Our Message of Action (06/23/20)

Dear Marin Theatre Company Community,

On May 31st we shared a statement condemning racist violence, demanding justice for the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, among countless others, and voicing our solidarity with Black artists and community members. But we know as a predominantly White institution, that this statement is not enough. We want to share with you how we are going to take action.

Over the past few weeks our staff and board have engaged in deep conversation about our power and privilege and our moral imperative for anti-racist action. On Saturday June 13, 2020 the Coalition of Black Women Professional Theatre Makers in the Bay Area released a statement which accurately states that we failed to engage in a public accountability process after the harm caused to members of our artistic community and the public by our production of Thomas Bradshaw’s Thomas and Sally in 2017. We apologize for our lack of communication and follow-through. We are still working to repair the faith and trust that we lost with our community as a result of that production and our responses to the concerns that were raised. The Coalition’s statement is evidence of the actions that we still need to take. 

In 2018, we made numerous pledges of action to the Coalition to dismantle systemic forms of racism in our organization, but we have not communicated the changes we made towards honoring these commitments. We have now posted a full report on our website with status updates (see below).

We want to clearly state that the MTC staff and board are committed to the following actions, accountability, and an ongoing process of identifying and dismantling systems of white supremacy and privilege that harm and oppress people of color, and reward whiteness or affinity to whiteness. We are committed to being an anti-racist organization. Moving forward, we will report on our actions publicly every 90 days. 

Marin Theatre Company pledges to do the following by the end of September 2020:

  • Engage facilitators for further mandatory Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training and Anti-Racist training for the entire MTC staff and board
  • Remove barriers to board membership and diversify our board through intentional recruitment of Black, Indigenous & People of Color (BIPOC) community members
  • Diversify our staff by hiring BIPOC individuals, intentionally seeking out candidates that challenge our status quo for all positions
  • Develop an independent HR process for BIPOC staff and artists to address issues of discrimination and safety
  • Develop and implement a plan for protecting BIPOC artists, staff, and board members while present in our Mill Valley community, specifically regarding interaction with police
  • Provide an update to our community, like this one, every 90 days, on how our plan of action is evolving and adapting in the course of this ongoing work

We are asking our community members to join us in this work, and to hold us accountable. If you would like to continue the conversation with us, you can e-mail, message us on Facebook, or leave a comment on any of our social media channels.

Last week, BIPOC theatremakers from around the country released an open letter to White American theaters. We acknowledge that our institution has been part of the problem of perpetuating white fragility, silence and supremacy in the field. It is our responsibility to listen, engage, and take action.

Thank you for your support, Marin Theatre Company Staff & Board

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Our Community Pledges: Reporting on MTC’s actions to dismantle systemic racism in our organization (06/23/20)

During and after MTC’s production of Thomas Bradshaw’s Thomas and Sally in the Fall of 2017, we received an overwhelming amount of criticism and feedback from members of our community of all backgrounds. As a predominantly white institution, we have failed to take the care necessary to protect our Black artists and audience members.

In response to the events of Thomas and Sally, the Coalition of Black Women Professional Theatre Makers in the Bay Area formed and penned an open letter asking us to take several action steps to correct our mistakes and enact fundamental and systemic change in our organization. The Coalition met with leaders of our organization several times in the months following, at which point we committed to a transformative process intended to dismantle racism within our organization. Many of the below pledges were made initially to the Coalition in 2018, but until now we have not made them public. We understand the need for transparency in this process, and so we are now sharing this with our community.

We welcome public accountability for each pledge we make and we hope our actions toward becoming an anti-racist organization will serve as an example for other predominantly white institutions to do the same. We recognize that this work is fluid and ongoing, and we pledge to provide regular status updates that are honest about our successes and failures. Those updates will be sent to our community every 90 days, but this page may be updated more regularly to respond to immediate feedback. 

Pledge #1: Apologize for mistakes made in producing Thomas Bradshaw’s Thomas and Sally, and e-mail corrective information regarding sexual assault to all patrons and student groups who attended the show.

Status Report as of June 19, 2020: Marin Theatre Company formally apologized for mistakes we made in a statement released on our website and social media channels, just over a week after the initial meeting between MTC and the coalition. That apology can be found here.

MTC recognizes the potential impact our productions can have on our audience’s understanding of the world and the responsibility that entails. In response to criticism that Thomas and Sally depicted real life sexual assault without adequately portraying it as such, we pledged in 2018 to share information and resources on this issue with student groups and audience members who attended the show, and we hired Kyra Jones (bio here) to compile a comprehensive resource guide. We did share this information with the student groups, however we failed at the time to share it with patrons. That resource information is now on our website, where it will live forever, and can be found HERE.

Pledge #2: Interrogate and change our methods of commissioning, developing, and producing culturally diverse work through an anti-racist lens. Ensure that those working either on stage or behind the scenes demonstrate an understanding of key social issues affecting those characters and/or subjects, including discrimination, democratic participation, criminal justice, historical oppression, and other issues of racial and economic justice, intersectionality, and equity. Hire artists of color for the positions of power in the room from the inception of the work.

Status Report as of June 19, 2020: MTC recognizes that the work of interrogating our artistic processes is vital and never-ending, and that this is perhaps the most crucial one of all for us to be continuously held accountable by our community. MTC is committed to intentionality and color-conscious practices in all aspects of hiring and participation, especially to support equity, diversity, and inclusion. In the years since we initially made this pledge, we have engaged numerous BIPOC artists and cultural consultants who have made invaluable contributions to transforming our artistic processes. Again, we recognize that there is work yet to be done.

Here are some of the ways we have strived to live up to this pledge:

  • In the season following Thomas and Sally, MTC hired five female directors for the six-show mainstage season, including four female BIPOC directors.
  • When considering a play with specific cultural representation, MTC has instituted the practice of hiring multiple paid consultants to read and review the play during the season planning process. This has led to several plays being removed from consideration due to issues of questionable representation, and it has also led to MTC being introduced to several BIPOC writers we would not have otherwise known. In conjunction with this, MTC has continued and expanded upon our commitment to develop and produce female and BIPOC writers.
  • MTC has hired several paid cultural consultants for culturally specific work to provide resources and feedback on every aspect of production, including casting, marketing, design, and staging. Each time we have engaged someone in this work, it has been done a little differently, as we seek to adapt the process to the needs of the show and specifically the BIPOC artists working on the show. We are still learning the best methods to ensure the consultants are in true positions of power in the room, but we have had several successful partnerships thus far.

Here are some of the ways we intend to immediately build from what we have learned:

  • As a playwright-centric organization, it is our practice to give power and choice to the playwright when they are involved in a production, including choice of director. Moving forward, however, MTC will take all necessary steps for culturally specific work to ensure that the playwright is provided with options for directors whose backgrounds match those being represented by the work.
  • MTC will move from the resident dramaturg model to a freelance dramaturg and consultant model, ensuring further opportunity for positions of power to be filled by artists whose backgrounds align with the backgrounds represented by the work.
  • As a result of what we learned from working with playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle and cultural consultant the Honorable Brenda Toineeta Pipestem, in the course of conducting dramaturgical research, MTC commits to a process which centers narratives penned by scholars and historians from the communities being depicted by the work, de-centering the white-penned narratives and histories that often tell the story of BIPOC communities through a white lens, therefore erasing key aspects of history and culture.

Pledge #3: Engage facilitators for further mandatory Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training and Anti-Racist training for the entire MTC staff and board.

Status Report as of June 19, 2020: MTC has accomplished the following:

  • MTC staff members completed sexual harassment prevention training in FY19
  • MTC staff and board completed EDI training in FY19 with Alison Park of Blink Consulting
  • MTC staff members, including executives, participated in TCG’s EDI cohort moderated by Carmen Morgan of artEquity and in Theatre Bay Area’s TASC (Theatres Advancing Social Change) cohort
  • MTC staff members lead monthly EDI development meetings using artEquity materials as a guide
  • MTC board formed EDI committee and organized and participated in multiple on-site and off-site meetings and  workshops during 2018 and 2019
  • MTC staff and board incorporated EDI check ins and updates into every major meeting

Recognizing that this work is ongoing and can always deepen, MTC commits to the following immediately reportable actions:

  • With experienced paid facilitators, continue annual EDI and sexual harassment prevention training for the entire staff and board, with the next trainings occurring by September 30, 2020.
  • With experienced paid facilitators, begin regular anti-racism training for the entire staff and board, with the intention of dismantling systemic forms of racism in our institution and harmful individual bias within ourselves, with the first of these trainings occurring by September 30, 2020.
  • Develop an onboarding process for new employees that includes comprehensive EDI, anti-racist, and sexual harassment prevention training.

Pledge #4: Develop and release an institutional policy committing to non-carceral (not involving the state or policing) strategies for dealing with any conflict involving community members who statistically face elevated levels of police violence.

Status Report as of June 19, 2020: MTC formally adopted a non-carceral policy in 2018. We have committed to revisiting that policy each year to ensure it specifically addresses the unique and disproportionate harm that police involvement can bring to BIPOC individuals. MTC staff and board have committed to an ongoing dialogue with the Mill Valley City Council and police department regarding necessary protocols to protect BIPOC artists and patrons.

Pledge #5: Provide thoughtful support and safety networks for every BIPOC artist we hire.

Status Report as of June 19, 2020: MTC established the Artist Support Network, an expanding group of artists (most of whom are BIPOC individuals) familiar with our company who have agreed to be responsive to artists employed by MTC who have questions or concerns that they do not feel comfortable bringing to an MTC staff member or executive leader. MTC has also expanded first-day information packets to include the address and contact info for multiple local houses of worship, local counselors, and other wellness resources. MTC has taken steps to introduce the local community to the artists through discussions at the Mill Valley Library and interviews shared via email/on MTC’s website. After receiving feedback about uncomfortable experiences at the local gym, we engaged in a frank and fruitful discussion with the managers of the gym and began providing artist headshots ahead of each production to be kept at the front desk.

After an incident that took place during our production of Noura where actors from the show were participating in an educational event in a local classroom that went on lockdown due to a potential active shooter, the show’s Equity Deputy wrote a letter detailing the resulting traumatic impact and suggesting numerous actions for us to take to protect actors from enduring such trauma when possible and care for them in the instances it does occur. We were in the process of adapting and expanding on those actions when our operations were shut down due to COVID-19, which has also presented us with new challenges for protecting our artists. We pledge to follow up with these additional actions that we have taken and will take in the interest of the health and well-being of our artists.

We recognize that Marin County is a predominantly white and wealthy community and it can feel alienating and occasionally hostile for BIPOC individuals, particularly our artists who exhaust incalculable amounts of emotional labor in the service of creating their work. By September 30, 2020, we pledge to develop and implement a formal plan for protecting BIPOC staff, artists, and board members in our community, especially and crucially regarding potential interaction with the police. At the Mill Valley City Council meeting on June 15, 2020, MTC officially requested to take part in the City Council’s conversations on Mill Valley policing, equitable education policies with Marin City, and equitable housing initiatives.

Pledge #6: Diversify our staff through the intentional recruitment of BIPOC individuals.

Status Report as of June 19, 2020: We are committed to diversifying our staff by hiring BIPOC individuals, intentionally seeking out candidates that challenge our status quo for all positions, including positions of power. MTC has never had a BIPOC individual in an executive role, and has rarely had any BIPOC individuals in other positions of power throughout the organization. Several such positions are set to be available as soon as we are able to hire again, and we pledge to make those new hires with intentionality.

We also recognize that hiring BIPOC individuals into positions of power is not enough, we must also make sure that they are protected. In addition to every other action item we list here, all of which are primarily intended to protect the safety of every BIPOC individual engaged as part of our organization and community, we commit to developing an independent HR process for BIPOC staff and artists to address issues of discrimination and safety by September 30, 2020.

Pledge #7: Remove barriers to board membership and diversify our board through intentional recruitment of BIPOC community members.

Status Report as of June 19, 2020: MTC has removed the informal minimum donation requirement previously imposed on board members. MTC has removed the requirement for in-person attendance at Board meetings, allowing for a combination of in-person and virtual attendance.

The MTC board is actively exploring other methods of breaking down barriers of access for membership, including ways to expand the membership beyond the boundaries of Marin County. This is an ongoing process that we pledge to continuously report on to our community.

Pledge #8: Provide a public accountability plan complete with timelines for completing related action steps.

Status Report as of June 19, 2020: This is the first of what we pledge to be regular updates so that our community can hold us accountable in every aspect of this work.

We know that this represents only the beginning of what it takes to practice active anti-racism in an organization and we will continue to expand upon these pledges as we are prepared to do so. We are providing this information for members of our community in good faith, and hope that you will choose to hold us accountable to our failures and help us build from our successes.

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