EDI Action Items and Statement of Solidarity

To remain silent is to be complicit. It is for this reason the Atlanta Shakespeare Company stands with our Black brothers and sisters to say “Enough is enough”. We are way past the time when law enforcement or any self-entitled citizen can take the life of another human being, in any but the gravest of circumstances.

America’s original sin was genocide, followed by generations of human slavery. Yet at the same time, our founding fathers created a form of self-government based on the radical proposition that each of us was endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Many of the white men who articulated these ideals “owned” human slaves and it is their failure to reconcile their actions and their aspirations that continue to feed the worst aspects of America’s id, allowing any number of people to delude themselves into thinking that they are somehow “better than” or “more entitled” because of the accident of their birth or skin tone.

But to dwell on the faults of those men who endeavored to create a better world is to miss the point of the American experiment. What was articulated in our founding documents was an ideal that was not true at the time. Rather, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that followed, articulated the aspirations of a whole people wishing to create a better world. Give those guys some credit, they made a good start and created what we know as “America.”

At our best, “America” is an idea that belongs to the world. In times past, it has inspired whole generations of immigrants from across the globe to come here and seek a better life. That diversity has made us strong and created unprecedented opportunity for millions of people to pursue a happy life. But our “best” America has never existed for a large percentage of Black Americans. With the legacy of Jim Crow, segregation, systemic discrimination, and more recently, wanton acts of gerrymandering and voter suppression, Black Americans have always had to do more to get the same slice of the American Dream that comes to many with little or no effort.

For many years, at least we could see we were making progress. But that has not been the case of late. For some time now, America has been losing ground on multiple fronts. We have lost sight of our aspirations and the truths we hold dear. As is often the case, when we forget to be our best, we give in to our worst impulses. These are the shades of “white supremacy” still lurking in the dark waters of the American psyche. In the absence of the beacon that was— at one point— the American Dream, many cannot resist the lure of imagining a return to a time when their essential worth as human beings was guaranteed by the color of their skin or the accident of their birth. Such thinking embodies the worst aspects of humanity.

Yet we cannot forget these people are also our brothers and sisters. We cannot forget that only by aspiring together can we rekindle an American Dream that includes everybody. During his life, Dr. King referred to keeping “our eyes on the prize”. We must do that today.

We have made some progress in 250 years. We no longer exterminate whole peoples; we no longer have slave markets; and gay people can marry whom they love. On the other hand, our government still separates families; they put children in cages; and as of last week, a Black man can still be murdered in slow motion by law enforcement officers in the presence of a dozen witnesses while cameras are rolling.

We are not finished as a nation and we are not complete as human beings until all of us are safe. If one of us is sick and cannot receive treatment, then our country is sick. If a Black life or a brown life is somehow “less than” a white life, then all our lives are tarnished with shame.

It should go without saying— since “all lives matter”— but sadly, in the summer of 2020 in the United States of America, it still must be said “Black Lives Matter”.

I’ve heard that talk is cheap and that actions speak louder than words. I disagree. Language is everything. It is only through language that we can orchestrate and contextualize complex actions. It is language that makes aspiration possible, and it is only through collective aspiration that we can build a just and equitable society that values every life.

Such aspirations only become real if we toil in their presence with a free and open heart, sharing with all people the gifts we have received. It is a choice we each must make every day of our lives: a choice between the intellectual laziness of bigotry, greed, fear, and anger . . . and empathy, grace, generosity, and love.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world” and someday— maybe within our children’s lifetime— no one will need ever say again “Black Lives Matter”.

On behalf of the people of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company,

Jeff Watkins
Artistic Director
The Atlanta Shakespeare Company at
The Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse

EDI Action Items

Like many theaters across America, we recently issued a Statement of Solidarity with Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), denouncing white supremacy and our own complicity in systemic racism. We believe that language matters, but we also know that language without commensurate action is a hollow promise that denies the truth of what we say.

Thus— even though the Atlanta Shakespeare Company is on indefinite hiatus with only a single full-time employee— we pledge to take the following actions immediately upon returning to full time operation:

1. MOVE our Statement of Diversity from its current position as Appendix D in our Strategic Plan and make it a Core Value.

2. ENGAGE a professional facilitator with EDI expertise to conduct a three-day EDI Intensive as the point-of-beginning of our first season back. Participants will include all senior leadership, staff, Volunteer Captains, food service personnel, and members of our Board of Directors. We commit to a 50/50 ratio of BIPOC to White, and all BIPOC participants not on salary will be paid for this work.

3. INVEST in and foster reciprocal relationships in BIPOC communities with a concentrated focus on long-term BIPOC audience development.

4. COMMIT to a BIPOC Director in our first season back.

5. COMMIT to a BIPOC Light Designer in our first season back.

6. REQUIRE EDI training for all Intimacy Directors and Fight Choreographers. This training will be provided to ASC staff at the company’s expense.

7. ENGAGE a qualified BIPOC Lighting Professional to evaluate our Repertory Lighting Plot; our overall stage lighting infrastructure; and to advise us of any necessary alterations to assure excellent illumination of all skin tones.

8. ENGAGE a BIPOC wig stylist to work in concert with existing staff.

9. MAKE our rehearsal facilities available free of charge to BIPOC theater artists and emerging BIPOC Theater Companies.

10. CREATE an in-house EDI Committee to advise our staff and provide an avenue of amplification for all artists of color who occupy our spaces. This committee will be composed of fulltime staff members and BIPOC members of our extended company. Non-salaried participants will be paid for their time.

11. RECOGNIZE the “I” in BIPOC stands for indigenous and create a prominent, permanent display in our lobby describing how the theatre’s land was acquired, its history, and the Tribal Nations from which it was acquired.

12. ASSIGN staff, ensemble, and Board Members to attend relevant public meetings that take place within the community to listen to their concerns and understand what they need from us.

13. FIND OPPORTUNITIES for quarterly group outings for staff, leadership, and Board Members to see work by Playwrights and Directors of color.

14. EXPAND and codify a racial component within the Chicago Theatre Standards and begin each production process by reviewing the tenets of what constitutes a safe, inclusive space, and what kinds of behavior or comments are unacceptable.

15. INVEST in next generation theater artists by paying more money to our Apprentice Company to make the program more attractive and practical for BIPOC and young people in general.

16. ADD a second year for select Apprentices/Interns that includes executive or director mentorship with 50% BIPOC participation.

17. EMPLOY intentional and honest effort in establishing consistent, meaningful, long-term relationships with BIPOC Artists.

18. IMPLEMENT a standing policy to respond to audience members’ comments about race and gender in our social media spaces that are inconsistent with our Values and Practice.

These are initial steps. This list is not intended to be comprehensive, nor in any sense complete. It is only a beginning. These actions are put forth as a good-faith commitment to making systemic change at all levels of our organization.

Over many years, BIPOC Theater Artists have made an indelible and significant contribution to the work of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company. More than any white artist ever could, their very presence affirms that the power, grace, wisdom, and beauty of Shakespeare’s language are the birthright of all speakers of English, regardless of the circumstance of their birth.

We will continue to evolve. We will be better in our future than we were in our past. And with open hearts and open minds, our work together will make the world a better place.