At Seattle Rep we believe in “Theater at the Heart of Public Life.” As theater-makers, we have the power to reveal our shared humanity through the stories we tell and transform communities in the process; but this is only possible if we commit to the work of creating a more just and equitable space for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) artists, staff, and community members. We must acknowledge some hard truths about the history of racial inequities that have existed within our country, our industry, and our organization for far too long, and work to actively dismantle a system that is in direct opposition to our mission to create productions and programs that reflect and elevate the diverse cultures, perspectives, and life experiences of our region. By continuing to build anti-racist practices into every aspect of our work, from hiring policies to rehearsal procedures, from governance and leadership to strategic planning, we will return to producing art on stage in a way that truly aligns with our values upon the conclusion of the pandemic.
Our work to become a more diverse and inclusive organization dates back to our earliest diversity conversations in the 1990s, but Seattle Rep started on a path towards establishing greater accountability in the summer of 2014 and began to prioritize anti-racism policies by developing an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Plan in 2016 establishing the following goals:
- Inclusive Hiring Processes: We added EDI questions as a standard part of the recruitment/interview process, began to utilize hiring panels, and standardized interview questions.
- Diversify Programming: We updated our mission statement to specifically focus on collaboration with artists “to create productions and programs that reflect and elevate the diverse cultures, perspectives, and life experiences of our region.” This imperative has powered our recent mainstage seasons and been woven into all of our artistic programming, including Public Works, The Other Season, 20x30, and New Directions.
- Transform Staff Leadership: Three years ago, our Senior Leadership team was 100% white. Today it is 50% BIPOC due to our embrace of inclusive hiring practices.
- Deepen and Expand Community Engagement: In January 2019, we created the position of Director of Arts Engagement to more widely engage our diverse community and increase access and connection to our artistic work, including continuing and expanding our long-standing youth engagement programs.
- Expand EDI Training: To diminish the potential for harm and firmly establish an anti-racist culture, Seattle Rep hosts mandatory bi-annual trainings for all staff and bi-weekly white anti-racism and BIPOC affinity groups for staff, Board, and artists.
- Adopt Equitable Language: We integrated equity, diversity, and inclusion language into our revised mission, vision, and values statement, and we established land acknowledgement practices.
- Center Strategic Plan: Our EDI goals were threaded into our 2018 institutional strategic plan. Meanwhile, the Equity Team, made up of a diverse cross section of staff, artists, and teaching artists, is meeting weekly to develop a new EDI Plan for 2021 in advance of the development of a new institutional strategic plan.
- Improve Data Collection: We now gather self-identified demographic data annually from Trustees and staff in order to better track these metrics against goals and future outcomes.
- Broaden Board Membership: Five years ago, our Board consisted of 3% BIPOC membership. Today, 22% of our Board identifies as BIPOC, with the goal of exceeding 33% (reflecting broader King County demographics) by 2021.
Over the past few months our organization has been involved in an analysis of our past practices as we look to develop a new EDI Plan for 2021. This has been accomplished with a collective made up of Seattle Rep staff, Trustees, artists, and teaching artists that will set goals for the next five years. We’ll release the full details of this plan early next year, but have already started to implement the following policies and programs:
- Build Equitable Working Conditions: Eliminate 10 out of 12 hour tech rehearsals and the 6-day rehearsal week, and continue to build more nurturing work environments into our budgets to support BIPOC artists’ needs.
- Evaluate all artistic projects through a racial equity lens: Include meaningful BIPOC participation in artistic decision making, including season planning and new play development.
- Complete transition of stipend internship program into a paid apprenticeship program: Beginning in 2015, we built a multi-year plan to prioritize racial equity in the recruitment for and structure of our Professional Arts Training Program in an effort to diversify the theater field and create an equitably paid pipeline into the industry.
- Greater access for BIPOC audiences: We have continued to build upon our existing audience development and access initiatives through our Mobile Box Office and Pay What You Choose programs, and by launching an initiative to offer free tickets to the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish people.
Though we have made some progress over the past few years, racism is deeply rooted in the institution of American theater. We hear the call to action to become an anti-racist organization and have made racial equity and anti-racist work a priority for our company. Our efforts are not perfect and we know we will make mistakes along the way. We count on our partners in the work to continue to hold us accountable to the values and principles of racial equity and anti-racist work. To anyone who hasn't felt seen, heard, or included, or has experienced harm within Seattle Rep’s spaces, we are deeply sorry. We thank you for holding us accountable and calling us in to do our work in this space. We want to express our gratitude to We See You White American Theatre, Black Theatre United, and local BIPOC theater communities for their labor and voices in this time as they help define a path for organizations to develop more inclusive practices. We are guided by the fact that Black Lives Matter and we are committed to engaging our community with action to build racial equity and social justice principles in this vital work.