Changing the Theatre Environment: A Response to Utah Rep

There have been times in which I was not comfortable in the theatre. In which a space I held so dear felt scary, unsafe, and wrong. The recent news about Utah Repertory Theatre Company and the abuse endured by its artists is upsetting, but not shocking whatsoever.

What surprised me the most about this particular situation was that something happened. That someone spoke up, people joined together, and action was taken. What happened at Utah Rep is not a new story. I hear time and time again about abuse happening in companies all over the country. Theatre artists are known to be a tight-knit community. “What a small world” you always hear people say. Well, that small world is biting us in the ass.

We as artists spend so much time telling stories and expressing ourselves through our work, but have completely shut that down as human beings. Because the community is so small, people never feel that they can speak up. We feel that any action taken or negative words given will turn to a lack of work, when its hard enough already. We cannot afford to jeopardize our already rocky career.

So instead, we have hushed conversations, sideways glances, and generally accepted faults of people who continue to get hired and take up space in communities where we do not want them. Everyone knows that so-and-so is creepy, so just be careful.

Every day we are experiencing, watching, or hearing about abuse. We get uncomfortable. We talk about how wrong it is. We join in community with those who have also been affected. Then we go on with business as usual.

The Utah theatre community was able to make immense change in a few short hours, and the abuses of Utah Rep shut down. That is the power of speaking up. It is also the power of listening and believing.

So in this moment, I encourage you to think critically about who you have believed and who you have fought for. Have you heard women consistently speaking up about sexism? Did you hear them? Have you heard people of color, disabled people, LGBTQIA+ folks, immigrants also speaking up?

The answer is most likely yes. Yes, you have heard people saying these things. Have you done anything? The answer is probably no. Did you stop hiring that person? Stop seeing their shows? Let our current situation be a lesson to us all: when people do wrong, we must take action before it gets to that point. It’s time for a cleanse of our theatre environments, and to create brave spaces that allow us to flourish.

Tips for Increasing Diversity

Diversity is finally making its way into regular conversations. The language is becoming more comfortable, and people in power are starting to acknowledge their role in creating more diverse workforce and material. That being said, diversity changes through actions and not just words. For things to change, the people with privilege must be active allies. This article from Playbill highlights steps people can take.

Villegas, Jones, Rubin, and France weigh in on the concrete actions to take to make theatre more inclusive.
1. Be proactive and participate in outreach to groups that represent actors of color, like Asian-American Performers Action Coalition or the African-American Artists Alliance, to bring them into the casting process.
2. If you’re a playwright, lyricist, book writer, or a creator, ask yourself if the race of your characters is relevant to the story, and if not, specify that.
3. Do your research on racism and internal bias before beginning the creative process. Understanding the history of these issues within the business will help create an inclusive and positive environment.
4. As an actor, be conscious of the roles you accept and be self-reflective about whether your racial or ethnic background or physical abilities would be appropriate for the part you’re playing.
5. Be careful of engaging in tokenism or promoting harmful or damaging caricatures. Truly color conscious casting gives members of marginalized groups opportunities to play real, developed characters, not one-dimensional stereotypes.

This is not a passive topic. If people continue to call for changes and increased diversity, more needs to be done than a group of white men grappling with which Tennessee Williams piece is the least problematic. We must do more.

Not My Job, But I’m Doing it Anyway

Maggie Regier, Ex. Director

This is something I constantly hear people of marginalized identities say when a workplace, community, or gathering is upholding a standard white patriarchal narrative. Someone feels a lack of representation, a lack of being heard, and a lack of actions taking place. So then the burden of speaking up and creating change falls onto the shoulders of people already bearing the weight of discrimination.

That’s why Pussycat was started. Over and over again, brilliant women were getting passed up for roles because there simply weren’t enough female parts. Meanwhile, men who did not prepare and did not have half the talent of their counterparts were being handed roles left and right.

The problem continues to grow when you look at women of color, queer women, or transgender and non-binary people. Cisgender men are writing plays to be directed by men for predominantly male casts when the majority of theatre audiences are women.

So, like many people before me in the theatre world I decided it was my job to create those opportunities. Hearing that the majority of plays were “just that way” was simply not a valid excuse. It isn’t my job to provide the opportunities I need in order to be a successful woman in this business, but dammit I did it anyway.