Equity and Anti-Racism Vision and Action Plan for American Players Theatre
Reviewed and Re-issued January 2022
We have not done enough quickly enough to address systemic racism in our company, in our region and in our country.
We thrive on rigor, authenticity, specificity and, above all, an eagerness to work collaboratively. We depend on these tenets in every aspect of our work but the way in which we do our work can slow us down. We can no longer let that serve as a justification; we must make progress now. As an organization, we have placed too great a burden on APT's generous BIPOC community. We have used our rural location as a reason for not expanding our BIPOC company and staff more quickly, especially in leadership positions. We have allowed the myth surrounding 'classical theater' - that classical theater is primarily the domain of White practitioners and audience members -to be an obstacle in amplifying BIPOC voices. And, we have ignored, and therefore disrespected, Indigenous communities by failing to properly acknowledge that APT is located on the ancestral land of the Ho-Chunk people.
We must always continue diligently on our journey to do better and prioritize the work we need to do. Increasingly, we are finding our voice as an organization as it concerns this work.
We are grateful and indebted to the people and organizations that have helped us and continue to help us in this work (please see the Acknowledgements section for specifics), especially the BIPOC members of the APT company whom we rely on for honest feedback and communication.
Our Vision Regarding Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
American Players Theatre is committed to creating a culture where diversity, equity, and inclusion are guiding principles, where listening for understanding is paramount, and where mutual respect is nurtured. To accomplish this, we commit to:
- Identifying and dismantling the obstacles, structures, and systems that have excluded artists, artisans, and audiences, and kept them from APT.
- Collaborating with a diverse community of artists and staff in making theater.
- Creating art that celebrates, values, invites, listens to, and is transformed by a wide range of perspectives and experiences.
- Welcoming and building a diverse audience.
- Cultivating a community where learning is essential and ongoing.
- Honoring and examining our values while holding each other accountable.
We are committed to creating a more equitable and diverse company and are prepared to make the significant budgetary investments needed. We know this work is constantly evolving and will require persistence, focus, and the intentional engagement of resources.
Action We Will Take
Now that we have laid out APT's vision for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, here we outline the specific steps to fulfill that vision. Many of the actions below are taken directly from BIPOC Demands for White American Theatre and from our own strategic plan.
Updates of actions taken during the last year are noted in italics under each item.
For our staff, board and company:
- We are committed to bringing a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color (BIPOC) into our senior leadership team. Update: There are several senior leadership positions becoming available this year.
- We have a BIPOC Artistic Associate with casting authority present in each audition room.
- We discuss our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion policy with each incoming director when securing our agreements.
- We are expanding the Core Acting Company to include more BIPOC actors, with a goal to achieve at least 50/50 parity within our Core Company of actors by 2028.
- We will expand the number of BIPOC Board members with a goal of reaching 20% of the total members by 2022. Update: we have achieved this goal as of November 2021
- We will accelerate and expand the current BIPOC paid apprenticeships and internships to reach throughout the entire organization by 2026. Update: Due to the pandemic, we did not hire apprentices in 2021, but the program will return in 2022.We are also re-evaluating the difference between internships, apprenticeships and early-career positions in hiring.
- We are committed to creating an equitable work environment for BIPOC individuals, by providing additional resources including housing, transportation, haircare, and additional support staff. Update: We are encouraging BIPOC company members to make requests to make their work at APT better, and we believe those requests are being met.
- We will enhance our support and improve our listening to affinity groups of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ employees, and other affinity groups as they arise. These coalitions provide a conduit for APT to hear concerns that arise for those groups in our community and will look to allocate funds to address these concerns as they arise. Update: Affinity groups in 2021 were not as robust as in other seasons. While this was due in part to pandemic-related conditions, it pointed out that we need to do a better job of having a more formal structure for forming and running affinity groups. We will implement this in 2022.
- We will create an Anti-Racism Committee composed of APT Board members. This committee will guide the ongoing education among Board members and communicate with staff about EDI initiatives. Update: This committee is active and has been re-named the IDEA Committee (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access).
- APT will create ambassadorships for our BIPOC Core Acting Company members to travel to historically black colleges and universities, as well as other educational institutions to share our work and recruit BIPOC artists and artisans for our company. Our goal is to have the program up and running by 2023.
- We are committed to improving our understanding of our own racial biases and the systemic racism in the organization by listening to our BIPOC employees. We will have in place yearly one-on-one interviews, feedback with deputies chosen by the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ affinity groups and an official plan of action to respond to instances of racist behavior. Update: we have adopted and implemented an anti-harassment policy that we go over with each staff member in their first days of employment.
- APT's Artistic Director will meet with all incoming directors and other creative team members (Voice and Text Coach, Movement Coach) to review our Mission, Values and this plan prior to first rehearsal to discuss and review expectations regarding APT's approach to discussing sensitive and racially-charged topics in the rehearsal room. Update: These conversations have been very useful and insightful for both APT’s artistic leadership and the creative teams.
- APT will continue to improve our facilities and infrastructure to provide greater accessibility for staff of all physical abilities. Update: This year, automatic door openers were added throughout the property. An accessibility committee was formed to compile and prioritize a list of future projects. New company housing which is now under construction includes two units which will be wheelchair accessible.
For our dramaturgy:
- We are committed to questioning our notion of what is a "classic" by examining classical texts through a BIPOC lens, and continue to expand our repertory canon by including more BIPOC playwrights, thereby challenging what has traditionally comprised APT ' s programming. Update: The 2022 season will include three plays written by Playwrights of Color. Five of the plays in next season were written by women.
- In Fall 2020, produce a virtual reading series of plays by BIPOC playwrights. Update: plays in this series included Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been…by Carlyle Brown, Nat Turner in Jerusalem by Nathan Alan Davis, Smart People by Lydia R. Diamond and The Sins of Sor Juana by Karen Zacarías
- Beginning in Fall, 2020, we will commission our first new play in our "Redefining the Classics " series, featuring playwrights that are Black, Indigenous or People of Color, with a public reading slated for the 2022 Winter Words Series. Update: This program has been renamed New Voices: Creating the Classics of Tomorrow. We have selected the first commission and will hold the first workshop in March, 2022. The first public reading will be in early 2023.
For our audience:
- Develop a land acknowledgement statement to the Ho-Chunk Nation that is communicated to our audience regularly and prominently, including placement on the APT property. Update: The Land Acknowledgement, adopted by APT’s Board of Directors in November, 2021, is on the website and will be in the playbill. We are working to determine the best placement for the Land Acknowledgement on APT property. The next step is to continue to cultivate a relationship with the Ho-Chunk Nation.
- In conjunction with APT's Strategic Partnership committee, continue to forge meaningful relationships with BIPOC communities and introduce and welcome them at APT. We will identify a list of partner organizations by 2021. Update: We have identified a list of partners, but some relationships have been slowed by conditions around the pandemic. We will continue this work in 2022.
- Introduce new ticket programs in 2021 that increase accessibility and availability for BIPOC audiences. Update: In 2021, we offered several targeted promotions but pandemic conditions limited the scope of what we hoped to do. We will continue on a larger scale in 2022.
- Use our unique experience as theater makers who work with rural schools to create anti-racism programming specifically designed for rural districts. Update: In 2020 and 2021, we developed The Words Between Us, a new education program aimed at using APT artists’ skill with language and literature to increase racial fluency in Wisconsin schools. Pilot workshops were held in three schools in Fall 2021, and the program will continue in 2022.
- Expand our work in the Wisconsin prison system understanding that due to institutional racism the prison population is disproportionately made up of BIPOC individuals. Our intention is to provide these populations with the same opportunity for transformation through the exploration of deeply poetic writing that we share with our audiences here at APT. Update: This program has been on hiatus due to the pandemic.
- Develop annual Shakespeare touring productions made up of a diverse cast of both Core Company and early-career artists to bring APT's text-driven approach to Shakespeare to communities previously unable to experience our work. Update: This program is on track to begin in 2023.
We thank the following people and organizations that have been particularly instrumental in helping APT make progress on this Action Plan over the last year:
Sarah Bellamy, advisor and consultant for the APT staff and leadership
Binnu Palta Hill, advisor and consultant for the APT Board of Directors
Gavin Lawrence, Melisa Pereyra, Jake Penner, Jim DeVita – Steering Committee members for New Voices: Creating the Classics of Tomorrow
Alys Dickerson, Jamal James, David Daniel and Laura Arnold – Design Team for The Words Between Us
Tim Gittings – Land Acknowledgement Developer
Redbud Resource Group – Advisors and Consultants for Land Acknowledgement
Finally, we acknowledge the creators of We See You White American Theatre and the BIPOC Living DOC Equity Action Plan. These valuable documents were a catalyst for APT to develop this plan and provided guideposts and goals for us to aspire to.