

Statera Seven is a series about women in leadership and the path to promotion. Statera poses seven questions to past and current Artistic Directors, Managing Directors, and other women in leadership roles in the American Theatre. Statera is sharing their stories and insights in hopes of finding new ways to shift the leadership gender imbalance of America's nonprofit regional theater companies. 

Today we're interviewing Suzan Fete, Founder and Artistic Director of Renaissance Theaterworks, a 25-year-old Milwuakee-theatre dedicated to promoting the work of women onstage and off. 

 

STATERA: The research on Women's Leadership in Resident Theaters presented by The Wellesly Centers for Women (WCW) and the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in 2016 found that there was a glass ceiling and "pipeline issue" facing women in theatre leadership. How have you improved professional development for those seeking leadership positions in the arts, particularly women and people of color?

SUZAN FETE: Renaissance Theaterworks (RTW) is the nation’s second oldest professional theater company with a commitment to gender equity and we are Milwaukee’s only women-founded women-run professional theater. Founded in 1993, our mission clearly states our commitment to providing roles for women –on stage and off. Over the last 25 years RTW has given opportunities to more than 800 theater artists and technicians; 75% of these have been women. Our staff is and has always been all women. The make-up of RTW’s board of directors ranges between 80-90% female. I am most proud of the many vital “first-time” chances we have given to women to help them advance or refocus their careers. For example, we have encouraged several local actors to try directing –Laura Gordon, for instance, directed her first show for RTW in 2004 and now she directs all over the country.

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STATERA: What is the most important single decision you have made in your journey? 

SF: To believe in myself and trust my instincts. There are always so many voices telling you what you want is impossible, or that the “better people” do it differently, it can be really hard to have faith and patience. Who cares what the “better people” think and who are they anyway?!

STATERA: Statistics suggest that women apply for jobs only if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men apply when they meet only 40%. Has this been true for you, and how do you advocate for your experience and qualifications when they are not explicitly spelled out in a job posting?

SF: I have seen plenty of evidence of this throughout my life.  But it has not been a pitfall for me personally, I’m not sure why. My personal mantra has always been “Oh, how hard can it be?” This has really gotten me in trouble at times. But it is essential to risk and fail boldly. Failure must become your friend, without it success is impossible. Creativity demands courage and patience.

STATERA: What roadblocks did you encounter on your path to this position and how did you navigate? 

SF: In 1993 five women (Myself, Marie Kohler, Raeleen McMillion, Jennifer Rupp and Michele Traband) founded RTW because of the lack of leadership roles available to women in professional theater.  We created our own opportunities. We weren’t able to pay ourselves for a while, but now RTW has six paid staff positions. 

  Renaissance Theaterworks was founded in 1993 by Suzan Fete, Marie Kohler, Raeleen McMillion, Jennifer Rupp and Michele Traband.

Renaissance Theaterworks was founded in 1993 by Suzan Fete, Marie Kohler, Raeleen McMillion, Jennifer Rupp and Michele Traband.

STATERA: If you had $10 million dollars of unrestricted funds, how would you spend it to improve the American Theatre?  

SF: I wish it could be ten times $10 million! I would love to create several Art Hubs across the country. Each hub would have an active and authentic relationship with their community. Each would contain at least three theaters in varying sizes. We could foster the work of new playwrights –particularly women and people of color. We would broaden our range of work and cultivate the next generation of theater artists. And we could pay everyone a living wage!

STATERA: Professional mentorship is a core part of our mission at Statera Foundation. In that spirit, what is the best piece of advice you have ever received, and from whom?

SF: “Don’t be afraid to put yourself in situations where everyone looks to you for answers –you will have no choice but to rise to the occasion.”  Tom Fulton Acting Teacher Cleveland Ohio 1988

“Just do it already!”  My mom pretty much all my life.

STATERA: In what ways are you thriving in your leadership role?

SF: I love my job!  I am so blessed.  I go to work every day with the brightest, most dedicated women I know. We work as a team to create outstanding theater that is relevant to our community. I turned 60 this spring and most of the RTW staff is half my age, working with these energetic and enthusiastic young women helps to keep my outlook youthful and positive. I may never retire!

 

Other Statera Seven Interviews: 

NATAKI GARRETT - Associte Artistic Director of  The Denver Center

JENNIFER ZEYL - Artistic Director of Intiman Theatre

BRENDA DEVITA - Artistic Director of American Players Theatre


About Suzan

Suzan is the Artistic Director and a Co-Founder of Renaissance Theaterworks - Milwaukee’s only women-run, women-founded professional theater company.  Since its inception in 1993, Renaissance (RTW) has been committed to creating roles for women theater professionals onstage and off. RTW produces three main stage plays and one staged play reading in the ninety-nine seat Broadway Theatre Center Studio Theatre in Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward. Twenty-four years of debt-free operations, rave reviews and a passionate audience base speak to RTW’s success.  

Other RTW successes under Suzan’s leadership include:

♦    Finalist (12 out of 1500) in the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Play Festival 2016

♦    First successful International Cultural Exchange: sending our production of NEAT to Isithatha Theatre in South Africa – June 2013.

♦    Initiation of the Diversity Series in 2010, with a 3-year commitment from RTW to dedicate 40% of annual programming to the voices of people of color, resulting in a 900% increase in attendees of color.

♦    Recognition in OnMilwaukee.com for our leading role in helping women initiate and expand their careers in theater, September 30, 2010.

♦    Two Milwaukee Magazine awards for Best Play of the Year: BOSWELL’S DREAMS (2005) and MIDNIGHT AND MOLL FLANDERS (2000); additionally, the American Association of Theater Critics nominated RTW’s COUNTING DAYS as Best New Regional Play;

♦    From 1993 -2015, RTW produced 59 full productions and staged 33 readings employing more than 700 local theater professionals, more than 65% of whom were women.

Suzan has 30 years of experience as an actor, director, and producer in professional theater.  Suzan has a degree from University of Illinois and lives happily in Wauwatosa WI with her husband Jeff.

Statera Foundation Chosen to Lead International SWAN Day

Statera Foundation has been named by WomenArts as the new organizers of SWAN Day / Support Women Artists Now Day.

This year, Statera Foundation joined forces with WomenArts to co-organize SWAN Day 2018. This exciting partnership allowed Statera leadership to walk side-by-side with WomenArts in creating a marketing campaign, managing the SWAN Day Calendar, communicating with SWAN Day participants, supporting special web content, and overseeing SWAN Day media.

“As SWAN Day starts its second decade, it is wonderful to have this burst of new energy and ideas from the Statera women,” said Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts. “I have been very impressed with their skills and commitment, and I am confident that they will find ways to make SWAN Day bigger and better than ever."

Statera's immediate plans for expansion entail a SWAN Day convening at Statera's 2018 National Conference in Milwaukee on October 4th, broader marketing assistance for future SWAN events, and support webinars for SWAN Day organizers detailing how to build local community partnerships and coalitions for greater positive social impact.

For the past three years, Statera Foundation has focused on increasing opportunities for theatre artists who identify as women. With the addition of SWAN Day programming, Statera now expands their support and advocacy to women artists everywhere. Statera’s Executive Director,  Melinda Pfundstein, says “SWAN Day is a perfect fit for Statera’s mission and allows us to extend our reach to support and lift up women in all art forms and all around the world."

Pfundstein continued, “At Statera we have been organizing conferences and building our mentorship program because we believe in the power of women artists supporting other women artists by sharing their skills and cheering each other on. Those are the core values of SWAN Day as well. We are so grateful for Martha Richards’ vision and for the support of WomenArts. We are thrilled to be the new organizers of SWAN Day.”

Martha Richards has joined Statera Foundation's Advisory Board and will remain connected to SWAN Day efforts in a mentorship capacity. Richards also recently announced a $25,000 matching grant to Statera Foundation to support SWAN Day 2019 in addition to their current programming.

Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day is an annual international holiday designed to showcase the power and diversity of women’s creativity. 2018 saw the launch of an official SWAN Day Instagram account (www.instagram.com/swan_day) using #SWANDay. If you haven't yet, please check out the Full List of 2018 SWAN Events from 2018. We've highlighted a few below:


BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA

 Sara Osi Scott (left) and Sarah Nansubuga (right) at SWAN Day Baton Rouge

Sara Osi Scott (left) and Sarah Nansubuga (right) at SWAN Day Baton Rouge

Jackie Vanderbeck, Artistic Director of Sing for Your Seniors and an active member of Statera Foundation, hosted a Women’s Playwright Symposium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in honor of SWAN Day 2018.


CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

 SWAN Day Chicago 2018 featured a SWAN photo booth.

SWAN Day Chicago 2018 featured a SWAN photo booth.

The fifth Annual SWAN Day Chicago celebrated women artists in the Windy City and featured the mixed media talents of Katrice Buckley, Tarynn Jackson, Jaelen Isis, Tyler Clark, and Zitiali Yunuhem. DJ Gemini Jones provided the soundtrack for the evening’s festivities.

ILA Creative started SWAN Day Chicago in 2014. This year’s showcase was a fundraiser for SkyArt, a non-profit visual arts organization for the youth of Chicago’s southside.

In a city where arts programming for youth is scarce and rarely funded, SkyArt makes a huge impact in the Chicago community.


LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

 SWAN Day Los Angeles 2018

SWAN Day Los Angeles 2018

The Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (LAFPI) hosted an afternoon of micro-reads at the Los Angeles Samuel French Book Store to celebrate women playwrights for SWAN Day Los Angeles 2018.


BOSNIA and HERZEGONVINA

 The Musicki Centar Rezonanca (Resonance Music Center) in Bosnia & Herzegovina

The Musicki Centar Rezonanca (Resonance Music Center) in Bosnia & Herzegovina

The Musicki Centar Rezonanca (Resonance Music Center) presented Red Shoe Night, a SWAN benefit performance of music and poetry for their friends  with cancer, in Konjic, Bosnia & Herzegovina.  This was the first time that the Resonance Music Center has participated in SWAN Day, and they are the second SWAN group from Bosnia and Herzegovina.


NEW YORK, NEW YORK

 SWAN Day New York 2018

SWAN Day New York 2018

Ten top film groups joined forces to do a SWAN Day screening in New York of Winnie, an award-winning documentary about Winnie Madikizela Mandela by British filmmaker, Pascale Lamche. The collaborators were:  NY Women in Film and TelevisionSAG-AFTRA, the School of Visual Arts Film DepartmentFF2 MediaImageNation Cinema FoundationWomen in the Arts & Media Coalition (WAMC), African-American Women in Cinema (AAWIC), Women Make Movies (WMM), HerFlix., and the SVA Theatre.


MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN

 Dancers at SWAN Day Milwaukee 2018

Dancers at SWAN Day Milwaukee 2018

SWAN Day Milwaukee, now in its third year, invited women artists to explore their artistic and spiritual connections to nature, and how these roots nourish one’s work, activism and daily living. Dozens of new artists were included in this year’s opening celebration. The art exhibit is currently open and runs through May 31, 2018 at the Urban Ecology Center, 3700 W Pierce St, Milwaukee, WI.


NAIROBI, KENYA

 Performers at SWAN Day Kenya 2018

Performers at SWAN Day Kenya 2018

The theme of SWAN Day Kenya 2018 was Closing the Gap: Connecting Artists. Over 70 female artists participated in the day-long festival this year. SWAN Day Kenya was coordinated by Sophie Dowlar. Please take a look at this fantastic video about their 2018 festivities.


NEW BRITAIN, CONNECTICUT

 Martha Richards & SWAN Organizer Jennifer Hill at SWAN Day CT 2018

Martha Richards & SWAN Organizer Jennifer Hill at SWAN Day CT 2018

Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts, attended the 2018 SWAN Day Connecticut music festival on April 14th to congratulate Jennifer Hill who has organized the event for eleven straight years!  SWAN Day CT 2018 was a fabulous six-hour music showcase featuring Jen TaylorThat VirginiaMurderous ChanteuseNan RoyAudio JaneLaini and the WildfirePatti RothbergVivienne LaFlammeDJ BreakaDawn, and more. 


Since its inception 11 years ago, there have been events in almost 40 countries, and WomenArts estimates that over 10,000 people participate in SWAN events every year. The official date for SWAN Day 2019 is Saturday, March 30th. Are you hosting or organizing a 2019 SWAN Day event? Make sure you submit it to the SWAN Day Calendar!

Do you have questions about SWAN Day? Reach out to Statera Foundation directly at SWANDay@staterafoundation.org.

Please help us make the next International SWAN Day the biggest and best one yet by making a gift to Statera Foundation today.  Remember - your gifts will be matched by WomenArts up to $25,000.

Support Statera's 25K Matching Campaign TODAY

Statera Foundation is positive action for women in theatre. Our mission is to bring women into FULL and EQUAL participation in the American Theatre.

That is why we are thrilled to announce that WomenArts has come forward in support of our mission to offer Statera Foundation a matching challenge gift of $25,000. If we can raise the full amount by June 30th, your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar. 
 

Support now and your contribution will be doubled!

 

As cultural arts budgets are slashed across the country, it is imperative for us to seek a larger portion of our support from individual donors like you. Our fundraising campaign runs for the entire month of June, but you don't need to wait to donate. In fact, Statera has already reached the $10,000 mark because of early donations from our biggest supporters! 

We need your help to match this $25,000 grant. Please consider a tax-deductible donation. Not only will your contribution be matched, dollar for dollar, but it will ensure the continued success and vibrancy of our programming. Join us!

Two ways to give:

  • Send a check, payable to Statera Foundation, 755 S Main Street. Ste 4, #281, Cedar City, UT 84720
  • Donate online at www.staterafoundation.org/donate (Statera pays 3% for this service)

 
Thank you for your invaluable support.

Together we can do GREAT things!

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WomenArts offers Statera a $25K Matching Gift

We are thrilled to announce that WomenArts has come forward to offer Statera Foundation a matching challenge gift of $25,000. If we can raise the full amount by June 30th, your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar. 

Support now and your contribution will be doubled!

Statera Foundation is a national nonprofit that takes positive action to bring women into full and equal participation in the American Theatre. We work to achieve gender parity through our National Conferences and our innovative Mentorship Program, Our successful programming provides strategic pathways for theatre artists, arts administrators, and arts organizations to adopt equitable hiring practices and tell stories that reflect the full scope of humanity.

We hold WomenArts in the highest esteem and are humbled by their faith in the future of our organization. Statera is uniquely positioned to make a lasting impact on the international gender parity movement in the arts. What's our secret? It's YOU - the Statera community that propels our work and strengthens our potential reach and impact. 

We urge you to contribute
what you can before June 30th
to meet WomenArts' matching gift. 

As cultural arts budgets are slashed across the country, it is imperative for us to seek a larger portion of our support from individual donors like you. Our fundraising campaign runs for the entire month of June, but you don't need to wait to donate. In fact, Statera has already reached the $10,000 mark because of early donations from our biggest supporters! 

We need your help to match this $25,000 challenge gift. Please consider a tax-deductible donation. Not only will your contribution be matched, dollar for dollar, but it will ensure the continued success and vibrancy of our programming. Join us!

Two ways to give:

  • Send a check, payable to Statera Foundation, 755 S Main Street. Ste 4, #281, Cedar City, UT 84720
  • Donate online at www.staterafoundation.org/donate (Statera pays 3% for this service)

Thank you for your invaluable support. Together we can do GREAT things!

Statera Voices: Frannie Shepherd-Bates

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"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the theatre and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other. It is here that we join in a circle of mutual trust and support to share our thoughts and self-reveal on our own term and in our own voices. 

Today's offering comes from Frannie Shepherd-Bates, founder, director, and lead facilitator of Shakespeare in Prison (SIP), a program of Detroit Public Theatre.


“I can’t tell you how much I love Shakespeare. It’s so accurate to our experience here – he uses the perfect words. I’m so glad I found this.”

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8:15am

February 7, 2012

Programs Building: Auditorium

Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility

Ypsilanti, Michigan

I stand on the stage, smiling, shaking warm hand after warm hand — fifteen of them. I’m trying not to show it, but I’m terrified — not because all of these hands belong to people convicted of felonies, incarcerated at Michigan’s only women’s prison, but because I’ve never done anything like this before, and I’m not totally convinced that I can. Maybe half-convinced. Maybe.

What if I’m not as sensitive as I think I am? What if I say or do the wrong thing and alienate these women — or get shut down by the facility? What if this doesn’t work the way it has for other artists? This could last two weeks. Or it could last for years. Or today could be it.

I sit down on the steps that lead up to the stage so we’ll all be on the same level. I introduce myself.

I’m a theatre artist with a knack for directing, teaching, and working with Shakespeare. I’m not a scholar. I love it, I don’t fear the challenge, and I’m pretty good at breaking it down.

“What are we going to do?”

“How is this going to work?”

“What is Shakespeare?”

I tell them that I have some ideas — that I’ve researched other prison theatre programs, but most of those have been done with men, and, you know, I haven’t ever done the work myself. “So I don’t know what this looks like, really,” I say. “I’m hoping you’ll help me figure it out.”

I promise to show up consistently. I promise that I will never bullshit them. I promise to be patient,  flexible, and enthusiastic. And realistic.

Then one of them asks what I’m doing here. In prison. Why am I not afraid of them?

“Because you’re people,” I reply. “And we all make mistakes. We all make bad decisions. It doesn't have to define us. It doesn’t define you. I’m here because I believe that theatre has the potential to effect huge change. And I’m hoping that that’s what’s going to happen for us.”

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Shakespeare in Prison has evolved since those early days, but the spirit remains the same. Our work empowers incarcerated (and now formerly incarcerated) people to reconnect with their humanity and that of others; to reflect on their past, present, and future; and to gain the confidence, self-esteem, and crucial skills they need to heal and positively impact their communities. And we use Shakespeare to do it.

We work over the course of a nine-month season to explore, rehearse, and perform one play by Shakespeare. We begin with ensemble-building, reading, discussion, and dipping our toes into performance. We cast our play collaboratively. We rehearse and rehearse and rehearse until we perform. Then we analyze how it all went, take a break for a few months, and start back up with a new play.

The program’s structure is more or less set at this point, but it can still be messy; even rocky. That’s an understatement to describe that first year and a half, as we worked together to figure out what we wanted from this program and how we could get there. I quickly learned that this was going to be much harder than I’d thought — but that it could also be more breathtaking and inspiring than I’d anticipated.

I’d promised not to judge; to be patient and flexible. I learned what that takes in such a chaotic environment, working with so many people who hurt so badly, and I learned to keep my biases and frustrations at bay. Because they weren’t helpful.

I learned that people’s potential to radically alter their lives — their very identities — is innate; universal; nearly unfathomable. And I learned what a powerful tool Shakespeare can be in service of that.

“I feel liberated,” one woman said at the end of our very first meeting.

“Being on stage is a whole new high,” said a woman recovering from heroin addiction, less than two years into a four-year tenure in the ensemble.

The insight shared by these women — 141 in the last six years — was so striking and so frequent, right off the bat, that I began writing down as much of what they said, verbatim, as I could.

“Everybody needs something different, and we all get it. It’s hard to explain because it’s a feeling; sometimes there aren’t any words.”

“This whole process reminds me of the best part of who I used to be before I came to prison. The darkness can overwhelm… This is my light. Not only can I be that girl again, but I can be better. Whatever we’re feeling, it’s okay here.”

“This is my favorite thing that I do. I love the process... It’s nine months of something I never thought I could do. This is my family. You will bare your soul because Shakespeare is timeless. This is a safe place. These are my best friends.”

“I feel like I’ve changed so much in prison. I don’t like to meet new people – I’m still friendly, but I have my guard up. But I told my therapist when she asked that there is one place I feel safe: Shakespeare.”

“Prison didn’t help my self-esteem, but it did get me clean. After this, I have self-esteem, self-worth, accomplishment – I believe in myself on a lot of different levels. Hearing people say I’m good at something… I feel like I can live a different life and be the person I want to be. It seemed like a dream before – the last time I felt like that was when I was a kid.”

Theoretically, I’d believed that we would all be able to see ourselves in Shakespeare’s archetypal characters and situations; that that would give us insight into ourselves, our lives, and the world around us. That was — and has been — true. What I didn’t realize was just how profound that could be—- and how little input it would take from me for people to go there. Themselves. Sometimes in as little as twenty minutes.

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People with limited education. People who’ve sold their bodies. People who’ve struggled with addiction, or mental illness, or both. Who’ve committed acts of desperation, or who’ve just made really, really bad decisions. People who’ve killed other people. People who’ve suffered trauma so severe that I can’t even speak of it, let alone fathom it. Who’ve inflicted such trauma on others.

People of color. Indigenous people. People across all spectrums of gender identity and sexual preference. People who’ve lived their whole lives in economic hardship. People who’ve been told their whole lives that they’re stupid. That they’re worthless.

For whom being a woman usually means you’re “less than.” For whom being a woman can be dangerous. For whom being a woman often feels like the very reason you’ve made those terrible decisions; why you’ve been locked up. Why you identify with men. Or why you fear them.

And it all ends up having an enormous influence on the way our ensembles understand and stage Shakespeare. Which is often far different from how we on the outside understand and stage it.

These women have taught me that when the politics of representation are removed (because they live in a place where 98% of the people around them are of the same biological sex), there isn’t usually a reason to alter the genders of Shakespeare's characters. It’s always been an option, but we’ve literally never done it. Our ensemble members have always felt that doing so had the potential to alter the story to a point where it wouldn't have had the same meaning for them.

“I don’t know… I really click with Iago. But, you know… I love like Othello, and I hate like Iago. That’s the thing about this group. At so many points, it just shows me myself. I never thought I would be using this… but I use it in real life.”

Were you married to an Iago? Or have you been Iago — and does gender play into that? Realizing that you relate to such a character means that you are seriously analyzing parts of yourself that are far from pretty. On the flipside, realizing that such a character is within some of your ensemble members might give you insight into the Iagos in your life. It won’t absolve them — Shakespeare certainly doesn’t absolve Iago — but your new perspective might help you understand, process, and heal from your past. And it generally does.


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When we talk about making theatre accessible, we’re usually talking about providing discounted or free tickets to see plays, or educational programs, or talk backs. There’s nothing wrong with any of that (far from it!). Our work is less traditional. It’s more Theatre of the Oppressed than Royal Shakespeare Company. But it isn’t really either. It’s kind of its own thing.

Plays have directors; classes have teaching artists. In Shakespeare in Prison, we who come in from “the world” are definitely artists, but we don’t direct or teach. It’s not a class. We’re not experts. We facilitate; we guide. There’s no hierarchy. It’s “painfully collaborative.” And that’s part of its value. All barriers are removed (that aren’t imposed on us by the facility). All bets are off. So we’ve got to really own this material. And, my goodness, we sure do.

Shakespeare is, hands down, some of the most accessible theatre there is, provided the guidance is compassionate, free of judgment, and open to interpretation — even to being wrong. I’m increasingly impatient with the notion that Shakespeare is a rarefied thing; that we should sideline it because it’s been around for a long time and was written by a white man. That, because of those things, “marginalized” or “at-risk” people won’t relate to or enjoy it. I don’t buy it.

“Shakespeare should be for everybody. It is for everybody. “

Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t seen and heard what I have. Our own bias and privilege can get in the way of seeing not just what theatre can do, but what Shakespeare can. The people I’ve worked with have found this not only frustrating, but exasperating, and even offensive. Why shouldn’t people like them (adults and children) have access to this simply because others assume they don’t need it or won’t like it? Or won’t understand it? These are phantom barriers. They aren’t real.

That’s not to say that it isn’t challenging. Doing Shakespeare is a point of pride. It gives you something to prove. It’s something you call home about. It’s something your kids can brag about; maybe it’s the first time they’ve ever been proud of you. It’s got caché. It’s a club. It’s a family.

It gives you the drive to pay it forward. To other prisoners. To your family on the outside. To others in recovery. To people serving life sentences who desperately need the new perspectives — the new worlds — that Shakespeare offers.

“It’s not that I want to be in Shakespeare. It’s that I need it. I can’t do this time without it.”

Sometimes the work leads our ensemble members to become theatre artists, but, more often, they gain confidence that propels them to do things that seem to have nothing to do with Shakespeare, or to pursue more education. Because they did this — which no one would have thought they could do — they believe they can do other things that seemed impossible. They develop new identities or reconnect with past ones. In doing so, they are not simply “rehabilitated.” They are activated.


We like to say, “You bring to it what you bring to it. And you get out of it what you get out of it.” It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from. Empathy knows no class, color, education, or gender.

“I’m here for murder… Beforehand, my mind was saying, ‘It’s wrong! It’s wrong! You shouldn’t do it…’ In one half of my mind, I’m like Macbeth, seeing it’s wrong… But my dumb ass did it anyway. But the thoughts of guilt didn’t go away.”

“Richard feels his pain. I identify with him in that way because when I was little, people would say mean things [about her skin color; she is very dark skinned], and that’s why I know how to fight. After a while, I just took it. But then I started amplifying it majorly. And I would sit and think about how I could hurt you. If I felt not dominant, not number one, if you were stronger than me, then I would attack you physically. And that’s how I feel Richard is. I see him holding in things that have hurt him and amplifying it out onto everyone else. And he doesn’t tell anyone.”

“It sucks because [Buckingham] gets it, like, a minute too late… As an addict, I saw people who almost had it but missed it, and they died. I can relate to looking at that reflection and saying, ‘Damn, I did all that?’”

“It’s like going from the suburbs to the middle of Compton. [Anne] just took the other option. Now she feels guilty, but at least she didn’t go to jail. She had to do something so she didn’t end up in the slums.”

People are people. And people are complicated. When you remove the barriers between yourself and others; between yourself and Shakespeare — specifically Shakespeare — new ideas, worlds, and experiences open themselves to you.

“I feel like Shakespeare was in prison. All this is the same shit we go through all the time--the intrigue, the lies, the people, nobody taking responsibility for their actions…”

“Things I didn’t think were in me, I could see within myself and in the characters. Seeing things in different ways has helped me become a better woman. When I came here, I was really angry and didn’t care about anything but myself. Now I see things differently.”

“I never thought I’d be smart enough to sit and have this kind of discussion about a book like this.”

“[Sonnet #35 is] the best thing I’ve ever heard… Because, to me, I think the poem was written at a point when this person said, ‘No more’… Everybody makes mistakes, but it doesn’t define you.”

“Shakespeare is my mothafuckin’ NA. It’s my AA. It’s a place where I can be me. The theatre is my home.”

“It feels so cool when you can answer Jeopardy questions, and it’s because of this class.”

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Augusto Boal said, “I think anyone can do theater. Even actors. And theater can be done everywhere. Even in a theater.”

When we theatre artists recognize that our way of making art is not the only way (even when radically altering its forms); that we who are privileged enough to do this work professionally do not have a monopoly on understanding it; that we may have prejudices that inform our work even as we strive toward equity, inclusion, and representation; then we can begin to see the incredible power that this material has, just as it is. Without anything on it. “Don’t. Add. Shit. To. Shakespeare,” one of our ensemble members recently said.

When we shake off the strictures that prevent us from seeing the power of Shakespeare — these four hundred year old words written by a white European man, but not belonging to him — to uplift and empower the most marginalized among us, we can be liberated as much as any prisoner.


7:30pm

April 3, 2018

Programs Building: Room 154

Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility

Ypsilanti, Michigan

“Frannie, can I ask you a question?”

“You bet.”

“Does this — when you come here, does this feel like work?”

I pause, letting the question sink in. “You know, I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that.” I pause again. “I guess it depends on how you define ‘work’. If we’re talking about going to a job and punching the clock: no, it absolutely doesn’t feel like that.” Pause. “But this takes a lot out of me, for sure. I always want to bring all the energy, patience, and authenticity I can. I have to be fully present every single second. And that takes a lot of effort.”

I look at the woman sitting next to her, who’s watching me with that careful look I’ve seen so often on her face — measuring my words and affect, the beginnings of a smile just barely crinkling the skin around her eyes and lips.

“But no, this definitely doesn’t feel like a job. I never feel like I want to take a day off just for fun. I never think, ‘God, I really don’t want to be around these people today.’”

“You really love this.”

“I really do.”


ABOUT FRANNIE SHEPHERD-BATES

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Frannie Shepherd-Bates is the founder, director, and lead facilitator of Shakespeare in Prison (SIP), a program of Detroit Public Theatre. She began SIP (under the auspices of Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company, which she led from 2008-2014) as its sole volunteer facilitator and administrator, personally handling every aspect of the program. Since those early days, Frannie has worked with the women’s ensemble — and now the men’s as well — to develop the structure, objectives, and pedagogy of the program; developing a culture of warmth, openness, professionalism, and dedication. In 2015, the program moved from Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company as it dissolved to Detroit Public Theatre as it was founded. As a freelance director, sound designer, and teaching artist, she has worked with more than a dozen southeast Michigan theaters and schools. Frannie has won numerous awards for her artistic and community work, and she has been featured in local, regional, national, and international media.

 

Enter the 2018 SWAN Day Song & Photo Contests

The deadlines for the Support Women Artists Now Day Song and Photo Contests are only 12 days away!  If you want a chance to win our cash prizes, be sure to enter by midnight on Monday, April 30, 2018! 

As you probably already know, SWAN Day/Support Women Artists Now Day is an international holiday designed to showcase the power and diversity of women’s creativity. Every year, you can be a part of SWAN Day by creating or participating in a local event or online activity that celebrates women artists!

This year, WomenArts invited Statera Foundation to co-organize SWAN Day efforts. While SWAN Day has officially passed (it was March 31st) the celebration continues with ongoing events and the SWAN Day Photo and Song Contests. Please send your entries to WomenArts by using the links below! Also be sure to watch last year's winning SWAN Song music video of "SWAN Girls" by Lydiah Dola below. It will make you want to hop up and dance! 

Be sure to check out the full contest guidelines to make sure your photo will qualify.  If you want to enter, all you have to do is upload your photos to Facebook, Flickr, your website, or some other online service, and then use the handy SWAN Photo Submission Form to send WomenArts your links.

The top prize for the Support Women Artists Now Day Song Contest is $1,000, the second prize is $500, and WomenArts will create other prizes depending on the entries we receive. The winning songs will be featured in the WomenArts Blog, newsletters and social media. If you have written a great song that fits their guidelines below, please send it in!

Statera Seven: Nataki Garrett

 Nataki Garrett, Associate Artistic Director at DCPA. (Photo by Daniel Benner.)

Nataki Garrett, Associate Artistic Director at DCPA. (Photo by Daniel Benner.)

Statera Seven is a series on the Statera Foundation Blog about women in leadership and the path to promotion. Statera poses seven questions to past and current Artistic Directors, Managing Directors, and other women in leadership roles in the American Theatre. Statera is sharing their stories and insights in hopes of finding new ways to shift the leadership gender imbalance of America's nonprofit regional theater companies. 

Today we're interviewing Nataki Garrett, Associate Artistic Director of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. DCPA won the 1998 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre and is the nation's largest nonprofit theatre organization.

STATERA: The research on Women's Leadership in Resident Theaters presented by the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) and the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in 2016 found that there was a glass ceiling and "pipeline issue" facing women in theatre leadership. How have you improved professional development for those seeking leadership positions in the arts, particularly women and people of color?

NATAKI GARRET: First, I am fighting to ensure that future generations of women and people of color can use me as a ladder to a future in the theater that includes them. I have worked hard to earn this space, and I plan to hold it for the next generation. I have spent much of my career recruiting, training and mentoring the next generation of women and people of color in the theater. I have active relationships with many of the women and people of color who are pursuing leadership positions throughout the country. We support and mentor each other because we know that together we may be able to move the needle forward, even if only a bit. There are currently no black women leading a theater with an organizational budget of $5 million or more, and of the 25 percent of LORT theaters run by women, there are no black women among them. The glass ceiling is real, and it is much lower for black women. That's a problem - and I am pushing to change that for the next generation.

S: What is the most important single decision you have made on your journey? 

NG: My decision to attend one of the best MFA directing programs in the nation. The truth is, without the validation and networking opportunities afforded to me by my grad-school training, I never would have had a chance in this industry, and my voice surely would have been silenced long ago. Simply put: My degree validates me where my race and/or gender do not. Lately, I have heard a few people in this industry try to equate their career paths without an MFA to mine, with an MFA from a top-5 grad school — and that is simply a false equivalency. If you got your seat at the table without an MFA, it might be because you have benefited from a privilege that validates you without one.

Even with the huge debt, all my career accomplishments as a director stem from the risk I took to attend CalArts. My opportunities for leadership at the Center for New Performance at CalArts and my current position at the Denver Center, starting a theater company and receiving the NEA/TCG – Career program for Directors are a result of my attending one of the best grad programs in the nation.

S: Statistics suggest that women apply for jobs only if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men apply when they meet only 40%. Has this been true for you, and how do you advocate for your experience and qualifications when they are not explicitly spelled out in a job posting?  

NG: My advice is to apply no matter what. You will never know what's possible if you don't apply. Even when an organization clearly wants someone who has had the opportunity to do the job for decades, I still apply. This stipulation is the simplest way to exclude most women and people of color from consideration. I also make a point to apply for every major opportunity because it is important that search committees consider a diverse slate of candidates. That makes it harder for them to justify a traditional hiring decision by saying there just were not enough qualified females or people of color to consider.

For the past several years, I have held the second-highest position at two major organizations, and I was also tasked with the responsibility of leading each organization for a period a time. But when I am interviewed, I have had to push for recognition of my leadership accomplishments. There are about two dozen artistic leadership positions open at present, and I encourage every woman who is thinking about applying to do so because their participation is itself confirmation that there are female candidates worth considering. The only way the Boards of these organizations are going to recognize our potential is if we promote ourselves. That's even more true for women of color and worse for black women because of systemic and pervasive racial bias. 

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S: What roadblocks did you encounter on your path to this position and how did you navigate? 

NG: It may sound strange but I look young. I'm sure I should see this as a benefit but as a woman of color in leadership I am often regarded as either some sort of prodigy who has yet to be discovered or a young upstart. I am in my late forties with more than 20 years of experience. I tend to reveal my age early in a conversation to quell any misconceptions. I have a friend and mentor who often says to me,  "Well you are just starting out", even though I am 10 years older than he was when he started. Another colleague suggested that I should stop revealing my real age because, "Men have to feel like they are discovering a woman in order to be compelled to help her get ahead in her career." 

S: If you had $10 million dollars of unrestricted funds, how would you spend it to improve the American Theatre?

NG:  I would start by providing grants to companies that are committed to developing a new subscription plan that doesn’t require theater patrons to pay for an entire season up front. The current subscriber model only attracts a tiny portion of the population because the number of people who have access to a large amount of disposable income is inherently limited. I fundamentally believe many theaters currently avoid risk by programming seasons that only appeal to their current, affluent subscriber base. Perhaps making it possible for lower-income patrons to reasonably participate in the subscriber process would also encourage regional theaters to program more inclusive seasons for the other 99 percent of their communities who are often alienated and underrepresented on and behind the stage. There are so many companies working on effective community-engagement strategies to attract new audiences to the theater, but they are not realizing their adherence to the current subscriber model is a fundamental barrier to more inclusivity.

I would also create a fund to support women and people of color who need the kind of support I could have used when I was forced to turn down an internship opportunity that I was offered at NYTW in the late 90’s. This fund would defray living expenses so candidates with proven financial need can attend an internship or apprenticeship. Preference would be given to women and people of color pursuing leadership careers. The metric to determine eligibility would not be based solely on current income, as most middle-class black people are a paycheck or two away from financial crisis. I would use debt-to-income ratio. I believe these efforts would provide some economic stability for those who need it while pursuing an administrative or artistic career in the theater.

S: Professional mentorship is a core part of our mission at Statera Foundation. In that spirit, what is the best piece of advice you have ever received, and from whom?

NG:  “This is a business of relationships.” This is my mantra. I work to create and maintain good relationships with virtually everyone I meet. The professional theater is a very small world with a constantly shifting landscape. You never know who you are speaking to at any given moment, or where they are going. I believe it’s just good practice to be decent to everyone.

S: In what ways are you thriving in your leadership role?

NG: I was hired as the Associate Artistic Director of the Denver Center but for more than a year I have been charged with the duties of the Artistic Director during our ongoing leadership transition.

The theater is a hierarchical industry where one’s title is important. Officially appointing someone as interim makes it easier for artists to know who to count on for support and guidance. I was never offered the interim title. Despite the obstacles, I persevered without the title, and that allowed me to be more collaborative. I galvanized my teams for support and empowered others with ownership of their own outcomes. With the artistic team, I was able to keep the DCPA Theater Company moving forward to the end of what is turning out to be a record-breaking season, including the most successful production in the history of the Space Theater – Macbeth, directed by Robert O’Hara, which finished $119,000 over the show’s projected revenue goal. My team and I produced a season that was fully inclusive, adventurous and at times outlandish but always sought to represent a broad-ranging view of the human condition. I also initiated and negotiated co-productions for two of our commissioned plays – The Great Leap by Lauren Yee with Seattle Rep and American Mariachi (which finished $108,000 over goal) by Jose Cruz Gonzales with the Old Globe Theatre. Neither of these would have been possible without my drive to give these playwrights additional opportunities for continuing to develop their works. It has been a gift to provide opportunities for those whose voices and stories are not often seen on our stages and to invite new audiences into our spaces through work that reflects their lives and values. My goal was to create a space where people from disparate experiences and backgrounds could rub elbows and find intersection and connection.

I was given a literal seat at the Artistic Directors’ table at the 2017 TCG conference in Portland. Not surprising, I was the only black woman in most of the rooms, and only one of a handful of other identified women of color. I witnessed the palpable reluctance many of our current artistic leaders revealed about participating in the equity, diversity and inclusion work the TCG has been engaging in for the past several years. I also witnessed the exhausting work a few artistic leaders continue to engage in, working as allies and leading the charge for change in this industry.

My personal mandate is to leave a place better than I found it. This thriving and talented community has inspired me by holding me to their high standard of leadership. They unknowingly helped me show my beloved industry what means to have a woman of color – a black woman – be successful as artistic leader of a large theater organization, even for a short period of time.


ABOUT NATAKI GARRETT

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Nataki Garrett is the Associate Artistic Director of  Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theater Company.  Since January 2017, Garrett continues to serve as their producing artistic lead during their search for and on-boarding of their new artistic director coming in May 2018. She is credited with producing the most financially successful production ever in their renowned Space Theater in the 40 year history of the DCPA. Formerly the Associate Artistic Director of CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP) Nataki is a Company Member at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company a recipient of the NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Directors and a member of SDC.

Nataki Garrett is co-Artistic Director of BLANK THE DOG PRODUCTIONS (BTD) a LA/NYC based ensemble Theater Company, which is celebrating its 10th year and is dedicated to developing and fostering new work by emerging, adventurous and experimental artists.

To read Nataki Garrett's full bio, please visit her WEBSITE.
 

SWAN Day 2018

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Happy SWAN Day to everyone who participated this year! SWAN Day is an international holiday designed to showcase the power and diversity of women's creativity. This year Statera Foundation was thrilled to partner with WomenArts in co-organizing SWAN Day. This successful partnership has been a complete joy and it has been a great fit for the Statera mission. Combining our organizational strength expands our reach and exemplifies the collaborative and grassroots nature of SWAN Day.  

Yesterday was the official date for SWAN Day, but the party continues through the month of April. With 183 women-led events on the SWAN Day Calendar, there's more to celebrate! Today we'd like to share an open letter from WomenArts Executive Director Martha Richards.


Dear Friends,

First of all, I want to wish all of you a very happy Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day!

And second, I want to thank you for persevering as artists. l know it isn’t easy, and I have tremendous respect for all of you who keep dreaming and creating in spite of all the obstacles.  There were so many inspiring listings on the SWAN Calendar this year!

In these challenging times, SWAN Day reminds us that there are thousands of women artists all over the world who are working to heal the planet through their art.  We had almost 200 SWAN events this year, and I encourage you to scroll through the lists at the bottom of this page of all the U.S. SWAN Events and the International SWAN Events from 11 different countries.

Although our SWAN Day 2018 list is long and diverse, it only includes a fraction of all the women artists in the world. Just think about how much creativity, energy, and power we have collectively!  We are a tremendous positive force already, and we can be even stronger if we can find more ways to work together and get the resources we need.  SWAN Day is a great first step because it gives all of us a chance to share our hopes and cheer each other on.

Please take some time to make a direct connection with at least one woman artist on SWAN Day. Talk to her in person, give her a call, write her a note, or send her a gift – do anything that shows that you appreciate her creativity. There is tremendous power in these simple acts of respect and recognition, and they provide models of the supportive attitudes and behavior that we want to spread around the world.

I want to say a special thank you to my partners at the Statera Foundation – especially their Creative Director, Sarah Greenman, who has managed all of the social media for SWAN Day 2018.  It has been a joy to work with her, and we are already cooking up plans for next year.  I am using her “Happy SWAN Day” image above as my Facebook profile picture today, and I invite you to do the same.

Thanks so much to all of you for making SWAN Day 2018 such a wonderful success.  We encourage you to seek out the work of women artists on SWAN Day and every day. Together we will build a world where women artists get the respect they deserve.

Sending Lots of SWAN Love to All of You,
Martha Richards, Executive Director, WomenArts

 

CLICK HERE to read the BIG List of 2018 SWAN Events!

 

On March 31, 2018, SWAN Day Houston honored WomenArts Executive Director Martha Richards with the first ever SWAN Day Award for Achievement. Although Martha was not there in person to receive the award, this video was shared at the event. Martha speaks so beautifully about SWAN Day and the importance of this international holiday. Enjoy! 


Martha Richards is the Executive Director of WomenArts, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing visibility and opportunities for women artists in all genres. Prior to WomanArts, Richards served as Executive Director of Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College and as Managing Director of StageWest in Springfield, MA. A member of the California Bar, she was one of the founding directors of California Lawyers for the Arts. 

Statera Seven: Jennifer Zeyl

Statera Seven is a new series on the Statera Foundation Blog about women in leadership and the path to promotion. Statera poses seven questions to past and current Artistic Directors, Managing Directors, and other women in leadership roles in the American Theatre. Statera is sharing their stories and insights in hopes of finding new ways to shift the leadership gender imbalance of America's nonprofit regional theater companies. 

Today, we're interviewing Jennifer Zeyl, Artistic Director of Intiman Theatre in Seattle, WA. Founded in 1972, Intiman Theatre is the recipient of the 2006 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. 

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STATERA: The research on Women's Leadership in Resident Theaters presented by the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) and the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in 2016 found that there was a glass ceiling and "pipeline issue" facing women in theatre leadership. How have you improved professional development for those seeking leadership positions in the arts, particularly women and people of color?
    
JENNIFER ZEYL: Over the 12 years of my freelance set design career, I only ever had one male-identified assistant. I had 11 female-identified and continue to work with womxn. Scenery design is already a male-dominated career and fabrication environment and I wanted to be able to mentor women as I was by my mentor Christine Jones. Period.

On the other hand, Intiman has more opportunities to share power and leverage privilege than a solo set designer and we do. Jobs: On our small staff of 10 there are two male identified members, (POC_and 7 female identified (4 POC) and one non-binary non-POC rockstar. Leadership: For the past 3 years Intiman has engaged with a Co-Curator to assist (Andrew Russell, former AD) with season planning. The women who have participated have all been POC and totally empowered to make top leadership decisions. We have a free Emerging Artist Program, led by our 2017 Co-Curator Sara Porkalob, which focuses on creating autobiographical solo performance.  The participants in this program are over 70% female identified, 74% POC and 15% non-binary.

Our 2018 Season, Co-curated by KJ Sanchez, features work by Talyor Mac (HIR), Allison Gregory (WILD HORSES) and Karen Zacharias (NATIVE GARDENS).

S: What is the most important single decision you have made in your journey? 

JZ: I married the right person. There is no way on earth that I could have accomplished one half of what I have without their support and understanding.
 
S: Statistics suggest that women apply for jobs only if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men apply when they meet only 40%. Has this been true for you, and how do you advocate for your experience and qualifications when they are not explicitly spelled out in a job posting?  

J.Z. I don't know if I should answer this one. I've only applied for a few jobs.
 
S: What roadblocks did you encounter on your path to this position and how did you navigate? 

JZ: Gender bias in my own backyard! I have been with Intiman for many years, first in 2010 as a seasonal set designer then + production management, then + Associate Artistic director full time, then Artistic Producer full time - you get the idea. The year I became PM, in 2013, I had access to all of the contracts past and present and SAW that in the same past season, for very similar shows, a male-identified colleague (and dear friend) with whom I went to grad school, out-earned me by over 2k on his design fee. FACE PALM. Needless to say, I fixed that real quick.
 
S: If you had $10 million dollars of unrestricted funds, how would you spend it to improve the American Theatre?

I think I would first talk with youth about what support they need in reinforcing their messaging. I'm so tired of the same bad ideas and as I write this youth are Marching for their Lives. I am inspired and listening. Though, if they didn't have any ideas (fat chance) programs like Public Works are really moving the needle in important ways.
 
S: Professional mentorship is a core part of our mission at Statera Foundation. In that spirit, what is the best piece of advice you have ever received, and from whom?

JZ: Oof.  I'm trying to get better at even asking for advice, let alone taking it. My therapist said to me recently, "You're one of the most disciplined people I know; what if you turned your self-discipline towards your joy and relaxation?" I'll let you know how that goes.
 
S: In what ways are you thriving in your leadership role?

 Photo: Alex Garland

Photo: Alex Garland

JZ: I make really great theatre in a radically inclusive way. For example, I just directed Taylor Mac's HIR.  This is a dark comedy addressing the effects of oppressive masculinity on a white suburban family. This play is a classic absurd realism piece where the extremity of the realistic given circumstances are so heightened it becomes absurd. There are four characters each suffering in traumatic states that isolate them from each other. PTSS, stroke recovery, domestic violence and gender transition. None of these experiences are personal to me or any of the actors playing these roles so - I assembled a Cultural Advisory Council to keep it real. It was helmed by a dazzling non-binary Dramaturg (see Crosscut interview with them below!) and comprised of a Marine Sergeant, an Army Major, a vascular neurologist, a speech pathologist, a police detective specializing in domestic violence, and 3 trans folx, one of whom is a counselor. It's important to me as a white woman to not tokenize in the telling of stories variant from my own.


Interested in reading more about Jennifer's first production as Artistic Director at Intiman. Reviews for "Hir" by Taylor Mac, a co-production with ArtsWest, are linked below. Intiman's next offering is "Wild Horses" by Allison Gregory and directed by Sheila Daniels. 

●      The Stranger:  If You Go See Hir, Don't Make the Mistake I Did

●      Seattle Gay Scene: ArtsWest/Intiman’s Production of Taylor Mac’s “Hir” Strikes All The Right Chords…And Then Some

●      Seattle Times: "Whatever you think of Taylor Mac’s ‘Hir’ at ArtsWest, the play provokes"

●      Westside Seattle: Review: ArtsWest, Intiman join to present Taylor Mac’s “Hir”

●      Drama in the Hood: Taylor Mac's HIR a knockout at Seattle ArtsWest Theatre

●      BWW Review: ArtsWest's HIR Takes Gender/Family Issues to an Absurd Level, and That's Funny?

●      Seattle P-I: Family Dysfunction at Arts West

●      Crosscut: New play in Seattle takes apart the American dream

●      Seattle Weekly: The Sunset of Masculinity

●      Broadway World: ArtsWest And Intiman Team Up For Taylor Mac's HIR

●      Westside Seattle: Coming soon to ArtsWest, Taylor Mac’s Hir

 

Inclusion Riders Signal Inclusive Hiring Practices

 Frances McDormand during her Oscar acceptance speech for a lead role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Frances McDormand during her Oscar acceptance speech for a lead role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Frances McDormand gave an unexpected rallying cry for gender parity in films at the end of her acceptance speech for her Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.  During an evening where 33 men won Oscars and only 6 women, McDormand said, “I have two words for you – inclusion rider.”

McDormand was referring to a legal strategy for increasing intersectional gender parity that is the brainchild of Stacy L. Smith, the prolific founder/director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the leading think tank studying diversity and inclusion in entertainment.  Smith has been urging film actors and content creators to fight “Hollywood’s epidemic of female invisibility” by negotiating for inclusive hiring practices as part of their employment contracts.

Smith argues that since actors and content creators negotiate for all kinds of special terms (“riders”) in their contracts related to their hours, housing, transportation, and other working conditions for each film, they could also use their bargaining power to promote the hiring of more women, including women of color and women in other under-represented groups. Through their inclusion riders, actors and content creators will hopefully persuade producers and directors to think of diverse hiring as an integral part of their creative process instead of some onerous external requirement.

Inclusion Riders Address Unconscious Biases in Hiring

 Stacy L. Smith, Social Scientist and Founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

Stacy L. Smith, Social Scientist and Founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

Smith’s research has included extensive interviews with producers and directors, and she has found that their hiring decisions are often shaped by unconscious biases rather than intentional sexism or racism. They were not opposed to hiring diverse casts – but they were in the habit of hiring white men.

Inclusion riders can serve as consciousness-raising tools that encourage the producers and directors to consider gender,  race, and other demographic factors in their hiring decisions instead of just going with their unconscious biases that favor white men.

For instance, Smith has found that most feature films have about 45 speaking roles, and most of them are not the leads or even secondary characters. There are usually many minor characters who only speak a few words, but in a big-budget film those small roles pay well.  Those roles are routinely given to white men, but an A-list actor negotiating to join a film could use an inclusion rider to ask the producer to fill those lower-level speaking roles with people who reflect the world we actually live in.  This would mean that about half of those roles would go to women, and that people of color, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups would also be represented proportionally in each gender.

Smith estimated that if notable actors cast in the 25 top films of 2013 had made use of inclusion riders in their contracts, the proportion of balanced films (i.e. films with half-female casts) would have jumped from 16 percent to 41 percent – a substantial increase in employment for women with no extra cost to the producers.

Stars Who Are Using Inclusion Riders

 Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain. VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images

Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain. VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images

This past January, during a Women Breaking Barriers panel at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, Octavia Spencer explained how Jessica Chastain used a rider to secure equal pay for Spencer in their upcoming film Molly’s Game.

[Octavia] had been underpaid for so long,” Chastain explained. “When I discovered that, I realized that I could tie her deal to mine to bring up her quote. Men should start doing this with their female co-stars.”

Many A-listers have taken action since McDormand’s speech. The Hollywood Reporter released a story announcing that Paul Feig is the latest filmmaker to adopt an inclusion rider for the projects produced under his banner, Feigco Entertainment.

Michael B. Jordan also announced that his production company, Outlier Society, would start adopting inclusion riders. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck followed Jordan’s lead by pledging that their production company, Pearl Street Films, would do the same.

Thanks so much to Stacy L. Smith for her decades of brilliant research and advocacy,  and to Frances McDormand for shining a spotlight on this simple and effective strategy for increasing employment for women and for making sure that films reflect the demographic realities of our times.

More on Inclusion Research and Riders

Inequality in 900 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, LGBT, and Disability from 2007- 2016
This 50-page study by USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative examines a decade of popular films and finds that women, people of color, and people with disabilities are consistently under-represented.  The first five pages provide many helpful charts and graphs that summarize the findings of the study.  Here are a few sample findings:

  • Just 31.4 percent of speaking characters were female, even though they represent a little more than half the U.S. population.
  • Women represented 4.2 percent of the directors and just 1.4 percent of the composers.
  • About 29 percent of speaking characters were from non-white racial/ethnic groups, compared with nearly 40 percent in the U.S.
  • Only 2.7 percent of speaking characters were depicted with a disability, despite the fact that nearly 20 percent of people in the U.S. have one.

Stacy L. Smith’s TED Talk: Data Behind Hollywood’s Sexism
Stacy L. Smith’s TED Talk explains how the inclusion rider is a crucial tool for moving the dial on intersectional gender parity in film. This link has the YouTube video of her talk and the transcript in 21 languages.

The Inclusion Rider Template from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative
This is a sample inclusion rider that could be adapted to use in contracts for actors or content creators.

Annenberg Inclusion Initiative Research and Reports
This page has links to additional inclusion studies.


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About the author: Sarah Greenman serves on Statera's executive team as Creative Director. She is also a writer for the WomenArts blog and contributor at Houzz. Sarah is a playwright, actor, artist, and activist. Learn more at www.sarahgreenman.com

Statera Voices: Valerie Rachelle

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"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the theatre and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other. It is here that we join in a circle of mutual trust and support to share our thoughts and self-reveal on our own term and in our own voices. 

Today's offering comes from Valerie Rachelle, Artistic Director of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland, OR. 


  Valerie Rachelle, Artistic Director

Valerie Rachelle, Artistic Director

By Valerie Rachelle

A few months ago, over a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a friend confided to me, “It wasn’t until I was 40 that I realized only women had to work this hard to get this far.” She was right. It was never something I had really acknowledged before. 

I look back at my career now and see how many doors I had to kick open, while my male counterparts walked through that same door unlocked and wide open. I worked. I pushed. I put myself out there. I knocked down doors. Every once in a while I would look at some of my male colleagues’ careers and think, “Wow - I have much more experience and they got that job over me?” 

I thought, ‘that’s how life goes’. That’s how education goes and how theater goes. I thought that working harder was the norm for women in higher education and theater. I know now that I am not alone and the deck has been stacked against me. I never said anything before because there wasn’t anything to say. It was the status quo and I didn’t even acknowledge the inequity.

“Every year I’m expected to do more and more and more. From my first year, I was expected to do even more than the entire rest of the faculty.” - Anonymous, Full Time Professor

In an article by Pete Musto, he found that in 2017 a new info-brief by ACE's Center for Policy Research and Strategy updated key statistics about women in higher education. This info-brief examined issues like tenure, compensation, and representation in high-ranking leadership positions. The indication was that women were being prepared for leadership positions at a much greater rate than men. For three decades, female students earned more than half of all baccalaureate degrees and for the past decade half of all doctoral degrees. The report found that despite the number of female graduates available for leadership positions, women did not hold associate professor or full professor positions at the same rate as their male peers. This information prompted me to reach out to women I know in leadership positions in theater departments at the university level.

“No one (on the faculty) in six years has come to see me teach. Not once…” - Anonymous, Adjunct Professor

I interviewed three different women, from three different states, at three different colleges. They are all full-time tenured professors. Two of these women are also the head of their respective acting departments. Their experiences as women in power were eye-opening to me. These women don’t work together, their theater departments are hundreds of miles apart, and yet, their experiences are undeniably similar. 

I inquired about workload, expectations, the delegation of responsibilities, and support from colleagues, subordinates, and from the department and/or president’s/dean’s office. All three of these professors felt the pressure to perform better, take on more outside classroom responsibilities (whether asked to, expected to, or taking it on themselves), and put in more hours than the rest of their colleagues.

“I do not feel my voice is heard. I always feel like I’m fighting. Things I say - no one registers.  [A male colleague] will repeat what I have said and a male faculty member will finally respond.  Tenure has helped me speak up more but I’m more fed up because it doesn’t get better. It only gets worse.” - Anonymous, Head of Acting

Although women are trained, sometimes at a higher rate and with more experience, our voices aren’t always heard. Is this why we stop speaking up? Is this why we stop asking for help? Do we take on more work, more hours, more responsibility because it is actually the path of least resistance? Or is it perception?

A study done in 2014 entitled “Faculty Service Load and Gender: Are Women Taking Care of the Academic Family?” found that “...in the liberal arts, having female chairs correlated with women doing more service, especially within the department.” As to correcting the imbalance, the study found that “women simply need to become more protective of their research time, as men are.” Yet they face “grave consequences if they are not perceived as team players,” while men on the same faculty usually don’t. Perception feels important.  In order to be respected in a leadership position, it feels like we need others to perceive us as infallible. In order to be infallible, we put in the extra hours and take on more responsibility than our counterparts. When we do take it all on and succeed, it becomes the expectation. Once the workload becomes too much and we begin to delegate, it can be perceived as weak.  

“There are things in the department that I shouldn’t deal with. But I’m sent by higher powers to deal with things like sexual harassment. My boss has been accused of sexually harassing students. The dean's office refuses to take care of it and I end up going in and trying to fix it myself.” - Anonymous, Head of Acting Professor

The pressure to look superhuman also seem to come from within. The women I spoke with all admitted they take on more work without being asked because if they didn’t, “it wouldn’t get done.” Or “...the work just isn’t done with the same level of detail.” In my own experience I feel the need to take everything on because even if it did get done by someone else, it wouldn’t be done to my standards. But, Is that really true? Is this our fear of letting go? Of failure? Do we stop trusting others because we have been burned in the past?  

 “No, I don’t delegate anymore. There is no one I can trust in my department.” - Anonymous, Full-Time Professor

My own frustrations as faculty at major universities mirror these women as well. In 2014, I was interviewed as part of the final three for two different tenure-track theater professor positions. One in a rare place where 90% of the theater faculty were women. The verdict there? I was overqualified to teach their students acting and directing. The other? As the only female applicant in a male dominant department, my final interview was with the President of the school. He was accompanied by one of the Human Resources staff during the interview (I now know why). During the interview, he asked me questions that the HR staff member had to continuously tell him he couldn’t legally ask me. “Do you have children?”, “How are you going to work full time and be a mother?” “Do you realize the number of hours a full-time position like this requires?” There weren’t many questions about my qualifications and when he challenged me on my resume I started shaking with anger. After a short breakdown outside alone (I wasn’t about to lose it in front of him), an apology email from HR (probably to make sure I didn’t sue), and a good vent over the phone to my husband, I took a step back. Why didn’t I realize this as part of the problem until just recently? I just assumed this was part of everyone’s experience in academia. I mean, don’t we all have stories like this one in our careers?  

One cannot always pass off these internal departmental problems as part of the structure of that particular program. The women I interviewed have worked in numerous departments, as have I, in order to get to where they are as professors. The story from place to place has a recurring theme. We see it in the research and we see it in the studies and statistics. We see it in the classrooms and in the admin office. Women are outnumbered, paid less, and do more than our male colleagues. Gender bias runs deep and shows up in our everyday behavior. 

“My attitude is to do good work and the work should speak for itself.” - Anonymous, Adjunct Professor

What’s next? Do we continue to work hard or harder and let the work speak for itself? 

Yes, we do!  
And, no - Hell no! 

I know now that the conversation needs to accompany the work. I will call out that President, I will tell HR how someone really affects their institution. I will hire more female colleagues. I pledge to speak up when I see inequity.  I vow to celebrate when the paradigm shifts. My work does need to speak for itself but so do I. My voice, your voice, our voices need to be heard. There is hope.  No, wait, let me try that again. “THERE IS HOPE!”
 


ABOUT VALERIE RACHELLE

Valerie Rachelle, Artistic Director of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland, OR. Valerie is a professional Director and Choreographer who has been freelancing for over 20 years. Valerie was born and raised in Eugene, OR and started as a dancer. Along with her professional dancing, Valerie is also a classically trained singer. She attended California Institute of the Arts for her BFA in Acting and moved to LA where she co-founded a not-for-profit theater dedicated to producing new works – Lucid By Proxy.

Valerie attended the University of California Irvine for her MFA in Directing. Upon graduation, Valerie spent four years at PCPA Theaterfest where she was Casting Director/Resident Director/Choreographer. Valerie has worked at theaters around the country including Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Syracuse Opera, Fresno Grand Opera, Glendale Center Theater, Performance Riverside, Lucid By Proxy, Utah Shakespeare Festival, Morgan Wixson Theatre, Summer Repertory Theater, and PCPA Theaterfest. Valerie is currently the Artistic Director at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland OR.