GRSF Plan to Address BIPOC Demands for White American Theater
Approved by the Board of Directors on January 25, 2021.
The mission of the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) is to enrich people’s lives by producing dynamic, clearly understood productions of Shakespeare and other playwrights who celebrate the spoken word. Since our founding in 2003, we have always believed that great art is created by great people and that the mission of enriching lives requires us to educate ourselves about the full scope of the human experience and to have a balance of perspectives in the company on that experience. In June 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, GRSF released a statement about our position on #BlackLivesMatter and our commitment to improving our practices as a company to be a safer space for theater workers, audiences, and students who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). You can read that statement HERE.
Also in June, a group of BIPOC theater professionals issued documents detailing longstanding industry practices that are harmful and a list of demands to improve those practices (details at https://www.weseeyouwat.com/). They asked each theater company to publish a plan to address their demands. We are grateful for the insight that these professionals have shared and look forward to a continued dialogue on how we can make the theater industry a more inclusive, diverse, and safe space for all who wish to contribute to the creation of art. Although our company produces theater in rural Minnesota, we engage and train theater workers from around the country who are or will be heavily involved in theatrical work in regional theaters, universities, Broadway, and the film and television industry. The work done by GRSF in Winona, MN ripples across the country.
Many of the BIPOC document demands spotlight the critical need for transparency. As a company, we need to be honest not only about the biases we hold philosophically about what, how, and whose art is produced, but also about such issues as our labor practices and how we manage time during rehearsals. While the demands have been set forth by BIPOC artists, they are not always about racism in theater but about the overall unhealthy work environment that theater can foster and how that environment often affects the most vulnerable people first: artists of color, young artists, interns, artists with disabilities, single parents, et al. Examining these demands has required that we turn a critical eye to not just the implicit biases of our predominantly white organization, but to the assumptions we hold about how theater is made in the first place. We have had to be honest and transparent with ourselves about the scale of our company, whose wellbeing or artistic vision has been prioritized in the past, and what we can realistically do to create sustainable changes for the future (while adhering to our mission and keeping within our budget constraints).
There is a lot we could say about the discussions we are having—which, as a text-based company, are extremely important to us—however, as an organization, what will make the most difference to our artists, audience, and community are the actions we will take including how we allocate our budget. It is also important to lay out our plans so that you, our community, can hold us accountable. These plans are all in the service of creating quality art and educational programs. None of this happens in a vacuum; we—artists, donors, administrators, and audience members—are working together to enrich the whole community (not just those who love theater or Shakespeare). We need you to help us make sure we are doing the work.
Therefore, we lay out A) our current practices, B) what we have accomplished since publishing our statement in June, and C) our goals for one year, three years, and five years from now. As with all growth processes, these goals are subject to change as we learn and adapt. This is intended to be a living document, not a static artifact.
To view our list of current practices, accomplished items and our goals, please click here or click the link below to download the full document.