American Players Theatre
Equity and Anti-Racism Vision and Action Plan
Revised April 2023
Our vision regarding Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is rooted in our mission and our values. We believe that a rich diversity of people, ideas and experiences gives us strength. We believe that our work is better when we actively pursue equity. We believe that our mission and our values call us to be in accountable, responsible relationship so that we can create the conditions for everyone to bring their full, authentic selves to this work together, with dignity and integrity. We thrive on rigor, authenticity, specificity and, above all, an eagerness to work collaboratively.
When we issued the first version of this statement in 2020, we admitted that we had not done enough quickly enough to address systemic racism in our company, in our region and in our country. As an organization, we had placed too great a burden on APT's generous BIPOC community. We 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.
Since then, we have been intentionally on a journey to do better. We know we still have significant work to do, but we are committed to doing it to the best of our understanding and ability.
We cannot be the theater company that we want to be, that we need to be, unless we continue the vital work of expanding the breadth and range of people of diverse perspectives, experiences and cultures that work and attend APT. We strive to make sure all feel supported and empowered to come together in this special space to share the poetic stories that keep us expansive, curious, compassionate, connected, and inspired.
We seek to explore our shared humanity in the pieces that are part of our shared experience, and we seek to expand our understanding of one another across difference, across the treacherous waters of historical and ongoing harm, and against the grain of a status quo built on systems of oppression and dehumanization.
To best realize this mission, 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. Our ongoing work to accomplish this includes:
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 ourselves and each other in accountable relationship
We are committed to creating a more equitable and diverse company and are making the significant budgetary investments needed. We know this work is constantly evolving and continues to require persistence, focus, and the intentional engagement of resources.
Ongoing Practices and Procedures we have adopted:
- We work to create an equitable work environment for BIPOC individuals, by providing additional resources including housing, transportation, haircare, and additional support staff.
- The Artistic Director or Associate Artistic Director meet with incoming APT artists to begin a candid and transparent conversation about the challenges inherent in working and living in a rural, predominantly white area, listening to concerns, answering questions and providing resources.
- APT offers to facilitate a conversation between incoming BIPOC artists and a BIPOC artist who has worked at APT before. The two have a private conversation about what it’s like to be a BIPOC artist working in a small, predominantly white community creating theater for a predominantly white audience. The returning BIPOC artists who participate in these one-on- one conversations are compensated by APT. We are grateful for their candor and care.
- Artistic staff conduct mid-season check-in meetings and exit meetings with all artists to maximize our opportunity to learn what we could do better.
- We have a BIPOC Artistic Associate with casting authority present in each audition room. Additionally, we are committed to addressing accessibility needs of all artists who may work for APT. (Note: currently this position is open, and a search is underway, with a new Artistic Associate expected to begin work in August 2023).
- We discuss Equity, Diversity and Inclusion with each incoming director as it concerns their project and how we intend to implement this document throughout the entire process.
- All staff go over this document, as well as APT’s Mission Statement, Values document, and Anti-Harassment Policy in person with a member of the senior staff as part of their onboarding process.
- The Staff Accessibility Committee meets regularly to prioritize goals and work on improving APT facilities and infrastructure to provide greater accessibility for staff and audience of all abilities.
- We provide space and support for affinity groups. These coalitions provide a conduit for APT to hear concerns that arise.
- We strive to create meaningful relationships with BIPOC communities and welcome them to the APT audience. In order to introduce them to APT and cultivate a relationship that has value in their cultural lives, we offer transportation, discounted and/or comp tickets to APT performances as appropriate.
- We provide annual IDEA training to seasonal and year-round staff. Past trainings have been The Power of Perception about racial stereotypes, 4A’s training to learn how to address equity concerns in real time, De-escalation and Bystander training.
- We are committed to improving our understanding of our own racial biases and the systemic racism in the organization. We do this through ongoing learning, rigorous conversation, thorough reflection, and by listening to our BIPOC employees. We have in place yearly one-on-one meetings, feedback with deputies chosen by the affinity groups and strive to effectively respond if instances of racist behavior come up.
- We are committed to questioning our notion of a "classic" by examining the oftentimes default Western European lens from which most of our canonical texts are derived and continue to expand our repertory canon by including more BIPOC playwrights, thereby challenging what has traditionally comprised APT 's programming.
- We do not offer unpaid internships for artists or technicians. All positions are paid.
- The IDEA Committee of the Board of Directors ensures APT keeps Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access at the forefront of our organizational goals by providing accountability and ongoing training for Board members.
Timeline of Notable Milestones and Events in our Journey So Far
- Produced a virtual play reading series of plays by BIPOC playwrights. Selections 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.
- APT staff and artists designed a new education program, The Words Between Us. The program uses APT teaching artists’ skill with language and literature to increase racial fluency in Wisconsin schools.
- Created the IDEA Committee (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access) of the APT Board of Directors. This committee guides the ongoing education among Board members and communicate with staff about EDI initiatives.
- Formed a staff accessibility committee to concentrate on ways for APT to improve facilities and infrastructure to provide greater accessibility for staff and audience of all physical abilities.
- Commissioned our first playwright for the “New Voices: Creating the Classics of Tomorrow” program. Reginald Jackson began work on his play, Wildfire.
- The Words Between Us was piloted in three Wisconsin high schools. The program uses APT teaching artists’ skill with language and literature to increase racial fluency in Wisconsin schools.
- Expanded the number of BIPOC Board members (21% of Board members are BIPOC).
- As a first step towards understanding and accountability, we adopted a Land Acknowledgement, recognizing that the land on which APT is located is part of the traditional and current homelands of the Ho-Chunk people.
- Wildfire by Reginald A. Jackson, the first piece in APT’s “New Voices: Creating the Classics of Tomorrow” program, held a week-long workshop. The next workshop is slated for Fall, 2023 with a public reading in Spring, 2024.
- The Words Between Us education program expanded to six Wisconsin high schools during 2022.
- Upgraded artist housing with the addition of two 8-unit apartment buildings, two of which are wheelchair accessible.
- Created the Community Engagement Coordinator position, a full-time, year-round staff position to make connections with communities that were traditionally not included at APT.
- Install the GalaPro Open Captioning system to be used this season for all performances of Romeo & Juliet and for future productions.
- Wildfire by Reginald A. Jackson, the first piece in APT’s “New Voices: Creating the Classics of Tomorrow” program, will hold its second workshop. A public reading is slated for Spring, 2024
- The Words Between Us education program will expand to ten Wisconsin high schools this year.
- APT’s production of Romeo & Juliet will include two actors who are deaf that will communicate using ASL.
Vision, Action and Aspirations for our Future
- Spring 2024: Wildfire by Reginald Jackson, the first piece in APT’s “New Voices: Creating the Classics of Tomorrow” program, is slated to hold its first public reading.
- Create a plan and provide more opportunities for BIPOC playwrights to tell their stories.
- By 2029, achieve at least 50/50 parity of BIPOC and white actors within our Core Acting Company
- Continue to find more opportunities to examine classical texts through diverse perspectives, and continue to expand our repertory canon by including more BIPOC playwrights, thereby challenging what has traditionally comprised APT's programming.
- We will devote two of our four Winter Words readings to pieces by BIPOC playwrights each year.
- Create and implement a plan to reach, recruit and employ BIPOC talent from new and different sources.
- Work with the Core Acting Company to create a sustainable leadership model in regards to their contribution to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
- Working with our consultant Sarah Bellamy, we will create meaningful, reliable tools so we can intentionally address concerns in real-time for situations regarding Equity, Diversity and Inclusion that arise in our work here at APT.
We are grateful and indebted to the people and organizations that have helped us and continue to help us in this work, especially the BIPOC members of the APT company whom we rely on for honest feedback and communication.
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.