Living Document of BIPOC Experiences in Bay Area Theater Companies
Anonymous Testimonials of Bay Area BIPOC Artists & Creatives
Launched: Summer 2020
In the face of injustice, our duty as active participants of society is to fiercely call for change: our responsibility as artists and creatives is no different. As activists, organizers, and community members call for racial reckoning and a nationwide Uprising, sparked in earnest in late May 2020 due to the murder of George Floyd and countless other Black people, the discussion of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and anti-racism has spread with urgency from city halls to kitchen tables, from virtual classrooms to the streets. These challenges are hardly new and communities of color have been organizing around these issues for generations; yet this moment calls on all of us to see how the violent and racist roots of this country permeate the very institutions promising us safety, well-being, and livelihood. In the midst of a global pandemic, paired with compounding crises of democracy, income inequality, and climate change, the racialized lines of inequitable access, resources, treatment, and opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) across countless sectors are finally entering the mainstream conversation.
Against this historical and ongoing backdrop, BIPOC theatremakers formed a multi-generational, multi-disciplinary national collective “to address the scope and pervasiveness of anti-Blackness and racism in the American theater.” In their own words: “What began as a conversation between 3 theatremakers concerned about the devaluation and violence against Black bodies in the world, quickly evolved into a Zoom call with 30 people, discussing the way racism and white supremacy have also shaped and corrupted our theater institutions, ranging from the universities to not-for-profit and commercial houses.” Together over 300 theatremakers contributed to their testimonial letter, “DEAR WHITE AMERICAN THEATER,” published on June 8, 2020.
Catalyzed by the nationwide movement and rooted in ongoing regional conversations about racism and white supremacy in theater spaces, a Bay Area-based community document was created, entitled “Living Document: POC Experiences in Bay Area Theater Co.” Published on June 9, 2020, this document garnered nearly 600 testimonials within 72 hours. The Living Document sought to chronicle the extent of racist behaviors and culture of white supremacy within the Bay Area theater industry, while protecting BIPOC artists and creatives with anonymity. By collecting and sharing these painful experiences, the Living Document hopes to highlight central ongoing issues within our industry and call for a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive theater community that fully affirms and celebrates all artists, especially BIPOC artists who have too long been silent out of fear of retribution.
Each testimonial offered stands on its own without judgement; yet in aggregate, we see distressing patterns of the insidious ways white supremacy, capitalism, misogyny, cis-hetero patriarchy, and anti-Blackness function within the very industry that promises to celebrate difference, creativity, and storytelling. The behaviors named in the testimonials range from casting to production, from costumes to directing, and collectively call into question every aspect of our industry. While painful and uncomfortable, we recognize the deep harm, mistrust, and violence our BIPOC artists have borne for merely existing.
Again, the purpose of this document is to collect BIPOC experiences in the Bay Area theater community, to better inform our collective work towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive theater community, most urgently for our BIPOC artists and creatives. We see these testimonials as offerings of care and love: the unflagging push for accountability, better practices, and anti-racist work signals our collective and dire need for spaces that fully embrace and do not actively harm BIPOC individuals and communities. We are encouraged by the challenging conversations this document has sparked here in the Bay, as well as the BIPOC creatives around the country inspired by this process and seeking localized and regional change in their own communities. After all, this is community work and we each have roles to play.
ABOUT THIS DOCUMENT
This particular document was first published on June 9, 2020, in response to Bay Area theater companies issuing Black Lives Matter solidarity statements in recognition of the nationwide Uprising and significant social pressure from powerful community organizing. Frustrated by lip service around “diversity” and “racial justice” without clear actions or accountability (or theaters not speaking out at all), a Bay Area-based theatremaker compiled a Virtual Lookbook to visually represent the extent to which San Francisco-based companies were employing BIPOC artists. These images and names speak for themselves and refueled a long-standing conversation familiar to BIPOC creatives about our experiences within the theater and performance industry, specifically around race and ethnicity (often intersecting with other identifiers like gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, ability, English fluency and pronunciation, and more). Yet despite the ocean of anecdotal evidence in our community, BIPOC artists’ repeated calls for more opportunities and resources for BIPOC creatives have not resulted in the scale of change required. In response to these frustrations, this theatremaker then created a Google Doc to house these anonymous BIPOC experiences: this is that document.
Here is the original text offered on the June 9 document, adapted from a June 6 social media post:
“This is a living, breathing document of individual cases and experiences of POC artists in the Bay Area Theatre relating to m(i/a)cro-aggressions, overt racism, feeling unsafe, uncomfortable, and discriminated against in and around rehearsal hall, performance space, and/or general vicinity of said companies.
“Our body houses the memory of our essence. Our body stores events, situations, and experiences that may or may not be detrimental to our own physical, mental, and/or psychological health. As artists of color, many of us have experienced white nonsense on a daily basis that we have opted to shut down our own body’s experience to avoid further trauma and pain.
“In responding to and writing your own personal testimony to these questions:
- As a POC artist, what white nonsense (m[i/a]croaggression, overt racism, etc) have you experienced in the theatre?
- As a white artist, what nonsense have you observed in the theatre that you helped perpetuate and/or participated in (un/knowingly)?
“You may remain anonymous.
You may not in any circumstance delete a testimonial that is not yours.
“If a company you worked with in the past is not reflected in the list below, feel empowered to list them on your own.”
Once shared, this document garnered over 600 testimonials within 72 hours. However, on June 10, 2020 a handful of white-passing folks attempted to seize control of this document by blocking access and kicking out current viewers and editors. The following morning, an individual deleted the majority of the Living Doc, which was still a public, anonymous community-sourced document. Thankfully, the original owner of the document was notified and restored the most recent version prior to the hacking. Here are the Living Doc originator’s own words on that incident:
The consistent erasure and attempt to silence BIPOC voices and experiences both in real life and virtually are all too exhausting and exasperating. There is deep-seated anger within our artistic community here in the Bay Area that has long been buried and kept shut. It is now finally being aired out. It is imperative that we come together as a community to reflect on what got us here.
Thank you for all the folks who have courageously shared their testimonies. It takes a great deal of energy, bravery, and vulnerability to dig deep and unearth our lived experiences as BIPOC individuals. I hope this Living Document provided you catharsis and that you finally felt heard, supported and affirmed. We are a strong community together.
To folks far and wide, these stories live in our bodies as we read and consume them. Please find ways to shake the toxicity and negativity off as you step away from reading these accounts of testimonies; we carry with us the energy of these statements. Look and confide to your trusted allies, colleagues and network of support. Continue to find ways to heal.
The original intention of this document was to dismantle racism and culture of white supremacy in our Bay Area Theater community. To expose and reveal the extent and specificity of the problem is a vital step in a process that I hope will continue through a longer journey of admission, apology, and accountability to make meaningful active change. To use this Living Document to the establishment of new policies and practices, and continued vigilance around racism that is present in our organizations. Unfortunately, it has gotten out of hand and some voices are not aligned with the original intent of the document. It is essential to me as a BIPOC artist to maintain the validity of these testimonials. I want to facilitate a strong foundation for a sustained campaign for a radical structural change.
For now I will be turning this Living Document to VIEW ONLY to prevent another hijack.
It is an act of violence to further erase our stories. Our voices. STOP KILLING US.
I am working with a coalition of artistic leaders to help create a systemic change in our industry. We are beginning to strategize, organize, and build a national movement to keep our local industry accountable.
June 11, 2020. 10:40PM.
Since that attempted hacking, here are some of the steps taken:
- The Living Document is now available in view-only mode with testimonials being collected through Google form submissions.
- Ely now works with a team of collaborators on compiling testimonials, reformatting this document, building out next steps, and connecting with theatremakers across the country.
- Theatre Bay Area has been hosting free virtual Zoom sessions with artists and creatives to process the experiences named in this document.
- This document now offers a clear purpose, context, structure, norms, and takeaways to guide readers towards the original vision of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive theater community.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
How to interact with this document:
- Assume truth in each testimonial; welcome multiple truths. Different interpretations need not invalidate someone else’s experience, particularly ones of pain.
- Honor emotions without rushing away from pain and discomfort towards justification.
- Offer empathy to the person who offered their words to this document. Read in order to understand more about someone’s experience.
- All of the highlighted testimonials are NEW additions to the Living Document. As we continue to receive new testimonials through the Google form, they will be added to the document every Friday.
Questions to consider when reading:
- Where am I feeling uncomfortable, dismissive, or defensive? Why is this happening?
- What assumptions am I making about each testimonial? Are these assumptions rooted in prejudices around gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, ability, writing style, or some other indicator of difference?
- Where have I witnessed my own versions of these events? What happened and what were the impacts? What emotions am I holding from those experiences?
How to submit your testimonial:
- Go to this Anonymous Google Form.
- Fill out the questionnaire. Please refrain from speaking another person’s truth without their consent and only share what you have experienced firsthand.
- If a company you worked with in the past (or are currently working with) is not reflected on the list, name them and their region on the form and we will update accordingly.
THEMES & TAKEAWAYS
While each testimonial stands on its own, together they offer critical themes and takeaways we are summarizing here:
- Anti-Blackness manifests in our industry in countless insidious ways, ranging from racist caricatures and assumptions around Black people and Black characters to feedback around Black bodies, voices, faces, skin color, hair, attitudes, personalities, and lived experiences. These behaviors include: casting Black men purely in violent roles; casting Black bodies as “detention kids” and in scenes with gun violence; using the “N-word”; painting Black womxn as “angry”; assuming that Black artists are involved with drugs and gangs; and firing or getting Black people fired or removed from theater spaces. The relentless, unchecked policing, tokenizing, and stereotyping of Black people in the theater and performance industry must stop.
- BIPOC artists who also self-identify as womxn, non-binary, trans, gender non-conforming, young, and/or disabled experience intersecting vulnerabilities and particularly harmful behavior. This document lists numerous accounts of womxn enduring misogynistic treatment from white men; non-binary, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals being mis-gendered, excluded, and harmed in cis-hetero patriarchial spaces; disabled artists fighting repeatedly for their access needs to be met; and young artists targeted as prey for sexual harassment and emotional manipulation.
- Harmful behavior, practices, and biases persist in many parts of our community. This document specifically notes harmful behaviors from white queer folks in the Bay Area, in addition to white cis straight folks. Internalized white supremacy means BIPOC artists and creatives can also unconsciously perpetuate these harms onto others, without intentional work to unlearn and combat norms of a racist industry. Institutions also perpetuate harm through practices, policies, and programs.
- Powerful gatekeepers with hateful, racist language, behaviors, and attitudes experience little to no accountability or consequences for their actions, perpetuating harm to more and more BIPOC artists over time and driving BIPOC artists out of their spaces. This document specifically names white gatekeepers like theater critics, artistic directors, directors, stage managers, and Board members. Companies where BIPOC artists do not audition are sometimes spaces that have proven unsafe for previous BIPOC artists and creatives or that have demonstrated in their hiring decisions to not value BIPOC artists and creatives. Choosing to protect racist gatekeepers to preserve ticket sales prioritizes box office revenue over the safety, well-being, and success of BIPOC artists and creatives. This is evidence that some companies stake decisions with dollars in mind, rather than people.
- Producing racist shows, producing shows with racist characters, and directing BIPOC or white artists to adopt racist characteristics continues to this day. BIPOC and white artists are still asked to perform in brownface, blackface, and yellowface or adopt offensive caricatured mannerisms. BIPOC shows written by white people are often steeped in racist, inaccurate, and offensive assumptions about BIPOC people, cultures, and communities. Rather than celebrating the authentic experiences of BIPOC stories, these pieces at best reduce BIPOC characters to laugh lines, scenery, and lazy tropes. Such shows are ignorant, irresponsible, and dangerous.
- Mounting BIPOC shows without culturally competent expertise on the production team can unintentionally create more harm. For instance, shows about issues like slavery, trauma, abuse, colonialism, and white violence require intentional care and competence around supporting BIPOC creatives and engaging with a piece in a textured, appropriate way. We should also state that BIPOC stories can be joyful and celebratory; BIPOC pieces should not serve solely as trauma porn for white guilt and white audiences. Hire for the culturally competent expertise you need; compensate BIPOC creatives for this labor.
- Agreeing to hire a cultural consultant or a dramaturg of color when needed, and then not following through, is misleading and dangerous, especially for BIPOC creatives involved. This decision to forgo cultural competency either: (1) ensures that the production will lack authenticity and likely cause harm, or (2) forces BIPOC creatives and artists to serve as uncompensated and unrecognized “cultural consultants,” on top of their actual jobs, out of a desperate attempt to minimize harm. BIPOC artists and creatives are likely already receiving less compensation than white peers.
- Whitewashing BIPOC characters is an insult to the caliber and quantity of BIPOC artists and creatives in the region, as well as to the historic under-representation of BIPOC characters and roles. Decisions to cast white actors in BIPOC roles in the Bay Area continues to this day, often couched under excuses like prioritizing “talent” over “race”: this framing creates a false choice that distracts from the underlying issue. Especially in a region bursting with talented BIPOC creatives, why do white-led theater companies insist on casting white performers in BIPOC roles?
- BIPOC artists feel held to higher expectations and narrower parameters of acceptable achievement: missing these unspoken rules slightly incurs heavy repercussions. In this document, BIPOC artists describe the enormous pressure and flawed expectation to represent entire racial categories and, sometimes, to represent all BIPOC artists. Failure to see BIPOC artists as entire individuals and holding BIPOC artists to superhuman expectations sets BIPOC artists up to fail and then weather white disappointment, frustration, and rage. Specific examples named here include BIPOC artists running late due to violence on BART and car accidents were met with punishment and assumptions about “laziness” and “work ethic,” while white artists navigating comparable challenges are met with support, care, and understanding.
- BIPOC artists and creatives are often relegated solely to roles or productions that specifically identify a BIPOC character. This document names multiple instances of white casting directors refusing to consider BIPOC artists in roles not specifically labeled as BIPOC. This narrow-mindedness in casting is packaged under coded euphemisms like “traditional,” “realistic,” “historically accurate,” and “believable.” For an industry founded on make believe, the inability to imagine BIPOC creatives embodying substantial, complicated, and fully realized characters on stage reveals an implicit decision to perpetuate whiteness.
- BIPOC artists and creatives are not monolithic and not interchangeable. Inappropriate casting decisions harm BIPOC artists, inhibit a potentially collaborative, innovative process, and detract from the overall quality of the artistic production. BIPOC artists and creatives are not monolithic within specific racial and/or ethnic identities either: Black people are not a monolith, Vietnamese people are not a monolith, indigenous people are not a monolith, Peruvians are not a monolith. Punishing BIPOC artists and creatives for not matching a specific racial stereotype is narrow-minded and unimaginative.
- BIPOC productions are sometimes treated as “niche” or a “checkbox,” then receive fewer resources and less funding than other productions; BIPOC creatives and artists are sometimes treated as mere bodies to add color on a stage, while receiving less direction, less support, and fewer resources. BIPOC artists share experiences like box office staff referring a piece as “the ethnic play” and a former artistic director applying a “check box” approach to diversity: “Former AD would tell white directors he had to save one slot for a POC director and one slot for a female director -- not because he personally wanted to or believed in inclusivity, but because he was afraid of public perception. Basically, he wanted to tokenize and check boxes. It is NEVER cool to frame a job rejection as a “POC and female directors took your slot” situation (59).” BIPOC artists also name disparities between how productions in a season are marketed and promoted, often with a BIPOC story receiving substantially less than other productions. At the artist level, BIPOC creatives shared experiences of fending for themselves because directors, designers, and artists were unwilling or unable to support them with adequate hair, makeup, costumes, and ensemble work.
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work is complex, ongoing, and requires intentional follow-through; performative statements and gestures alone are insufficient and insulting. Claiming to hold DEI values when a company or individual’s actions prove otherwise creates hurt, harm, mistrust, and erodes credibility. Hiring BIPOC artists and creatives without thought or commitment to equity and inclusion is mere tokenization. BIPOC artists and creatives deserve decision-making power, job security, and active participation; we require specific recruitment, dedicated resources, intentional investment, and consistent support.
- White liberal misunderstanding, resentment, and rage exist in the Bay Area theater community. Countless testimonials here describe white decision-makers grossly mishandling interactions with BIPOC creatives or rejecting all efforts to work towards diverse hiring (let alone equitable and inclusive). Without addressing and working through these underlying misconceptions and emotions, BIPOC artists and creatives will sadly continue to endure backlash, detailed below. Without consistent, intentional work on these issues, even white allies will continue centering whiteness in BIPOC stories and productions.
- We will always be able to find excuses to justify the status quo and defend our current failings. Excuses presented in this document for why theater companies and individuals fail to adequately prioritize, resource, and succeed at DEI work include: lack of time, lack of resources, lack of talent, lack of BIPOC creatives at all. Labeling an individual BIPOC creative as “not a good fit” and other coded assumptions ignores the systemic inequities facing BIPOC creatives overall. The racialized disparities and history of intentional exclusion in education/training, networks/opportunities, casting and hiring, and beyond demonstrate the extent of white supremacy in our industry. Hiding behind excuses distracts from the questions of sufficient political will and a real desire to change the status quo. How committed are we really to DEI work? How truly willing are we to do the work required to change our industry?
These testimonials also name the impacts of these incidents on BIPOC artists and creatives. Here are some named in the original document (categories are artificial divisions; in reality, many overlap and intersect):
Comments and Behaviors:
- Overtly racist comments about physical appearance, racial stereotypes, and racist tropes
- Mistaken for another BIPOC artist and/or called the wrong name, no change or apology offered when corrected
- Called slurs by white decision-makers
- Names laughed at and made fun of by white artists with positional power
- Harassment from production team, performers, staff, and audience
- Racist perceptions and assumptions that BIPOC artists are more difficult, less professional, more challenging, less likely to show up, less trustworthy than white artists
- Hurt, harm, humiliation from emotional abuse and public and/or private shouting
- Anguish, fear, guilt over inability to push back on actions and behaviors of decision-makers
- Fury at appropriation of BIPOC cultures by white artists to make a profit
- Exotification, especially of young BIPOC artists and creatives by men with positional power
- Sexual behavior, touching, groping, unwanted advances and attention, predatory behavior
- Punishment if artists refuse to provide sexual favors or endure sexual advances
Hostile Work Environment:
- Unsafe environments: job security so fragile that people do not speak up
- Pattern of escalating behaviors (emails, phone calls) to silence BIPOC artists
Economic and Financial Impacts:
- Wage theft
- Removal from show, severance of contract
- Forced to sign contracts refusing to ever take legal action or speak publicly, in return for small severance
- Afraid to speak up because they needed the job or the connection in the industry
- COVID-19 and other lay-offs hit BIPOC, womxn, or older folks hardest, “leaving a majority staff of white males” (45)
- Even if unintentional, hire/fire decisions expose the underlying racist mentality of white men in senior leadership versus BIPOC folks and womxn in expendable support roles, which contributes to substantial inequities in job security, seniority, and salary
- Paraded into audition rooms, strung along with broken promises, and never actually hired
- Reduced, dismissed, and tokenized: quality of work belittled, reduced to racial category or white gaze assumption; dismissed as “affirmative action” or “diversity hires”
- Comments, attitudes, and behaviors treating BIPOC artists as less talented, less worthy, and less qualified - racist assumption that BIPOC artists only succeed based on affirmative action utterly erases the talent, work, and qualifications of BIPOC artists
- “I was just a box to check, a diversity hire. I didn’t believe that my artist voice mastered and it held me back for so long” (58).
- Told directly by educators and gatekeepers they “will not make it in the field”
- Differential treatment, held to a different standard
- “White students who are aggressive/creative/experimental are rewarded for pushing boundaries where students of color express this and are deemed difficult/asking too much/being extra etc.” (21).
- Smeared reputations for speaking up, asking questions, calling out problematic behaviors; labeled as “difficult to work with” in coded and racialized ways
- Other forms of retribution and retaliation
- Loss of personal and professional relationships and connections
- Relocated out of the Bay Area
- Exited theater industry altogether
By collecting anonymous community-sourced BIPOC testimonials here, we hope to develop shared understanding, empathy, and outrage and galvanize our community to take collective action. A team of artists and creatives are actively working to synthesize these testimonials and translate them into strategies and actions, to be published and shared shortly.
Thank you to all the hours of unpaid physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual labor artists and creatives have invested into this document and this overarching process. Thank you to the artists who have shared testimonials for your collaboration, your stories, and your truths. Thank you to the allies and co-conspirators for offering your hearts and minds to this work.
Together we know we can build a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive theater community that fully celebrates BIPOC artists right here in the Bay Area. This is the work before us.
Beavers, Danielle. 2018. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Framework: Reclaiming Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Racial Justice. The Greenlining Institute. http://greenlining.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/DEI-Framework.pdf
In this new version, we have streamlined the Living Document to solely focus on the original intention of chronicling racist behaviors and culture of white supremacy that have been experienced in the Bay Area theater community. In addition to new testimonials received through the Google form, we have also moved over selected testimonials from the original document that align with that intention. You will see that some of the testimonials overlap with other oppressive systems (i.e., sexism, ableism, classism, etc.), however, the experiences shared are rooted in the harmful perceptions and actions in racial and/or ethnic discrimination. As of July 9, 2020, we will prioritize and amplify the voices of BIPOC artists and creatives as they have been silenced and excluded for so long. White artists and creatives may still submit testimonials, but they will now be placed in a different section on this document.
All new testimonials will be highlighted in yellow. As we continue to receive submissions through the Google form, they will be added to the document every Friday. All testimonials are submitted anonymously unless the person is comfortable enough to state otherwise in their submission. Furthermore, we want to acknowledge that secondhand testimonials inadvertently create an environment of hearsay and take away the agency of the affected BIPOC artist or creative to deal with their trauma on their own terms. As of July 17, 2020, we will no longer include new testimonials in the Living Document that are not firsthand accounts. As of August 7, 2020, in addition to the yellow highlight, we will include the date of when new testimonials are added to be more inclusive of those who are blind or have low vision and are using screen reader software.
- I was asked to portray an Asian character more like a “dragon lady” because she was supposed to be a ruthless person. The director even knew what she said was wrong, but still decided to say it anyway.
- On this same reading, a white actor was cast as an Indian/Southeast Asian character.
- It was assumed that as the “Latinx playwright,” I was to serve as Spanish translator (unpaid additional labor) to the collaborating White “head” playwright’s work on a commissioned piece that aimed to investigate the abortion-rights crisis in the U.S.-Mexico border, centering the Latinx migrant experience. The White head playwright continued to steal verbatim language from a real Migrant woman’s experience featured in an already existing documentary, giving no credit/acknowledgement of source material from which she stole. An already uncomfortable collaboration dynamic was further exacerbated by the hierarchical structure of White “head” playwright versus two young POC “co-writers.” Though I cannot speak to the experience of my cohort, I felt the experience to be oppressive and insulting, to enter a commission advertised as an intentionally POC-centered work, only to be brought on as subordinate creatives.
- Several months following this collaboration, I was approached to return as a possible director/actor in a second iteration of the commissioned piece. Within their query, was concern over my previous tardiness. In response, I felt it right to clear the air and apologize about my avoidant behavior while expressing the microaggressions that were the source of my discontent. I came forward with my concerns and expressed a demand to meet with the AD in person to discuss further before proceeding with another collaboration. It became clear after several last minute meeting cancellations that often put me minutes away from hopping on a BART for no reason, that addressing these concerns were not a priority to 3GT’s head leadership. Certainly, some collaborations are just not meant to be.
- ^ To give some context to this, the first iteration of this workshop happened during the time that Nia Wilson was stabbed on BART. Many of the POC cast and team were traumatized, triggered, and feared for their lives. The POC director made space and time for tardiness as people on the team found other means of transportation to get to rehearsal, and also made space and time for a conversation about the horrific incident. I don’t believe anyone in leadership was present for this conversation.
- Saw a concert version of “Kismet” in 2017 (very problematic show to begin with) composed of a mostly white cast. I had a friend who is Pakistani in it. I remember her telling me and some friends how uncomfortable she was at the prospect of playing the “The three princesses of Ababu” where the characters must sing “Alibabian”, a language meant I suppose to parody Farsi or Arabic that sounded both ridiculous and infantile and much like the gurgling of a two-year-old written by a white lyricist. The director casted her when they met at a bar so she was not familiar with or told about the content of the script beforehand. She ended up playing ensemble and when we saw the show to support her, we saw the three princesses being played by three white women essentially singing gibberish. This was the cringiest, racist show I have ever seen. The artistic director had a speech before the show to an audience of mostly old white people talking about how this was a show she “always wanted to do and that art is important in times like these.”
- A few years back I was the only actor of color in a production and was cast as the ensemble. I was told by the director that I really didn’t need to do any character work because I was only brought in because they needed an extra body, and therefore, the director would be spending no time with me.
- I saw A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder a few months ago, 2020 and there was a scene at the end of Act 1 that was an abomination, mocking and representing Africans as savages and disrespecting other marginalized groups. Some artists in the cast spoke up, to which the artistic team responded, wrote MTI to ask for permissions to cut/ shift, but when they were denied, decided to move forward with the racist display regardless. I know many people of color that boycotted that production. Now, 42 Street moon has said they will be more mindful if show selection- a little late, damage has been done.
- I have seen one of the ED’s regularly mispronounce one of my POC actor friend’s first name, privately and publicly. His name is technically considered “ethnic”, but not “ethnic” as in “Urban” as some people ignorantly conflate the two terms. It’s ethnic in the sense that it is either( Italian, French, or Spanish, Thai etc.) I don’t want to say which language the origin is, bc that may completely out him and he isn’t the one sharing the experience. His name is quite simple actually, and takes very little effort to pronounce correctly, and yet, I’ve seen Non-POC directors mispronounce his name pretty much every show we’ve done together, and it’s been a few. He, of course, is much too sweet to speak up about it, but I will!
- 42nd Street Moon - a company whose reputation has been built on doing shows of the past that are no longer staged. *Old shows featuring the music of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, etc. and keeping with traditionally casting all white characters. They will randomly do shows that feature one or two POC and very recently did “Ain’t Misbehavin’ and in another season, “The Hot Mikado”. The offerings for POC have been few and far in between with both AD’s white males. Their newly announced season pre-Covid-19 included Ragtime in Concert and The Scottsboro Boys. Why would a traditionally white theatre company select those shows without preparing their well to do, white audiences for the huge amount of white guilt they’re about to drop into their laps? The theme of The Scottsboro Boys (based on a true story) alone would be challenging enough for an all black company to stage. The arrogance alone, compared with their past history of shows, lack of POC on their boards and committees speak volumes.
- There were definitely some very racist random non-sense Japanese lyrics in Hot Mikado (an African American show? Which, that in itself was problematic). As a POC audience member, it made me very uncomfortable. Makes me wonder how did this pass the creative team. Or whoever’s picking their shows for that matter.
- I’m a Black actress and I have been pretty vocal on social media about racism when I see it perpetuated in theater. In 2017 I went to a general audition for this company. The first thing the White executive director (Daren) said to me when I walked in the room for my audition was that he appreciated the conversation about racism in theater that I bring to the table. I was totally taken aback. First of all, this guy is my Facebook friend and I guess that’s how he knew about my posts about racism, but he has never commented on any of my posts or contacted me privately to offer support. The day he decides to express his appreciation is when I’m about to sing for him and a bunch of other directors that I don’t know for a general audition? Talk about being thrown off my game! Can I be an actor for a minute instead of the Black actor who is going to say something if you do something racist? I let it go and sang my two song cuts. I was called back only for the “Black” show that year. My voice and my essence didn’t really fit that year’s Black show. I believe I was only called back for that show because I’m Black. I also wonder if the other directors (all White-appearing) were scared off by the executive director’s comment to me when I walked in the room. I guess I’ll never know.
- Update to experience #7 for the theater company 42nd St Moon: After I added this experience to the Living Document, the executive director Daren called me and apologized for this incident. He also invited me to talk with the company (for pay) about the issue of diversity. Since then, we’ve had conversations; my walls are coming down and we’re building trust. The company recently seems to be actively hiring multiple conscious and vocal BIPOC. I’m sensing a core change taking place at 42nd St Moon. [Admin. Note: Updated 08/21/2020]
- During the Thomas and Sally controversy at Marin Theatre, this company was doing Ain’t Misbehavin’. The AD, Daren Carollo (sp?) wrote his support for the AD at Marin. For someone to be doing a show with Black people and still choosing to uplift someone who called the police on Black women. I never looked at him the same way. His allyship is performative.
- In the last two years, I’ve been a POC actor in predominantly white casts at 42nd Street Moon. This company’s very mission is to produce problematic ‘classics’ of the white American theatre canon – yet with little attempt to subvert, reinvent, or solve any of the problems that comes with producing such material. This problem is compounded by their very short rehearsal process, which doesn’t allow ample enough time to deconstruct the works or critically examine the problem areas, let alone address them. It’s sort of a perfect storm for offensive garbage to occur: problematic material/mission + no time/will/skill to address issues + oblivious white leadership allowing this to happen over and over again.
- The photos on Facebook of The Hot Mikado that had 3 Black actors posed as "see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil" which are typically 3 monkeys. Maybe a Black person on staff would have caught the inappropriateness of the imagery. [Administor’s Note: It has been brought to our attention that the actor in the middle of this photo does not identify as Black; however, it does not lessen the impact of the racial optics experienced by the person who shared this testimonial.]
- During a Zoom "meet the director" session about A Little Night Music, the topic of "what active measures will be employed to keep the show, which is set in Sweden, from being an all-white cast and instead have the casting reflect the diversity of the Bay Area" was brought up by a white actor. The white director responded with the typical "best actor for the role regardless of . . . " answer and didn't seem to have any concept of color-conscious casting or intention to seek out POC actors. Two white facilitators tried to do a better job of suggesting the company wants to seek out POC performers. The original questioner challenged the idea that anyone is "the best" for a role and also suggested the company's website diversity statement also reflected "best for the role regardless . . . " wording. Their current statement on casting is: "The 42nd Street Moon family believes talent, dedication, and passion transcends race, ethnicity, gender, or physical ability, and we cast our shows according to that belief."
- I have seen one of the ED’s regularly mispronounce one of my POC actor friend’s first name, privately and publicly. His name is technically considered “ethnic”, but not “ethnic” as in “Urban” as some people ignorantly conflate the two terms. It’s ethnic in the sense that it is either( Italian, French, or Spanish, Thai etc.) I don’t want to say which language the origin is, bc that may completely out him and he isn’t the one sharing the experience. His name is quite simple actually, and takes very little effort to pronounce correctly, and yet, I’ve seen Non-POC directors mispronounce his name pretty much every show we’ve done together, and it’s been a few. He, of course, is much too sweet to speak up about it, but I will!
- There were so many problematic and racist parts in Hot Mikado. Even the names of the characters were offensive. Many BIPOC members in the cast were very uncomfortable. One of the cast members spoke to the creative team and was told he can sit out the show whenever he feels like it.
- 42nd Street Moon did hire a black director for The Hot Mikado and had no clue what offensive representation of the black actors in the show meant culturally. This is why an experienced Educational Director will be able to step in, oversee the overall image production and bring in the right resources to assist.
- They just DON'T GET THE PICTURE!!!! Here we are in the midst of conversations about representation, and they do a radio play written by Irvin Berlin in 1933. All of the rest of the cast are singing these chipper songs, and they get the one actress of Color up there singing some sad "Mammy" type song about her man leaving her and she still gotta cook supper. This is a song that Ethel Waters did. The actress sang it beautifully. but still, optics people. They also have their token POC performers, who could basically sign on as Resident Performers, and that's about all your are going to see. If you are a POC actor with any texture so your voice where you don't sound colorblind, then you can forget about even receiving invitations to callbacks; UNLESS it's for the "Race" shows " Ain't Misbehavin', Hot Mikado, Scottsboro Boys probably, etc. They really need to understand that there are plenty of contemporary rarely produced shows, and they don't have to always pick shows from the " good ole days." Seriously, who is keeping these people accountable? Argh! It's so frustrating!!!!
- I was in their production of Richard III and the costume designer Jackie Pedota was honestly the worst I’ve ever worked with. During her first design presentation all the pictures she showed us were all “white people” as if there are no pictures of POC in royal modern clothing. She then while taking our measurements, she told us you may have to find your own clothes from home and use them if I can’t find anything. Keep in mind she had a budget, the show is set in modern time so why tell us off the bat we will have to provide our own clothes. I’ve worked with AASC before and never had to bring my own clothes. She only did one fitting with me where I tried on one outfit and did the same to other actors in the show. Once it came to tech she had little to nothing for the cast, maybe one or two outfits and what she did bring was either too big or small. To the point where some of the men had their pants/shirts hanging off their bodies, hems were terrible and for the main character Richard III she had nothing for him. THe whole cast was truly pissed off because tech is already stressful but for her to drop off subpar clothes and leave was ridiculous. On top of that she lied to the Executive director about the companies lack of combat boots, she claimed the company didn’t have any but she was told by the ED and other company members that AASC did have them she just had to look. It got to a point where myself and other actors went on amazon to purchase our own clothes, went to various stores and bought things from our own home closets. Thankfully the cast made it work and we all looked great on stage no thanks to Jackie. To me it felt like she didn’t think much of the company or the POC cast to put in any effort.
- So I guess, the rest of the women are too afraid to address the elephant in the room, or are otherwise trying to spare the company bc it’s a black company. I’ll do it then. The elephant in the room is L. PETER CALLENDER. He uses his position as AD to bribe young black actresses with lead roles in productions they might not have opportunities to play the same roles role if they were not being told as Black stories. His predatory ways are legendary in the POC community and in the Bay Area community as a whole. He has been uninvited by at least one major Bay Area company due to his messy behavior and how uncomfortable he makes the young actresses. In addition, if he feels the last bit threatened by a young black actress or actor, he then blacklists them from the company’s shows. This is also the case if any of the young black actresses turn down his advances. [Administrator Note: the rest of the testimonial has been redacted to focus on the original intention.]
- I began working at a PWI in the fall of 2017. In the winter of 2017, the door code was changed (this happens at least once a year), and this white lady at the front door (who knows I work at this PWI wouldn't open the door for me unless my supervisor/colleague guides me in). This happened again in the summer of 2018 when I was teaching a summer course. Then again the following term. This person no longer works at the front desk.
- In early 2018, I chaperoned a group of Black and Brown students to see SWEAT at ACT. The students were having visceral and vocal reactions to what they were seeing onstage. Two elderly white patrons seating nearby complained to the house managing staff and the security guards, insisting these students should be moved out of the theatre or they're requesting a refund (and even pulled the: I'm not subscribing anymore stunt). Grateful for the calm, level minded response from the house manager I spoke to. These Black and Brown students are ACT's students via the Education and Community Program.
- At A.C.T. back in 2014-2015 Black and Latino high school students were repeatedly subject to policing from white ushers during student matinees. Our Black and Latinx high school students were also accused of stealing and vandalism in the 30 Grant Ave. building, while white Young Conservatory students were never treated that way. Door codes were given to these white students, but not to our Black and Latinx high school students. I was asked to 'escort' them through the building, and always monitor their behavior. The A.C.T. education department also did amazing anti-racist work while I was there, but these things were highly problematic, to say the least.
- I was hired to do a workshop of a show, and told beforehand that it would be just some ensemble work. The show turned out to be a *very* ethnocentric Filipinx production (I am a Latinx/Black actor). I was asked to learn a Tagalog accent overnight, in addition to an entire Tagalog song I’d never heard before and had no business singing. I suggested alternative song choices, and Carey Perloff (who was directing the workshop) quickly silenced me. My awkward work assignment and additional homework assignments were never acknowledged in any sense whatsoever.
- I remember when they cast that one white dude in The Orphan of Zhao because they needed to put one of their master’s program students in the production. (6/10 Re: He was actually a past alumni /teacher there. The last of the dismantled Acting Company.)
- Thanks for mentioning Orphan of Zhao. Here’s an email I wrote to an acquaintance who asked me about the show:
“I thought the cast was amazing, and I felt really happy to see what great local POC talent the Bay Area has (I think there were more local actors than non-local). And I'm not familiar with the original story but found it to be really compelling and am wondering why I'd never seen it before. It's just as epic and moving as any Greek tragedy or Shakespeare story I've encountered.
I had issues with the translation and the direction; it felt all very dispassionate and distant to me, like the setting and the Chinese roots of the play were some kind of stylistic choice instead of a substantive foundation for the production. It was missing "truth."
My biggest problems were 1) the lone white actor on stage and 2) the audience I saw it with.
I don't understand what they were going for with the one white guy, and I was a little offended that he played such a pivotal role in the story when you clearly have other Asian actors in the cast who were perfectly capable of doing it. I mean, why would you go through creating a majority Asian cast and then stick a random white guy in it? It mentally took me out of most of the first act.
As for the audience, I found some of the places where they laughed to be very uncomfortable. For instance, in the first act, when the princess' handmaiden is beheaded and the way that moment was theatrically executed. I was shocked by the huge uproar of laughter from the audience. I don't know, it felt like the play wasn't being taken seriously, like it wasn't "real theater" or something.”
- ^^re: translation and direction-- This is what happens when the playwright is a white British man and the director is a white woman.
- Regarding local talent in The Orphan of Zhao, there were five locals out of 14, including the female understudy, an ACT grad student, and the white actor.
- During the rehearsals for this show, Carey Perloff (the director and then AD of the company) continually made references to “Geishas” and laughed it off whenever anyone pointed out that that had nothing to do with Chinese culture.
- As part of the production of Major Barbara, I witnessed one of the only two actors of color in the cast be repeatedly assigned more “coaching sessions” with the dialect coach, even though he sounded like he did his homework (on Cockney). As it turns out, the actor was singled out with these coaching sessions, which were all about grilling and drilling him on technique. The actor has an extensive Shakespearean resume. He later confided, “If they don’t think I can do it, they should just fire me.”
- During a class at Studio ACT, a black classmate shared that during her Prep for MFA class with the head of the master program, she was repeatedly given direction to “be more black” and was told her work was not believable.
- As a POC student in ACT’s Summer Training Congress who is also a mature actor, I joined a circle activity where we were asked to bits of songs. Nobody joined my raps. Afterwards, a well-meaning white teacher was like, oh, they are too young to know our generation’s songs. I wanted to turn around and tell her those songs I was singing were all current day songs, by black artists. Some of the songs/raps were black anthem songs like ‘Adorn’ and ‘Sure Thing’. What she needed to consider was that their student populations are almost exclusively privileged white kids who don’t have a clue about POC worlds!
- Also, at ACT is the ever problematic, sexual predator Mark Jackson. He generally only poaches young blond females, but he is highly aggressive whenever a POC speaks against his practices. He has yelled at me personally, in front of other students on multiple occasions.
- Carey Perloff directed a production of HAMLET in 2017 starring John Douglas Thompson. The production had black male actors playing only violent roles in the show (Hamlet, Laertes, Claudius), and white men playing the rest (except Fortinbras). I’ve blocked out the exact phrase Perloff said during rehearsal that made me sick to my stomach, but I do remember the talk I had afterward with my supervisor who let me know that ‘she’s tone deaf sometimes’ and ‘people just deal with her’ instead of standing up. Everything I ever heard from this woman was full of supposed ‘white allyship’ and ‘wokeness’ but was actually extremely racist and problematic.
- I witnessed a house manager at the Strand call security on two Latinx men who entered the building near end of day. The men were the regular cleaning crew for the building and had just arrived to start their jobs. They don’t speak a ton of English so her yelling at them about where they were going was not useful in handling the situation.
- The stage management team threw red flags on the 2018 YC production of Urinetown when the director decided to make Hot Blades Harry a spanish-speaking character. Harry has the most aggressive and directly violent lines in the show, including singing the song ‘Snuff that Girl’.
- Hey there, stage manager on Urinetown here. Going to go ahead and name myself (Maggie Manzano) and the director (Jessica Bird), because as white people we are not the ones who need protection from anonymity here. I wanted to expand upon this as there were many, many, problems around this production. The director, after rehearsals had begun (so this was not something brought up in production meetings or [during] casting, was not imperative to the original vision of the show, thus was an afterthought) decided our cast of children/MFA students wasn’t diverse enough (double cast, so hard to explain the breakdown). Her solution to this problem, a week into rehearsal, was to propose the following:
- Ask a white teenager to perform her role as “on the spectrum”. Give her no resources to do this properly, defended this decision saying we want to represent everyone onstage and “Broadway does it”. Called autism a “mental illness” to my face.
- IMPORTANTLY: Did NOT ask the other student playing this same role (it was double cast) to perform “on the spectrum” because the other student was already “different”. The other student was Asian American.
- Asked a black cis man to take his role (who also presents as a cis man) and put him in drag. It was mentioned that, by doing this, you are implying this character is trans. Also, in the same moment in the play this drag moment would be revealed, the character is immediately murdered by an angry mob. Violence/murder rates against trans POC are incredibly high, and this moment seemed incredibly inappropriate and insensitive to be thrown in as something not written in the script.
- To address the original post: Hot Blades Harry was played by a student who spoke Spanish at home. She was encouraged to find a way to make Hot Blades Harry her own, as it is also traditionally cast as a white man's part. I wanna mention that the ASM and the choreographer BOTH raised red flags at the implications of giving the most violent character these changes. I believe the decision stayed because of the director’s guilty desire to “diversify” by any means necessary and made the excuse that it was the students choice (and because the other choices made in the name of “diversity” didn’t make it in the show – see below).
- Because the education department got involved (We called the producer, we all had a meeting), problematic choices 1 and 2 were CUT. But it was a battle to cut them. I wanted to point out that it was only because the educational team became involved that those horribly offensive decisions didn’t make it into the show. If this had been a professional production? If the only person to go to above us was the infamously racist Carey Perloff? No one would have backed us (the SMs) up and it surely would have happened.
- A Thousand Splendid Suns seemed to lean heavily into the “mean Arab man/husband” stereotype which is just tired for Middle Eastern people. It’s all we hear about Arab men. Also, we are not all interchangeable, you don’t get “hiring POC points” for dropping in an Asian actress to play a Middle Eastern role.
- ^^ This. The show actually takes place in Afghanistan and there was not a single Afghan in the production.
- SCOTTSBORO BOYS. I attended this several years ago with a group of 6 or 7 other Black people. We were all there to support friends in the cast and show up in force. 5 minutes after walking into our seats, we looked around at the overwhelmingly white audience watching the show and immediately the group felt uncomfortable. As certain scenes came up, we watched people laugh at what was happening while all of us sat in shock. There’s a tap dance number about one of the young men where he was being electrocuted. It was painful to watch as a group, and even more painful to watch people laugh and clap and say “look how fast he moves!” We were appalled and frustrated for ourselves and for our friends on stage. One of the least safe experiences I have ever had as a patron of a theater.
- I’ve always wondered why white female directors (at A.C.T. and of course at many other theaters) so often get to direct the plays written by BIPOC playwrights about BIPOC stories. There have been quite a few in the last few years that I can remember: Orphan of Zhao and A Thousand Splendid Suns which are listed above, Father Comes Home from the Wars, Testmatch, The Great Leap, Toni Stone-- these are the ones that immediately come to mind but I’m sure there are more examples. There are certainly many BIPOC directors who could have helmed these projects and who I’m sure have a certain empathy for these stories that white women by nature of being white, simply don’t have- and frankly you can’t teach that in any training program or pick it up along the way. Some of these plays were about slavery, trauma, abuse, colonialism, and BIPOC characters suffering at the hands of white people. Actors in these productions have to go through these painful narratives in a room with other BIPOC artists led by a white director, who may not always have the tools, personal experiences, or just cultural affinity to take real care of their actors. I would have loved to see these stories helmed by directors who identify culturally with these stories and characters, and I can’t help but believe that the plays may have been even richer for artists and audiences, particularly those watching their own culture on stage. Some of these productions were great though- but that shouldn’t be an excuse to perpetuate white women (and men) directing BIPOC stories and continuing the long history of cultural insensitivity and at times white violence against BIPOC bodies.
- Lauren English told me at the end of her class that I would get more opportunities if I could get rid of my accent.
- I want to make a separate section just for their MFA program, but it’s all ACT power dynamics so I guess it’s all the same in the end. There are several instances I witnessed as a (white) stage manager working with the MFA’s in which the administration, directors, and teachers did not listen to their students of color and continue to put on white-written and -directed plays because of the old old excuse that they are part of the classical training canon (so, white, heteronormative, etc…). Some examples: 1) a production of The Cherry Orchard in which all the servant roles were played by POC. 2) A production manager warning me about working with one black student who would be “difficult” (did not go into detail about WHY, but I had NO issues whatsoever. I think white students who are aggressive/creative/experimental are rewarded for pushing boundaries where students of color express this and are deemed difficult/asking too much/being extra etc.). 3) when putting on 2 separate productions, one with a primarily white cast doing a “sexy” show (Rocky Horror) that sold tickets for profit and one show (Black Orpheus) that was free to the community, almost exclusively performed at/for communities of color, featuring nearly all the MFA’s of color in lead roles, including their own poetry/writing/music….guess which show got promoted heavily? Guess which show got their poster first, even when the free show opened before the other one? AND to top it all off the incredible resource that was the movable stage that allowed us to perform outside/for those communities across SF never was used again. It was “too expensive” to operate.
- Jumping on the MFA bandwagon -- year after year the MFA program invited a guest lecturer back for a masterclass after students openly criticized the instructor’s methods, including asking white students to play roles specifically written for POC. The class of 2018 was extremely vocal about the issues with this masterclass, but she was invited back in 2019. 2020 was given the option of having her back with no context as to why they were being asked (pre-COVID).
- Stephen Buescher’s lawsuit. #LiftTheCurtain:
- Can we talk about ACT’s Costume Shop (theater)? I’m a member of Campo Santo, and for several years we benefited from the rental of the theater space under the assent of Carey Perloff. In January 2019, we mounted our production of Candlestick there. On multiple occasions, our guests were met with rudeness and condensation from one specific house manager (sadly, a woman of color). Family members of the cast, coming from the East Bay, tried as they could (leaving three hours ahead) to make it on time. Showing up a little late, it’s understandable if the official policy is “no late seating”. But this specific house manager went out of her way to belittle them and have security escort them away. Not only that, but on one occasion, one of our cast (a Latino man) was waiting in the lobby behind the curtain to make his entrance. The ACT bartender was talking loudly on his phone during the show. Our castmate quietly told the guy to keep it down or go outside (coincidentally, this actor is an experienced House Manager himself). The bartender proceeded to get in his face and threaten to fight him. Thankfully, right then our castmate had to go onstage. But when we went up front after the show, the bartender was gone. These issues were taken to staff afterwards, but with no concern to our side of the story, and we were summarily banned from ever using the Costume Shop theater again.
- In recent years D\during one of their general auditions, I performed a bilingual (Spanish /English) monologue. When I was through, the Casting Director became angry with me. She said in a sharp tone, “Why would you do that piece for me? I don’t know you and I don’t understand Spanish!”
- I attended ACT's production of Vietgone with my partner (we are both white) and our friend, who is non-white. Our friend responded to the show vocally several times throughout the first act. At intermission, an older, white usher approached my partner and I and asked if we would prefer to be re-seated somewhere with "less distraction." We responded that, no, we had actually come *with* our friend and wanted to sit with them. The usher then laughed it off and awkwardly attempted to rap about intermission (the show heavily features rap). We did not return for Act 2.
- Yellow face casting that was called out but not addressed. no system of reporting abuse.
- American Conservatory Theater has been continuing to do EDI work through the COVID crisis but does not equally share access to the resources with everyone associated with the company. Furloughed employees who may hope to return to ACT in the future have not been reached out to to be given information to join relevant meetings around recent events. This only strengthens what are already very wide gaps in EDI knowledge, willingness to participate, and employee standing between those ACT chooses and does not choose to include.
- In A Thousand Splendid Suns at ACT, an Asian actor was cast TWICE as the lead in an Arab show. First in the original production and then again as the understudy who eventually played the lead role.
The director Carey Perloff made numerous insults remarks about Muslims and Arab culture in SUNS including demeaning Arab women who choose to wear a burqa (God, how awful! Can you imagine having to spend a day in that thing?!), calling a rehearsal scene “The Burqa Ballet”, joking about how she ordered a burqa on Amazon to see how it worked and how now she’s being watched for terrorist activity.
- Hi, I'd like to share a letter that I wrote to A.C.T. not long ago, as it shares the experience I had working with them.
I am responding to the open letter that you wrote to your community in February 2019. I worked as the publications manager at A.C.T. from the summer of 2014 to the summer of 2015. I was dismayed after learning that A.C.T. received a legal complaint from one of its former employees, Stephen Buescher, for cultivating an environment of racial hostility. Let me be clear—I am not dismayed for A.C.T. as an organization, but for all the people of color who endured in silence and humiliation in the face of such hostility.
I can say that I am certainly not shocked, as I dealt with my fair share of racial microaggressions in my short time at A.C.T. In particular, an encounter with Carey Perloff comes to mind; she confronted me after I put together a Words on Plays that compiled relevant historical context about the legacy of colonialism during a run of Indian Ink. Carey was incensed about the content that I chose to have my staff write about, which centered the marginalized and exoticized other instead of the European characters whom she presumed were of greater interest to our audience. Apparently, my input and expertise, as a South Asian woman with a significant amount of knowledge of theatre and postcolonial drama, was irrelevant to Carey and my immediate supervisor, Don Scott Cooper. I was essentially asked not to do the job that I was hired for, and to repurpose the uninspired content from a previous Words on Plays about Indian Ink. Thankfully, I went with my better instincts and did not comply. If you get a chance, I urge you to check out that edition of Words on Plays; I stood by my editorial decisions then, and I stand by them now.
I wish that were the only such occasion I can recount, but I recall several moments of being belittled, talked over, gaslit, and having my comments either ignored or appropriated by other staff members during the convening of a so-called diversity and inclusion committee of which I was a part, that was formed for the purpose of addressing the disconnect between our institutional and organizational culture and trends within the theatre community. I also happened to be the only person of color in that committee, aside from a small group of MFA students whose words and concerns were similarly minimized by staff members. My understanding is that A.C.T. ultimately hired a diversity and inclusion consultant after Mr. Buescher shared his concerns. Interestingly enough, I made the same recommendation during my short-lived participation in that ill-begotten committee. In contrast, my recommendation was met with a lukewarm reception at best.
In the midst of all that is happening on a national and global scale, I am heartened that so many brave people of color are standing up against mistreatment, especially in the theatre community, which has long been a home for the liberation of our imaginations and for those who have been denied a voice in our broader culture. It is a travesty that so often, the embodied practices of an industry do not live up to its lofty ideals. I don't blame Carey Perloff or any of the well-meaning individuals I worked with, who were merely agents of an unspoken, unacknowledged, and deeply insidious white supremacy that I believe lies at the bedrock of A.C.T. and other similar institutions. I only wish I had been able to speak to my experiences in a clearer and more voluble way during my time at A.C.T. (while simultaneously understanding that I had little recourse or support to do so). Today, I am overjoyed that more and more people of color are finding the courage and fortitude to speak out against injustice, implicit and explicit bias, and other practices that prevent us from fully applying our genius to environments that would do better to listen to us and accept the gifts that we so graciously offer, including our lived experience and much-needed perspectives.
Dr. Maya Angelou famously said, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." I hope that A.C.T. is taking this painful lesson to heart and stepping into the actions that are required to make your organizational and programmatic culture genuinely "diverse" and "inclusive"—two qualities that could certainly not be attributed to it when I was around. I sincerely hope that this period enables A.C.T. to step into something much greater than performative wokeness and to be the kind of force for social change that all American theatres should be aspiring to be. (Which probably also entails never producing a Tom Stoppard play again.)
- The difference in how Lauren English has treated students of color vs those who are not is exceptionally subtle, but palpable. And that's sadly how it works, non-POC find her to be warm, welcoming and willing to network and help with opportunities, however her reception to POC are full of microagressions and entitlement. Her class environment was painful and non-inclusive. [Admin. Note: Added on 08/07/2020]
- I worked with Awesome Theatre on Clickbait. During the tech process there was a lot of stress, as expected, so tensions were high on the production end of things. Our director was working really hard to get everything together and upright, but she would lose her cool occasionally with some of the tech folks. It caught my attention that there was one particular tech person she got the most angry at: the only person of color in the room. In one particular instance she full-on shouted at this person from less than ten feet away, with an extremely aggressive tone, over what was essentially a minor misunderstanding. She shut down and shouted over any of the person of color’s explanation for the misunderstanding, and proceed to belittle her as a director to a designer. There was a lot of tension in the room during, but no one spoke up, myself included. I tried to bring it up in conversation with fellow castmates, but the most we did was acknowledge how uncomfortable it made us.
- To follow up the account above: the director of that show is their program director. The designer mentioned above spoke to another board member present and the board member recommended the designer confront the director on their own.
- During auditions for Hairspray at @ Bay Area Musicals, the director/choreographer (not black) told all of the “detention kids” (black people) he would have whoever played Mama Maybelle be “the spokesperson for the black people” to say what dance moves “black people don't do”
- During auditions for Hairspray, Matthew McCoy gave the white artists auditioning for the nicest kids in town AMPLE time to learn their choreography. Time that was cut out of the time for the Black dancers for the “detention kids.” The Black dancers were then expected to learn the dance and choreography in SIGNIFICANTLY less time than the white dancers. Literally none of us knew the dance because the time we were supposed to have was given to the white dancers instead of us.
- Oh GOOD, we can talk about Matthew McCoy now. This guy is the epitome of condescending, casual racism. The last time I auditioned for him (years ago), he marveled at how “eloquent” and “well-spoken” my audition package was, and how he “wouldn’t have expected me to put that together.” I’m older than him, I’d been a known performer in the Bay for years already, and the education section of my resume is pretty cool. He didn’t cast me though. Years later, I saw that he had put out a specific casting request for Black men in a show because oh gosh, they’re just so hard to find I guess. I emailed him directly about putting an audition together, and never even received a response.
- As a white person who was at those hairspray auditions, I could not believe that a) the auditions were segregated and b) Matthew had the ego and ignorance to say the things he said. He actually said that because he was white, he didn’t know if he would always be respectful of the black actors in the cast, so he was planning on having an “ethnic ambassador” (I think that was the EXACT term he used, but could be remembering incorrectly) to let him know when he was being offensive. I look back on that now and am ashamed that I stayed in that audition and came back for the callback, thus making myself complicit.
- Another anecdote from Hairspray auditions: Matthew McCoy asked actors to specifically state their race when alone in the room with the audition panel. This request was only made to actors of color.
- I appreciated this. They did this to generals as well. I think it prevents people from being dismissed for being passing.
- This is illegal in hiring practices.
- For Hairspray, I was up for a lead (as a POC) and was told through “the grapevine” that I looked somewhere in between white and black and therefore would not “fit in” to the cast...like literally what does that even mean?
- After generals, I gathered my things in the waiting area to leave, but then was sought just before I exited at the bottom of the stairs and asked (in a whisper), “Just wanna check. What’s your ethnicity?”
- I have been called back for multiple “meaty” roles for BAM. I am a black actor. I have never met the man. He has stared me dead in the face in the lobby of his shows and never blinked an eye, cracked a smile or even acknowledged I was there. He has no clue who I am. WHY are you calling me back for roles in your productions? Advice: Look at your own racism and get to know people first and personally express interest in them as “people”, not commodities…
- hey white artistic director stop sleeping with your asian cast members. its unethical and unprofessional. also dont refer to yourself as daddy in rehearsals its disgusting.
- Speakeasy traumatized me to my core. I spoke to one of the lead directors about the extreme experience I had there, she said Nick would be very interested to hear from me, and address any issues. No word. No words. She defended the work by saying that though black voices weren’t involved in the piece’s creation, they used real life black stories for inspiration, so somehow it made it OK.
- The Speakeasy originally didn’t cast POC in their show because it wasn’t “appropriate” for the period and they only started to reach out to POC actors after the community called them out.
- I have never felt more belittled in my life than while talking to Nick Olivero.
- Comment made in private: “We’re interested in making theatre by white people, for white people, and about white people.”
- Nick Olivero was eating a Pocky stick, sucked on it, looked across the room at me, and said, “Mmm, just like a Filipino’s dick huh?”
- They only ever had one black chorus girl after a facebook firestorm started about how they don't hire POC. That actor quit after experiencing a barrage of microaggressions.
- After the one and only POC chorus girl quit, Nick Olivero wanted to do a photoshoot of the show where he was going to hire POC models just to take publicity photos, but then not actually commit to casting more POC. He just wanted to make the show “look” more diverse than it was. (The photoshoot never ended up happening)
- He asked an Asian-American actress at an audition “Where are you from?” When she was visibly uncomfortable and was like “Southern California” he said “No, I mean, what country are you from?”
- Witnessed actor Mark Nassar talking with another actor. He ripped up a piece of paper, sprinkled it on the floor and said "They'll get a Mexican to come in here and clean it up".
- Had a chorus number called "Chinatown" where chorus girls were made to wear costumes based on Japanese garments. This was brought up to the producers by several people, but they refused to allow any changes.
- Go back three or so years on facebook and read how members of Speakeasy try to publicly lynch (an Equity Black Actress) for calling them out for the racist show themes (Jim Crow for the black actors???) of that show and the staff there VIOLENTLY defend their decisions to keep those white supremacy themes for “authenticity”. We don’t need to relive racism and you don’t need to profit off of it. Awful.
- The company is a cult of personality surrounding a horrible white patriarch - Nick. They flat out refuse to allow their female actors to have safe spaces and have no system of handling sexual assault. They refused to hire any people of color for most of the roles because it didn't make "period sense" and they intentionally hid wage amounts from actors so they could pay people unequally.
- Nick Olivero has a special place in Hell. He created an extremely toxic work environment and actively excluded BIPOC from the Speakeasy. I am still deeply traumatized from my time playing a chorus girl nearly three years later. When I spoke out about the physical, sexual harassment, and abject racism I experienced there every single day, I was immediately fired in an act of retaliation. They said I “was not a team player.”
- In 2018, I called out this company for their racist casting practices. They tried to silence me by having their goon call me and write me multiple emails. At one point, she left me an 18 minute voice message. The sad thing is this goon was Nick Olivero’s Black friend. I also thought she was my friend (we had worked on a couple of projects together before). But she was used by Nick to try to silence me. I’ve noticed a common theme for these companies is for them to get their (usually one and only) Black friend to try to silence me. This friend of theirs tried to get me to take down a post I had written about the company, even threatening me with legal action. I didn’t listen. I will never be silenced.
- I have done some casting work with Boxcar and was told, point blank, they only wanted White people for several of their shows.
- Nick Olivero has a history of taking advantage of young men of color whether actors or members of FOH. He both tokenizes and fetishizes POC regularly and has made crude, hypersexualized comments about them in front of his company with no remorse, regard, or fear of consequence.
- I wish there was a way for me to post all of this script material. I worked for Speakeasy v. 2 in the beginning. I left in 2016. I felt wildly uncomfortable and ashamed of the scenes in the dressing room with Bosley and Roland (POC). I know the actor playing Bosley dreaded the scene and didn't want to apply black face. I spoke out saying it was not a good idea and that the actor felt uncomfortable. I should have been louder and fought more. Here's some excerpts. Please comment with your email if you'd like all of it (if that's allowed). Below is copied and pasted from what seems to be a more recent edited version of the dressing room script dated 8-4-18:
"The Speakeasy- Dressing Room Act 3 57
- (A moment later ROLAND enters.)
- ROLAND Hiya, Bos.
- BOSLEY How you doing, Roland?
- ROLAND Can’t complain too much.
- (ROLAND sits down a chair away from BOSLEY.)
- BOSLEY I heard you and Tom had a little scuffle in the bar a bit earlier.
- ROLAND You know for a supposedly secret speakeasy, there sure is a lot of chinning going on.
- BOSLEY They do like to chin.
- ROLAND They certainly do.
- BOSLEY Got mad ‘cause you were sitting on his stool?
- ROLAND Are you kidding, that cracker’s mad I’m breathing.
- (Lull in the conversation.)
- BOSLEY I gotta get corked up.
- ROLAND By all means. I’m just killing time.
- (BOSLEY starts applying his blackface make-up.)
- ROLAND Let me ask you something, does your willy get bigger as you put on that make-up? "
- Full disclosure, I'm white. This is about Nick Olivera from the Speakeasy.
Once I was at a Tiki bar with friends of mine from out of town. They introduced me to Nick, who joined us at the bar. They told me he ran the Speakeasy. I told him the first time I went, I loved it. The second time, I went with a group that was half black and half white. The group was treated extremely differently this time around. As I was telling the story, Nick muttered "oh like internalized racism." And I thought ok we're registering. I said yes. He flipped in an instant yelling at me that how dare I accuse his show of racism. As more drinks came, he got angrier and angrier and it shifted again to how dare I accuse him of racism. He then said "how dare you call me racist when I have black employees "
We ended the night after that. My "friends" were upset I confronted him because they wanted to go into business with him. I called another friend who is a cast member of the Speakeasy to pick me up and get me the fuck out of there. My friend who picked me up said that my feedback was pretty common and any time black patrons would speak up, Nick would argue with them online and then delete their reviews.
- The Boxcar Theatre (Speakeasy - SF) was one of the most traumatizing experiences of my life. As a Stage Manager of color, no one respected me. There were very few workers of color there and we were treated like dirt especially from the head of the theatre and refused to properly learn our names. There was only one character of color in the entire production and the casting team wouldn't even THINK of hiring other people of color for the characters because it was "not realistic in the 1920's". It was an extremely degrading place to work.
- There's a lot to say about Nick's practices and the damage he has wrought on the Bay Area community. These stories of mine and others here are a fraction of what I have heard over the years from both versions of the show. But racism being the topic, here's a look into Nick's racist mindset.
I am a POC actor-director-writer based in San Francisco. I worked on the Speakeasy which was produced by Nick Olivero of Boxcar Theatre. It was my first show in the Bay Area. I met Nick two weeks after I moved to SF at his production of Hedwig. He pitched the Speakeasy at the end and I asked about an audition.
"I love getting people before anyone else [in the Bay Area] has worked with them," Nick told me when I inquired. Now I know why. If you are new to the area, you likely haven't heard about Nick's reputation. The accusations against Nick go back years.
I was cast in the first run of Speakeasy as Mickey, the director of hospitality (a title I created) and helped develop the character from a one-scene character who would also work as a host seating people and a on-the-floor security guard (all for the low, low price of one actor) into a multi-scene character (one of which I wrote and directed) and gave him the last name "Diamante." From what I am told, (I never saw the second version ), my work was appropriated despite me expressly declining to sign over the rights to everything I had created for the original show. I wasn't asked to. I was essentially told to and sent a form. I was never paid for the scene I wrote & directed. Nick is like a white privilege-brand vacuum cleaner that sucks up the creativity of everyone around him only to claim it as his own. Beyond being a crass bully, he seems to take delight in being a creep.
I remember one night, we were walking through the set from the cabaret side to the bar. When we arrived in the bar area, Nick walked over to the piano and set the 1920s songbook to the song "Coon, Coon, Coon," and laughed at how fucked up the whole set up was. I have to own the fact that on at least one occasion I had to check in a black couple knowing full well that book was likely back there open to that song and likely for no other reason than the horror of it made Nick chuckle. And who has that book with that song on hand?
It is telling that Nick ignored the existence of "black and tan" speakeasies but made sure to include a white character who sat in the bar all show long with tons of dialogue whose big plot twist is that he is your friendly neighborhood klan member.
I didn't play Mickey as a Mexican. Instead, we agreed I would just say I am Sicilian as it works with my features. That's a benefit of being that racist term "Ethnically ambiguous."
Nick Olivero stuffing his hand in my front pants pocket when I was alone and changing out of costume may not be racist but it happened. He claimed it was to tip me an extra $100 to "show my appreciation for your hard work." I now realize the $100 was to confuse me about what the hell had just happened. It's taken me years to understand what happened.
I was playing Einstein about a year after the first version of Speakeasy closed. I decided on a Saturday night after my show to go with my wife and some friends to the new Speakeasy space which was being built out. They had the bar and casino open and were fundraising. I was dressed in a suit but was stuck with Einstein's hair and mustache until my show closed.
My wife and I walked up to the bar to order. Nick was behind it.
"What's with the look," he asked smiling.
"I'm playing Einstein," I replied.
Without missing a beat, Nick asked incredulously "What? A Hispanic Einstein?" and laughed in my face.
One of my friends heard it. My wife heard it. I forget what I replied but it wasn't a drink order and it wasn't pleasant. But we stayed.
Later that night, Nick tried to explain it away as a joke and not racism. I regret not asking what the punchline was.
This one is borderline racist. You tell me. It certainly begs the question of whether or not Nick would treat a white actor this way.
I was asked to audition for Speakeasy 2.0. I told Nick I only wanted to play Mickey but he insisted I audition for Floyd, a wife-beating pimpish character from the first version. I was originally double cast as Mickey/Floyd but I didn't play Floyd then because they never built out the character. And I was grateful for that after I heard the aforementioned details of the character from Nick.
At the 2.0 audition, the auditor table ran from the entrance down the length of the room and then another table was added on to make an L-shape. That's where Nick was sitting eating a sandwich. The assembled were some new faces and some old from the 1.0. I greeted them as I made my way down towards Nick and the steps towards the stage where Dena Martinez, a casting director I was working in front of for the first time (and who was the reason I finally decided to come in and read), sat to read with me.
As I approached Nick, he wiped his mouth with his hand, slid his hands together so as to remove whatever food particles the sandwich and his nasty mouth had left on them and then reached out to shake.
"You're not going to use a napkin?," I asked.
Without missing a beat, Nick replied "You're my napkin."
I did the read, left and emailed Dena to remove me from consideration before I got to the elevator.
My name is Gabriel Montoya, by the way.
- At The Speakeasy, actors not performing that night who were in the building were given an identifying item to wear so you knew they were in the company but not performing. One such identifier was a Star of David lapel pin. There were several Jewish members of the cast who rightly refused to wear them.
- This company’s HR is an absolute joke. There is one person who works here that should’ve been fired years ago. He is known by everyone to be incredibly horrible and problematic. I had many instances with him that resulted in my supervisor telling him to apologize to me or other employees who witnessed his behavior apologize on behalf of him. He treats everyone badly, but it seems more specific towards POC (mostly Black employees). After aggressively confronting a Black security guard for using a copy machine in the corporate offices, he got him fired. Another time, he was talking to a coworker when he casually made a derogatory joke using the n-word. The coworker (who is non-Black POC) told him what he said was inappropriate and that she would go to HR. He begged her not to, but she held her ground and did. The coworker said she was uncomfortable working with him and they did absolutely NOTHING. So she quit and the guy was never reprimanded and has been allowed to continue working there.
- Going along with the above: I’m wondering if that’s the same person who came up to the Call Center Halloween costume parade, took one look at the Black man(who was not participating) and asked if he was “dressed as Ben Carson?” As one of the only Black employees, I heard it and so did he. As did my supervisor, who immediately came over to apologize, but I’m sure nothing was said to this man.
- I can also say that I have personally witnessed this behavior mentioned (and have been silenced). This company has built a business on silencing the oppressed and praising the oppressors. Because THEY are the racist, misogynistic, people of the theatre industry and they protect their own. Ask how many POC they have on staff and how much they pay them. Ask how many women they have on staff and how much they pay them. Ask how many women have quit because of their bullying and gaslighting. Ask the CEO how he feels about POC and women. He only protects gay, white men. And I am part of this. I am protected. Being a gay, white man, it is time to speak up and for this STOP.
- Yes to all the above! I was a WOC who worked there and was so scared to call them out for some of the behavior mentioned above because there was zero accountability. Complaints were never registered or filed in HR. The CEO literally protects the gay, white men as they are all still there, but MANY POC and women have been treated unfairly and basically bullied out of the company (I am one of them and so glad to not be there anymore. It is absolutely toxic and my mental health significantly got better). Every time he would come to the call center to check in on folx, he would literally only talk to all the gay, white men that worked there. Thank you to whoever wrote the above bullet statement for validating my experiences.
- i was removed from a show and gaslighted after calling out a racist comment made by Susan Malone
- As a white person, I should have taken my disgust for managements behavior and obvious racism that I’ve witnessed over the years and reported it to a higher authority. I let my fear get the best of me. Sean Ray and Greg Holland are the people the other mentions are referring to. It’s time they be called out.
- Crowded Fire invited me to audition for a new play that explored Chinese mythology, though the role I was asked to audition for was not noted as Chinese-specific in the script I received. Other parts were, so my assumption was the role was not race-specific, especially since they were asking me to come in; I didn't submit to a casting call or anything. And had they stated up front that they were interested in an all Chinese cast I would have told them I wasn't qualified, but neither they nor the script said that.
After auditioning I was asked bluntly "are you Asian?" to which I replied "yes, I'm Filipino" to which I was told "thanks, but we're only looking to cast Asian actors for this show due to the subject matter." The tone was politely condescending, as if I was in the wrong for showing up to this invited call.
- Filipinos are Asian, and many Filipino actors are also mixed so the response was inappropriate all around. If she meant to say "we're only casting Chinese actors" then she made a doubly racist flub.
- It's literally illegal to ask people their ethnicity in an audition or job interview.
- I was invited to audition by their white casting people, only to then be made to feel like I did something wrong for showing up by those same people.
With respect to the company's desire to cast the piece a certain way given the material, the way they handled this instance was ignorant, and inappropriate, and unprofessional.
- I have yet to work at the Curran as a POC artist on its stage, but I feel encouraged to share my experience as a POC audience member. I attended the Eric Idle performance with a couple of friends back in 2018. Throughout the show, I noticed several white audience members around me and further ahead of me take photos of Eric Idle. Some using flash, and some even leaning out of their aisle seat and holding up their large iPhones to get the perfect photo. I turned around to see if the ushers (aka “Curranators”) cared about this behavior or if it was okay to do so since the event was more of an “in conversation” with performances sprinkled throughout the show. The Curranators didn’t seem to mind and were not going down the aisles to stop anyone, so I decided to capture a couple moments for myself. I hardly lifted my phone past my neck when one of them suddenly appeared at the end of my row to berate me for pulling out my phone. I put it away and he walked back to the back of the orchestra. No less than a minute or two after I was confronted, a middle-aged white patron who sat two seats away from me to my right pulled out her phone and started taking photos. She did this for a while because she was trying to figure out how to lower the brightness and zoom in further on Eric Idle. Baffled at how obvious it was that she was taking photos and the length of time she was able to do so, I turned around and the Curranator ignored it and did NOTHING. I turned back around irritated and noticed another white patron who was a couple rows ahead of me leaning out of her aisle seat to take photos and well within the sightline of all the Curranators hanging out in the back. I turned around again to see if they would crack down on such blatant actions, and once again, they did NOTHING. I felt discriminated against. It’s already uncomfortable when you’re one of a handful of POC in a predominantly white audience, but to feel like the ushers were picking on you for something they were permitting white patrons to do is embarrassing and aggravating to say the least. My friends noticed the lack of theatre etiquette patrolling after witnessing me being the only one who got scolded. I wanted to speak up to a house manager afterwards, but I decided it was a battle not worth fighting that evening.
- I was in a production in which the director/AD kept asking a latino cast member to act ‘more mexican’ and similarly kept asking a cast member of Iranian descent (if I remember correctly) to put on a thicker ‘arabic accent’ even though he was playing a second generation immigrant character… so it was just a quick form of stereotyping and signaling otherness. Cast members talked a lot about it backstage and as an associate artist at the company and a long time friend of the director I decided to speak to him about it. He wasn’t ready to hear that he was being racist and harmful and he felt his aesthetic choice was justified and as the director it was his prerogative. Both actors gradually minimized their accents during the run, and the director decided they were both ‘difficult to work with’.
- Uncle Vanya in 2018 was cast majority white and with a whole lot of unconscious (or conscious) bias where POC actors were included: Vanya's strict disapproving mother was Asian, the day laborer role was given to a brown Latino man, and all the leads were white apart from the exoticized, beautiful second wife, cast as a Latina woman. This particular actor (who spoke with an accent) was singled out and criticized non-stop by our white director/former AD, so much so that the actor broke down crying in rehearsal.
- Also during Vanya: the white director suggested in rehearsal that the two Latino actors could speak in Spanish when talking to each other on stage (as if it was the language used by the ‘Latina second wife’ to address the staff). Those lines were written in English.
- (The Black girl in Sweden Experience.) In 2018, I had just finished a really fun run with Cutting Ball and was informed that a Swedish director saw my work and wanted to collaborate for the following year’s Risk Is This ( Strindberg Reimagined Addition). Initially I was thrilled because the deal would include a workshop in SF , a workshop in Sweden with Strindberg’s Intima Theatre, a production in SF, a production in Sweden and an interview with American Theatre magazine. As the process unfolded though things changed. I was sent the Strindberg script that was picked for me to adapt and perform and it is entitled “Pariah”. I struggled to find resonance with the piece because essentially it was a debate about white privilege between two white men in Sweden. I pressed on anyway. It was a great opportunity. The Swedish director and I, in the first workshop process, came up with the idea that we would interrogate racism in the arts, surveillance culture and my experience with it as a black female actor. WE BOTH HAD THIS UNDERSTANDING. I was a bit concerned about how this process and its potential sensitivity, so I asked the theatre for a dramaturg of color to join us. This request was ignored. Before I was sent to Sweden, the company kept bringing up that Equity rules don't apply in Sweden so that fact meant that they wouldn't have to monitor hours as closely, making it seem like I could possibly be overworked because I only had so much time in Sweden. Repeatedly the subject was brought up in jest. This was to be a solo piece. This concerned me so much that I actually had to advocate for a set schedule with breaks and time off. In Sweden, I arrived and started working with the director. I had a private movement lesson,we talked alot about Swedish culture, race relations, art, and history. She was interested in surveillance culture and the black body so we had planned to play with live feed. She gave me Franz Fanon texts to read and showed me performance art installations of black men crawling through NY, political satire, and a very sensitive art exhibit in France involving slavery. Some of the work and conversations were very triggering but/ and I had no one to talk to in Sweden and my request for a dramaturg of color was again ignored. And then, she suggested that I write her voice into the play. I was confused and not sure how to tackle that so I listened to everything she said throughout our time together for clues as to how to tackle this new director character in the piece. I took a stab at a draft while in Sweden without the director character because again, I wasn't sure how to go about it and the director didn't seem to have any ideas about her character either. My Swedish director read my initial draft, then called me into the theatre the next day to talk and then proceeded to tell me that she rewrote my piece, my experience being a black artist, and that she would prefer me trash my draft and write from hers. Apparently, my draft didn't have enough humor….is racism supposed to be funny? Understandably I was caught off guard. I tried to reiterate the agreement we made about the collaboration and how this was my experience, and my role in the agreement was to write. She reluctantly agreed and we pushed forward. I was given more Franz Fanon and Strindberg quotes to think about. Afterall, we had an interview with American Theatre magazine and a rehearsal process to prep for, there was a rush to be on the same page when speaking about the piece and a rush for media ideas for marketing (It's important to note also the time difference from US to Sweden is very significant and I wasn't really given time to adjust. I was also staying up late reading and writing most of the time after rehearsing and sight-seeing. I was late twice because of this and trying to figure out on foot, in a new country where things were. This will come up later.) I went back to my flat, took in the notes, our conversion, the history, my feelings, Sweden in a black body and wrote my second draft which included the voice of the director verbatim artfully creating conversation between me, Fanon and Strindberg, as requested, as agreed upon. I sent off the draft. The next morning she emailed to cancel our rehearsal and then asked to meet with me at the theatre again to hear the new draft out loud and talk. I met her and her husband, alone at the theatre. I could tell that they both were unhappy with me but neither would say it directly at first. I read through the new draft to the halfway point and then she stopped me abruptly. Told me that what I wrote was a “diary entry” not a performable play, she expressed her anger at my depiction of “the director”, even though she asked me to write her in, When i previously expressed concern about what to write, she gave no suggestions on what her character should say/ do in the piece. The lines of ”the director”, a role I wrote came directly from conversations we had… things she said and asked me to try throughout the process. I brought up the fact that I asked for a dramaturg of color repeatedly. She yelled back, “ I’m the director, I know Strindberg!” I apologized for offending her and offered to change the draft but she refused. Subsequently, she quit and her husband threw me out of their theatre… in Sweden. Then they proceeded to call Cutting Ball and say that I was hard to work with, frequently late to rehearsals and that I had written an extremely offensive piece that was “undirectable”. Our interview with American Magazine was supposed to be the next day in Sweden. I received a call from Cutting Ball relaying all the info the director told them, they basically agreed with her on the spot, cancelled my interview and severed ties with me completely by the next day…. And I was left alone severely depressed in Sweden. In solidarity though they offered me a workshop performance, no tech, no real support, and “I’m sorry this didn't work out, but your draft is really good. Who knew you could write type thing.” I declined. The artistic directors were people I considered friends. I loved them outside of the art world, as people. Not once did they reach out to make sure I was ok. Not once. When I got home, I had a day to recover before starting rehearsals to play God and I'd never felt so low. That was the worst performance of my life (Thanks Lily Janiak for noticing) because I lost my confidence… in Sweden. I've really had a hard time since then confidence wise. I've been blessed with people who have pushed me to write again. But my Pariah still gives me anxiety everytime I look at it. I finally got the courage to post the draft I wrote in Sweden on New Play Exchange , which details the whole experience in full.
- I got a call back for Cutting Ball's production of Mount Misery, specifically for the role of Frederick Douglass. I read the side and Director Rob Melrose said great, "but this time do it again more Southern." I asked for clarification, "Southern?" "Yes southern." I should have listened to my instinct, I knew he wanted me to "sound more black" but he was afraid to say it. I'm fucking good at accents and know the difference.
- Inspired by this living document, I sent the following email to Ariel Craft (the AD) and Maya Herbsman (the associate AD). They both answered promptly and I requested that my overdue pay should be donated to a local org. Thanks everyone for motivating me to write this.
“Ariel and Maya, I saw that Cutting Ball's social media has posted the "We See You White American Theater" letter, and I hope that involves a real deep consideration of your company's practices & how you've treated BIPOC artists in the past. I want to talk to you about my experience, as a POC playwright working with a POC director and a majority POC cast, "workshopping" import speech_memory at Variety Pack last November. I cc Nikki here only because she was a great collaborator and support throughout the week / I want her to be witness to my message. The week working at your company was confusing, embarrassing, and frustrating. In the weeks leading up to arrival, I spent my time asking basic questions (pushing for communication with potential directors, asking for the print of a new script - which was never printed, asking for a daily workshop schedule) which immediately surfaced as red flags. The week of rehearsal: Staff came into the office to print and do work, while we were rehearsing. I was provided with a cast where not one day would include every actor in rehearsal. I was provided with a cast who had limited experience working with non-linear text, making me feel like I had to spend my time justifying the work rather than rewriting. I felt as though I was invited in, not to actually do any work on my play, but to be used as a tokenized narrative for the theater's festival to virtue signal at. And finally, as one of my actors got sick, I had to step in to read for one of my characters. For my own developmental process. I was promised I would be additionally compensated for performing. Unsurprising: I still have not been paid. While I was given the option to have Nikki read instead, there really was no option. You couldn't find another Latino to work with, regardless of age. Maybe this speaks to a larger issue in Bay Area theatre, but I felt no semblance of support. There wasn't even a follow up with your team to discuss the disorder of the week. I was made to feel like I was difficult to work with when I was expecting thorough communication, organization, and transparency as professional theatre artists working with one another. I met both of you (Maya and Ariel) exactly one time. On the first day Maya gave an introduction that left the entire team confused as to what we were doing in the room. Was this developmental? Was this targeted as a program for the public? I was certainly unclear. And Ariel, I have no idea why I was only meeting you right before the presentation or really how I could trust you to lead a talk back on my work after a week of things falling apart. I have been sitting on these feelings for months, and want you to know what a deeply upsetting experience working on Variety Pack was and how I have told other POC playwright to refrain from submitting to work with you in the future. I am not sure if you are aware, but I was just made privy to this Living Document of POC Experiences in Bay Area Theatre Companies where your company has begun to receive criticism, and I intend to submit mine. If you really are "committed to listening, to learning, and to creating safer and more just spaces for BIPOC theater-makers," then I suggest you review and digest some of the messages there. This is the tip of the iceberg.”.
- I had to stop a rehearsal to explain why an "improvised line" given to a young white female was culturally and racially insensitive. We were also lied to about the "cultural consultant" that had actually refused to work on the show....The safety of actors at this company were the lowest priority to the director/ Artistic Director. Multiple injuries occurred through the mo process and we were told we were not being careful enough. This play was directed by a white man that mansplained and undermined the female actors way more than necessary.
- Claimed they reached out to a specific ethnic group for consultancy. They did not. Was asked by that same group not to do the project because it was offensive. They ignored all emails.
- Brian Katz, the artistic director, was casting for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. During callbacks, I asked what his vision was for dealing with the problematic representation of indigenous people in the piece. His response was, “I don’t have a vision for that. If you get easily offended, you’re not right for this show,” and dismissed further discussion. Subsequent conversations about EDI and other problematic representations have been answered (or dismissed) similarly.
- Brian Katz. What a piece of work. Auditioned for their production of In Love & Warcraft and obviously did not get cast. I heard a few days later the reason was I was “too Asian and soft to be the lead.” So is that an attack on my culture, or his perception of my masculinity? Custom Made is just another San Francisco theatre company pretending to be inclusive for optics but truth be told, not really.
- I can attest to the controversy surrounding the "cultural consultant" for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. I was in a show with the supposed "consultant" when they learned how Brian Katz had lied to the cast and crew of the production about their involvement and agreement on several aspects of the show. Katz had also said this person owned a consulting company that worked on Native issues. They do not; no such company exists.
Furthermore, this individual's reaction was shock and gall at the mere idea someone could be authorized to speak for all Native people, everywhere, as if being paid somehow lends legitimacy to tokenism.
- I am one of the producers for this company. I was actively soliciting for submissions for the role of Technical Director for a production. In all job listings, I specifically encouraged artists/designers of color to apply, as we are a company committed to artists of color. I received a response from a man named “Bo Golden”, who is white, asking to be considered. I happily left him on file to be considered as the search continued. I did not respond to the email for a couple of days when he sent a hostile follow-up email saying something along the lines of (paraphrased): “I’m wondering why you haven’t responded?? I’m white, and straight, and not a person of color, but I can do the job really well. I’ve built all kinds of great sets!! I’m sorry for what I am. I don’t understand why that’s a problem. I don’t know what I’m saying but I wanted to get my feelings out.” I’m not sure if this person has proven to be problematic in other companies, but I would strongly urge caution if his name comes across your desk.
- During a tour of San Francisco Trolley Dances, the husband of the artistic director referred to myself as the help.
- In 2017, I was asked to do a Chinese accent. I said no. Then this white director responded: How about /any/ Asian accent, can you do that?
- In 2018, a white trans playwright told me and the other actors in the room how to use a music stand properly.
- When I was auditioning for a role with a white cis male director present, I auditioned using a spanglish monologue. When finished he asked if I can do it again but with a better accent, I asked for clarification and he stated, “I know you’re Latin but you don’t sound like it”
- I’m a white director. At the top of the second day of rehearsal, I misidentified the playwright as the assistant-director, both Latinx women. The Artistic Director privately let me know and I was able to offer an apology.
- I had the misfortune of being in the presence of the founder and then AD of Ferocious Lotus and their very expensive "consultant" M. They had the gall to imply that Southeast Asians are not "Asian" enough because we're too brown. They implied they were ok with fair-skinned South Asians and Southeast Asians being called "Asian" but not when these "other" Asians had darker skin. I lost respect for the so-called "Asian-American" theatre community after that.
Golden Gate Theatre (owned by BroadwaySF)
- I’m a white person who was working with TWU 784. The supervisor at Golden Gate repeatedly made racist remarks in conversation which overlapped with disparaging remarks about the homeless population near the theatre. This supervisor also compared the crew on the current show (mostly white) and a previous show I’d worked (mostly not white) in a way that attempted to bait me into agreeing with their racist opinions.
- As an Afghan American actor, I specifically auditioned for a show that took place in Afghanistan and was not cast. Fine. The next audition I went to both the AD and Director realized my ethnicity and profusely apologized for misunderstanding and not realizing this sooner. I have a lot of respect for this company and their ownership
- Golden Thread Productions, Marin Theater Company, and SF Playhouse are 3 companies that I have worked with who choose to cast Israeli actors as Arab Actors.
- Just a week or so ago, I recently saw a virtual performance / skits of students’ writing. There was a Black female artist in the ensemble on Zoom. There was a scene where she was literally engaging with a police, gun pointed at her, in her own home, incited by her partner. Talk about being too f’ing soon. No public apology has been released. KML has been complicit to a whole lot of white supremacist practices in the last few years.
- 2016 nationwide protest against THE MIKADO. They eventually made edits to the libretto and setting and created a beautiful production, but only after weeks of defensiveness, white fragility and dismissive communications with APIA artists, and only after their main venue YBCA voiced consternation that the show was being staged in their space. More info: https://www.ferociouslotus.org/community-and-news/2017/6/20/the-mikado-updates-2016
- Lamplighters either misconstrued or lied about their cultural consulting on The Mikado. I was one of three staff at the company they claimed to have consulted with that, in contravention to the stance taken by Ferocious Lotus, claimed there was no problem with the production. None of us were ever contacted. The director was a former company member of ours from many years ago, and perhaps she spoke to the company's founder, who has worked as a cultural consultant and choreographer for many companies around the region. But the founder was not on staff and did not have the authority to speak for the company as a whole. It seems the company, in trying to find a way to undermine Lily Tung Crystal's open letter, tried to misconstrue personal contacts as institutional backing to say "look, some Asians are okay with it, we must not be doing anything wrong."
- I was part of a very diverse cast at Landmark, with many BIPOC, as well as trans/nonbinary representation.. There was a need midway through the rehearsal process to cast an additional actor for the ensemble. The director specifically was hoping for a male ensemble member. A trans friend responded to the ad and was invited to come in. When the director met them in person, his first comment was, “Oh, there must have been a misunderstanding. We’re looking for a man.” He later said he felt terrible, but it happened nonetheless.
- I witnessed a white director (Jon Rosen) yell at BIPOC actors in a callback. Why? Because he gave us all a side, asked us to divide the characters amongst ourselves on the spot, and became frustrated when they did not deliver the lines as quickly as he wanted us to. This turned me off entirely from the production.
- I was at HAIR callbacks in 2017 or 2018 when Jon Rosen (so problematic) asked all women of color to go onstage for the “White Boys” song where there would be groupings etc. I got up from my seat to go onstage and he laughed and said “not you...you know...like the dark women”. I am a first gen brown person…
- Jon Rosen is abusive. He constantly yells at everyone in the room, disrespects both the cast (largely POC) and SM (who was also a POC). He also has no regard for the safety and well being of his actors.
- In “Gangster of Love” (an adaptation of the novel of the same name about a Filipino family immigrating to San Francisco), they whitewashed the character Elvis Chang (Chinese American guitarist) to an Italian American (same first name, but with an Italian sounding last name). Their excuse was that they couldn’t find an Asian actor who could play guitar really well. Magic casts at least 6 months ahead of the first rehearsal and they couldn’t find ONE Asian actor/guitarist to play Elvis, especially when they mostly hire out of town? If other companies were able to find an Asian guitarist for all the different productions of Cambodian Rock Band, why couldn’t Magic do it for Gangster of Love?
- Adding on to The Gangster of Love, the Magic had a break in and the cast experienced theft and a ransacking of their things during the run of that show but no other shows in the past two years other than Dogeaters have had that happen?
- Recently did a show at Magic with a majority Latinx cast. One of the members of the production team repeatedly mispronounced one of the actors' names to the extent that it became something of a running joke because it happened so often. He misgendered a member of the design team multiple times, despite being corrected almost every time it happened.. He also butchered/attempted to co-opt Spanish phrases in order to fit in with the cast, which only served to make everyone uncomfortable.
- He would talk behind the backs of actors referring to them as “hysterical” and as “assholes” (for being justifiably annoyed during tech) and would often make uncomfortable comments about the appearances of significantly younger female identifying members of the production team.
- He was a disaster and he was originally going to SM the next show. At least Magic decided not to bring him back after his behavior, but it would have been better to just fire him immediately.
- Don’t be shy. Drop the name of the SM for the show talked about above. Was it Shane Spaulding?
- It was 100% Shane Spaulding. Fuck that guy.
- During The Eva Trilogy tech, one of the guest designers, an older white man, repeatedly yelled at his team of mostly women and WOC. He would also talk down to the interim Production Managers at the time, one a BPOC and the other was an immigrant, both women.
- At a table read for a new play, in the room were several board members, friends and supporters of the company, students from a local college, the production team and cast, and additional personnel, so about 40-50 people. Preceding a round of introductions, Loretta Greco dived into the immense humanity and beauty of the play and how it promoted such profound connection and that it was such an honor to add it to the great history of the theater - all sorts of things that would make you think that she and the company genuinely cared about people. I was near the very end of the circle of introductions and I was the only person to share my pronouns (they/them/their). No one came up to me afterwards at any point to apologize and I was only reached out to later in the day by another non-binary person in the room. Still had to keep working on the show.
- At the end of my internship here, the AD had a meeting with all the interns (two white, 1 non-black POC) and asked us how to attract more interns for the next year, specifically black and brown interns. She did not like our answers.
- At New Conservatory Theatre Center around the same time period, when I was teaching at a Chinese christian school, a fellow Teaching Artist told me he liked teaching there because the Asian students were so 'obedient and docile.' I was also cast to play an Egyptian character as a white person (in a Shakespeare play), which I'm still ashamed to admit.
- At NCTC auditions for The Nance, I was asked by the director (as a white woman) to do the highly stereotyped/stock character Latinx character’s accent, when I’d prepared the French one. Directly in front of a Latinx actor who had just auditioned for that role.
- About 10 years ago, I as a white woman was complicit in performing a role in a YouthAware show in which I was asked to play “urban.” Remembering back, I think the dialect I wound up using was probably closest to Nuyorican. Short of literal face paint, it was clearly an instance of black/brownface.
- I am a POC teaching artist who worked for NCTC for a while. While I received a ton of support from Kathleen Lee, I was brought to tears by the belittling statements at the hand of the white head of the ed dept. She made me feel that I would never be successful and that I was being immature for crying when she said as much.
- When Nikki Meñez and Stephanie Desoyners were informed by a POC that they had cast a white abuser, this information was brushed aside with the only followup conversation being the POC trying to convince them of the validity of their statements.
- I was invited to the world premiere and pre-show party of THIS SIDE OF CRAZY by DEL SHORES at NCTC. When I arrived at the restaurant, I noticed that I was the only POC there. People were looking at me from head to toe and I could tell that when they were looking at me, they weren't sure if I belonged. As more people arrived, I noticed that one of the people there at the party was wearing a MAGA hat. At that point I felt VERY uncomfortable and unsafe. The lights at the restaurant were dim so I couldn't tell if it was a real MAGA hat or those fake ones that people wear. Either way it was very triggering. THIS SIDE OF CRAZY was very offensive to me as a Mexican-American/Xicano. DEL SHORES created a character that was a racist and tried to add tasteless humor to his play by making his character and actor say "wetback" and "Mexican jumping bean" when referring to Latinx people. I would assume playwrights understand that words having meaning and weight and create an impact to an audience. I would also assume that the leadership at NCTC understands that as well. But I guess they didn't care because their audience are predominantly OLD WHITE MEN and I am pretty sure DEL SHORES had this in mind when writing his play. He and NCTC didn't have to worry about offending their audience when they saw this play because Latinx theater-goers and artists--like myself--don't go to NCTC. This was my first time going to their theater and it was very clear to me that evening that people that look like me and identify as Latinx, are not welcomed to their community.
- I've spent a lot of time very quiet about this. Fuck it.
Jul 3, 2020, 10:18 AM (4 days ago)
to ed, Barbara
I'm writing today to discuss an entry made in NCTC's section of the Living Document of BIPOC Experiences in the Bay Area Theatre Community. This entry refers to an experience of harm I was involved in, where I informed Nikki Meñez (and through them, Stephanie Desnoyers) about the casting of an abuser, Ari Rice, in the role of Joan in your production of Fun Home that was slated to open in your 2020 season. About two months ago, I received follow up information (not from your organization, but from people involved with the production) that the abuser in question had still been cast in the role at the start of rehearsals of this production, without protections made for her scene partner.
I want to caution you against seeing this as a purely personal matter. It is not. If #metoo and Time's Up have taught us anything, it's that abusers exist next to us, in our communities, in our workplaces, and that their presence and impact is to be taken seriously. I am aware of the emotional complexities of the situation, given this abuser's previous employment at NCTC. However, I implore that the scope of the situation is broadened here, and the greater impact is seen.
I first want to emphasize that this abuser's casting is not a benign choice. Particularly in the role of Joan, where the character is involved in the central character's first sexual experience and relationship through great family tragedy. Finding out, after the fact, that this person was played by someone known to abuse others, is potentially (re)traumatizing. NCTC primarily works with younger, non-union actors without many protections. This is an extremely dangerous combination.
This is also a production that was helmed by an Intimacy Director with insufficient training, who intended to intimacy direct his own project. Not only is intimacy directing one's own show extremely frowned upon within the professional community (due to an undeniable confusion of power dynamics that provide easier pathways for abuse), Arturo Catricala is not a certified ID, and has extremely limited training in the subject. Additionally, this show would have had more safety in the hands of a queer non-man, who would be able to provide community and knowledge of the dynamics present in the show.
I appreciate that I do not work in arts administration, and thus have limited working knowledge of what the options would have been. However, since this matter seemed to be deemed a personal one, I received no concrete information on what could be done professionally to address these concerns. Regardless of my personal relationships with those involved, I have received no professional acknowledgement of the potential damage this could have caused and has caused already.
When people, and organizations, align themselves with abusers, it makes those people and spaces psychologically hostile to survivors. It puts people with illnesses due to this abuse on high alert, thus aggravating these illnesses. It reduces trust from the community, because it reveals spaces to be unsafe. These actions have made NCTC feel less safe. Work must be done to repair this.
Jul 3, 2020, 11:36 AM (4 days ago)
to me, Ed
Thank you for your message. I appreciate what it must have taken to write it.
It is not entirely clear from your message if you were the victim of this abuse. If that is indeed the case, I am sorry for your pain.
To clarify, I was informed of the situation, but I was under the understanding that confidentiality was required and no specific action had been requested. It is helpful to now know who you are and who you are registering a complaint against.
I am not going to simply dash off a hurried response, because this issue needs respect and consideration.
Please clarify for me: are you requesting something specific? And did the abuse you are referring to happen at NCTC?
Thanks again for writing.
Barbara Hodgen, Executive Director
Jul 3, 2020, 12:11 PM (4 days ago)
Hi Barbara -
Thank you very much for this.
To clarify, I am the survivor of this abuse, and it was not at NCTC. However, this conversation is not about the abuse I experienced and I decline to share the details of that abuse with you. I'd also like to point out that it's interesting to hear your perspective, given that I was never asked if I wanted confidentiality, nor if there was anything specific I'd like done (aside from having Stephanie informed, to which I responded yes).
The point of my contacting you was the fact that I alerted an NCTC staff member to the fact that they had hired an abuser in an intimate context, thereby endangering the people hired to work with that person. I am only involved in so far as I am the person who had the information that Ari could do harm. This is about how NCTC failed to act in response to vital information to protect the safety of those who work there.
You are misdirecting your attention here.
Jul 3, 2020, 1:03 PM (4 days ago)
Got it, thanks.
I will spend some time on this and get back to you next week."
Jul 6, 2020, 11:39 AM (1 day ago)
to Ed, me
Thanks again for your feedback on our procedures around the staging of Fun Home.
Ed and I took some time over the weekend to confer; we looked at what we can learn from your feedback, and how we might improve things for future productions.
Going forward, we will make an effort to match the IC more closely with the characters in the scene, if possible. Given the wide range of genders/orientations that NCTC presents on our stages that might not always be possible, but we can certainly try. In addition, while we verbally give all artists involved in our productions information on reporting issues or problems, we can also provide that information in writing to all involved.
Thanks again for your feedback. We take it seriously. NCTC is committed to protecting our artists, and always looking to provide a professional, productive, and creative environment for all. We look forward to implementing these improvements.
Jul 6, 2020, 11:46 PM (18 hours ago)
to Barbara, Ed
Barbara and Ed -
I thank you for taking time out of your weekend to confer and discuss what I've written to you about. However, I cannot help but feel as though my point was missed.
I'd like to correct that I was saying I felt the director of Fun Home should have been a queer non-male, rather than the Intimacy Director. My actual point, which hasn't been addressed, is that Arturo Catricala does not have sufficient training, and intended to ID his own show - problems in any context, but particularly with a known abuser involved. I'd also like to remind you that an Intimacy Director is only as good as the actors' will to comply to the choreography and agreements between scene partners. Eventually, the Intimacy Director leaves, and the scene still has to be performed, with the abuser, multiple nights a week.
It has become clear to me based on our exchange that you do not care about the experience of abuse survivors when it does not directly implicate NCTC in liability. While it would have been heartening to see you demonstrate a genuine interest, since that appears that won't be happening, I'll present with the following questions about how you are liable and accountable for your for your permissive attitudes towards potential sexual abuse at your institution:
What processes and protocols are you implementing to protect your employees from known abusers before the abuse takes place, as opposed to providing them reporting channels after harm has already been done?
What is your liability going to be when this employee (if brought back to perform at NCTC) does abuse to another employee, and we can provide concrete proof that you were informed of their character and past offenses?
How are you stopping the next person from being abused when you are hiring known abusers?
- In 2018 summer theatre competition at PianoFight, a female white artist based in South Bay but does work in SF told me the piece I directed is going to win the round solely because I've cast two Filipino actors. Diversity is the new trend in the theatre.
- I jumped behind the bar to make some drinks because we were busy. A black artist ordered a basket of fries and I asked for a credit card to start a tab. They immediately looked confused and said they’d never had to put down a card before. I said it was standard procedure and the artist said again they’d never had to do that. I said ok and put in the order. When I came back the artist declined the food and shortly thereafter left. I realized after that I’d made them feel untrustworthy or other because I’d asked for a card. It wasn’t my intention, and holding a card to start a tab is pretty standard, but after thinking about it I see where they were coming from. A few weeks later that artist was back in the building and I bought them a drink, apologized for how I’d made them feel and listened. - Rob Ready
- I was recording a podcast during the TBA awards and speaking to an artist of color about the season coming up at their theater company. One of the playwrights in that season had a name I thought sounded different / cool / funny and I went on an extended riff about names. My name has always been a target for people to crack jokes so I just assumed that was ok. The artist I was interviewing spoke to TBA after the fact, they reached out to me, and after being embarrassed and kinda pissed for a bit, I got it. We never released the podcast, and I’ve never made fun of someone’s name again. - Rob Ready
- I was in a Theater Pub show at PianoFight in June 2015. The show itself was a mess for many reasons, but during the rehearsal process I felt singled out for not being “black enough.” I’m a biracial/black woman, and my character was a black woman, but I was constantly told by the white male director to “talk and act more like a black girl.” He also made comments about how he didn’t need to worry about the other cast members, but I had a lot of work to do. He even offered to buy costume pieces for the other cast members, but when he requested what he wanted me to wear for the show, I had to buy my own outfit and he never offered to pay for it. This whole experience was exhausting for me. Luckily he is no longer in the theater scene here.
- In 2010, my writing partner and I wrote a sketch for PianoFight’s all-female sketch comedy troupe. The sketch featured a black character and the troupe had (one) black actor. When we received casting information, the black character was to be played by a white actor. We immediately asked why and were told that the black actor was on vacation for that show, but the white actor they’d cast instead was “very tan” and “often mistaken for Hispanic.” (I don’t know if they were aware that I am Latinx?) They said that they would put “some bronzer” on her but when we responded that we were not interested in doing blackface, they insisted that this wasn’t blackface. We withdrew our sketch until the black cast member was available to perform the role and did not work with them again.
- PianoFight: During a round of the ShortLived competition, a queer white woman director commented to my BIPOC director that our piece would advance because we were smart to feature BIPOC artists, insinuating that working with BIPOC artists to tell BIPOC stories was a mere marketing strategy. This rude, reductive, hateful comment utterly erased our sheer talent and work and attempted to attribute any compliments we would receive to merely our race - simply because this other director needed to believe that the only reason her show would not advance was because of the lack of BIPOC artists. I was floored by these comments since she seemed consistently nice in face-to-face interactions and she was the one who cast her own show. Later in the run, this same queer white woman director celebrated her piece as "an all queer show!", referencing herself and her cast (who were great). I smiled, complimented her cast, and shared "ours too!", thinking this could turn into a supportive moment of queer bonding. Instead, the look on her face made clear that her reaction was a mix of shock (that BIPOC folks could also be queer?), rejection (like she wanted to argue with me about my truth?), and jealousy (see initial comment above). I felt incredibly hurt, dismissed, and tokenized by her comments and reactions. We BIPOC artists are multi-dimensional human beings just like everyone else. We are not telling our stories to score points; we are trying to survive and be seen.
- Played a role written to be ‘Preferably Hispanic’ by a white playwright. There was nothing in this story that would require this role to be ‘preferably hispanic’ (other than the playwright’s choice). During our first read through I said my very first line and was immediately given a thumbs up from the playwright followed by “Oh my god yes so sassy!”
- At one Playground a few years ago, one of the short plays featured a historical female character who was Filipino. They had a white actor play the role.
- PlayGround is producing a zoom show this Friday 6/19 for Juneteenth. The playwright is black, half of the characters are black, it explores black themes, and is directed by... wait for it....an Asian man. Are we not even seen as qualified to direct work about us? Are BIPOC interchangeable?
- In 2018 at The Playwrights' Center of San Francisco's general auditions, the President of the Board kept repeating (and this happened 4 times:) "Another POC is a no-show" and then explained to other directors in the group: "For those of you who doesn't know, POC is people of color". He remains the President of the Board until today.
- This is before 2010, but played a few roles in Sheherezade and was repeatedly asked to “act more black” by white woman director.
- When Flash Plays happened in 2018, a bunch of Bay Area artists volunteered their time to be part of this one-minute play fest fundraiser. When we were rehearsing the last piece together as a company, Amy Mueller (previous AD) asked for a volunteer and requested any actors with a big, loud voice to say a line from a poem/piece. She looked around the room and pointed to a Black actor all the way in the back and requested she do it.
- Amy Mueller knew I was queer and trans for a queer lobby exhibit I made for the University of San Francisco. Ever since then she always corners me to educate her on the experiences of being a part of the trans and Latinx community. How she doesn’t understand They/Them pronouns and needs to be educated EVERY time she sees me.
Poltergeist Theatre Project
- Went to an audition at Ray of Light for their production of Sweeney Todd. In the same season, they were also doing The Full Monty, as a black male, I wasn’t interested in Monty at all but wanted to at least sing in the ensemble of Sweeney Todd. I was called out during the audition and asked why I didn’t have FM on my audition form. I honestly said I didn’t care for the show. I was allowed to finish the audition but was not called back for any roles and/or ensembles.
- Their sound guy Anton shows up for only one or two days and then leaves all the work to one of his female assistants who often has not been trained in what she is supposed to do. When he comes back to ‘fix things’ all he does is scream at the cast of his WOC assistants. He doesn’t even pay the assistants minimum wage.
- Caroline or Change - glad they did the material, glad they staffed a diverse production team. Why was the director a white woman?
- During ReproRights! A play about female reproductive rights, a white male critic sang all the praises to the only white male actor in the show who played “the asshole” per se.
- To add to this remark, it was completely disrespectful to see a review about female empowerment short plays and the only person that white male talked about was the white male actor. He said nothing about the one African American female actor, who won the Shellie for best supporting actress for her role as Mary, the two Latina female actresses, the one Filipina actress, the African American male actor or the two white female actresses. It truly showed favoritism and the need to make sure we make the “white man” feel good..
- Apparently, I was not as "exotic" as the producer had hoped when she approached me to spotlight the " diversity" of their theater company. Like, sorry to disappoint, but this light skinned Latina doesn't get you a pass to being as a diverse group
- Although I am not a person of color, am speaking on behalf of a couple of former coworkers bc I don’t think they ever would . One coworker experienced so much racism in that place and I don’t know how he managed to stay as long as he did. A guest called him an “N” word and held up his show for 10 minutes. The guest was not removed. The black guests in the group left due to the unfair treatment of the actor. He was forced to stay in a show with an actor who changed the script because it didn’t make sense since he was black and the other actor was white. When he complained that a guest whistled the “Confederate Dixie” song at him, the manager said he didn’t see anything wrong with it because it was the “Dukes of Hazzard” song. Management accused him of raising his hand to hit a white manager, when the manager was actually the one with his hand raised. Management also told him that they can’t control if racists come in, and told him, during a harassment training in front of all of us, that guests making ape sounds at him” was just something that comes along with the industry,”when he bought it up as an example, and site manager once told HR that the actor was “sensitive about that stuff.” The same manager paper trailed and fired an employee for making an off colored Jewish joke.( the manager was Jewish) The actor also had his penis touched by guest on several occasions and the guests were not removed. These are just things that happened while I was there, and he was there after I left. There was also a LatinX actress who had her breasts grabbed in the shoe(backstage), and the guest did not get kicked out, and I think he even received a refund bc he complained about being followed by management. That same actress severely injured herself, and never really received her proper worker’s comp. Oh, and there was the time when they did a commercial or something with all actors of color posing with Trump’s wax figure and had not told them in advance who they would be shooting with. There was one white actor that was called in but walked out. One of the actors later told me that he didn’t feel all comfortable with the shoot, but felt that the optics of him storming out would read different than the white actor who excused himself,.Oh and to top it all off, a lot of the actors were laid off due to changing schedule demands, and were all forced to sign documents saying they would never bring legal action or speak publicly about their experiences only to receive a very small severance.
- I also worked with the Actor mentioned in the previous post, and the company really played a lot of games with that actor. They would encourage him to speak up for himself and for the rest of us, because he was the type that everyone respected and really did care for the whole team, but would gaslight the HELL out of him as soon as he did. They knew they couldn’t blatantly do too much to him, bc he was too well liked. He even won the Actor of the year, 2 out of the 3 years he worked there, but they would do other underhanded stuff. One time they worked him for months with him taking as many extra shifts as was legally possible, and then when he tried got ready to use all of his vacation time at once, they threatened to make him pay a fine to the insurance company. There were other things taking place as well that he dealt with at the job not dealing with racism that’s not my place to discuss, but any time he tried to leave the acting team to get any open Lead positions, or pursue advancement, which he was more than qualified for( he has a degree, for one thing, while most other people applying were still pursuing degrees, and he was older by a few years) they would turn a deaf ear bc they wanted to keep him in the acting team, but they did let him work in retail and even as a Janitor. Meanwhile some less qualified, people that are non- POC had been given opportunities to advance. Now there is one person who came in after him, who is qualified and and was given the opportunity to advance and fights for the team, but the “Lead” actor ( non POC 20- something) now is horrible and super divisive and has had a very problematic history of the employees having major issues with him, and a super weird relationship with the hiring manager who was all of our boss. The whole thing is a sh$t show.
- Hello, this is the actor referenced in the first two posts. To the person(s) who chose to share my experiences "because I would never do it," I would like to make a statement.
Ok, the stories are out there now, and I agree that there is a movement going on and it's bigger than me so to the creator of the document, please don't feel inclined to take it down now, but I will say to the posters, let this be a teachable moment:
You robbed me of my agency by putting words to my pain, and to some pretty embarrassing traumatic experiences that I lived through. In doing so, you have perpetuated the cycle of of silencing POC and have taken on the "white savior complex." I'm not some voiceless, helpless, victim. I have words, and when/if I was ready to share, I should have been given the opportunity. I would also like to address some of the disparaging statements made re: a certain individual referenced in the second post. Those are opinions that I do not share and did not voice. I do wish to be put in comparison with anyone at that place; particularly since I am no longer there. I thank you Posters for wanting to advocate for me, but I do not wish to be a pawn and a projection tool to express your own personal vendettas against a company that wronged you. Thank you.
- Several tokenizing or appropriative comments/jokes made by the artistic staff about BIPOC during Hu rehearsals and other events.
- Dismissal of diversity by a large percentage of the majority white membership. “Well, we’re doing better than we need to do…” when almost 90% of the membership is white. Selective citing of statistics to support this idea that enough has been done.
- Sent a majority-white group to march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, and refused to listen to BIPOC membership about their concerns about this appropriation, after which most of the majority-BIPOC small ensemble quit. They decided to call for an open discussion on the issue afterward, during which one of the small number of black members called for the creation of a diversity task force/group. He was privately told, “Well we’re not gonna do that, but you’re welcome to do it yourself.”
- Accompanist was drunkenly ranting to me in private about recent calls for diversity by BIPOC folks, and said, “What do they want us (white people) to do? Just die so they can have free rein?”
- At an event hosted on 2/11/2020 by Opera Parallèle in partnership with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus entitled “Harvey Milk: The Bullhorn Series”, the Artistic Director of SFGMC was introducing upcoming events that would be held at their venue including a performance from a chorus visiting from China. The AD made the comment to the entire audience in attendance “How are they going to perform with those masks?”. This was in February 2020 when the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic had been affecting China.
- Seconding the above as I was witness to that, too. It was an absolute cringe moment.
- Not a person of color myself, but as we were preparing to do a period show (70’s music) a black member of the chorus stood to ask the membership that, as they prepared their costumes they not include “afro” wigs because the wigs are racist and not particularly funny. The immediate backlash from the membership whitesplaining that some other groups of people have curly hair or also wore “afros” in the 70s and so he had no reason to ask the members not to wear them or be offended if they did went on for a good 10 minutes of rehearsal, continued on the FB page for a few days after, and was never addressed by the chorus leadership.
- The AD took time after one new group of auditionees were accepted into the chorus to congratulate the leadership on creating a more diverse chorus (as mentioned above - the chorus is about 90% white) by listing off all the different European individuals that they had accepted.
- The AD regularly would respond to criticism about such incidents by pointing out that he is a man of a certain age raised in Texas and that he is too old to change. He regularly told the membership when they voiced concerns that if members didn’t like the situation, they were welcome to leave the chorus.
- A muslim WOC was told during her interview to join staff by the manager interviewing her that she would be a great “diversity hire” for better organizational optics.
- SFGMC recently laid off a third of their staff due to necessary COVID-19 retrenchment. Those layoffs all consisted of POC, women, or people of a certain age—leaving a majority staff of white males. I do not believe these layoffs were racially motivated—however, it shows SFGMC’s corporate mentality of only putting males, generally white males, in positions of leadership and concentrating the diversity into expendable support roles on staff, thereby creating an environment at the outset that allows the white male leadership more job security and higher salaries.
- As a soloist in the group, sang a duet from “Exile” - my singing partner was white. The song was about 2 lovers who had grown old together. One partner asks the other, basically, “what do you see in me now?” At the end of the duet, we both thought it was vital and appropriate that they kiss at the end. Apparently, certain members of the chorus thought otherwise and privately contacted the director to ask us NOT to kiss. After a few conversations, we (my duet partner and I) decided to keep the kiss in and to Hell with certain members of the chorus.
- Everything that's been said above is true. BIPOC voices are regularly ignored and dissent is strongly and publicly punished. I personally witnessed the AD saying, multiple times in multiple rehearsals, "If this group isn't working for you, maybe you're the problem. There's the door." And of course, this was always met with thunderous applause.
The response was /always/ that "some" POC said they didn't see a problem, so obviously it was just a few loud complainers that wanted to cause trouble complaining. The tokenism displayed by the members, from singers to administration, was galling.
At times, the AD would trot out the various white immigrants in the chorus, listing off the countries they had come from, in an attempt to prove how diverse the chorus is. Several singers, white and BIPOC, had come to the US seeking asylum, and we were constantly reminded of this in an effort to equate their gay/queer immigrant experience with the gay/queer BIPOC experience. Hint: it's not the same. The tokenism didn't stop with race either, as at times the AD would single out the openly trans singers to remind us how "diverse" and "welcoming" the chorus was.
When I would speak with the leadership team (of 10, which only had 2 BIPOC on it at the time) about the concerns of other men of color, they would often say "well our one Black guy on leadership says it's fine, so there must not be a problem." When white allies would raise concerns, they would say, "You're just too sensitive. None of the membership of color has raised their concerns, so you're just creating a problem where there isn't one."
Direct complaints were always redirected through an internal report system called "a productivity tool" that was often ignored and made it seem any single report look like an isolated incident. As they were all associated with a specific member, it was easy to determine if only certain members were speaking out, and they were quickly labeled drama queens. If anyone tried to press the issue and bring it up in another fashion, they were told "the process" existed for a reason, and they had to go through the "proper channels" to be heard.
The annual "holiday" concert (Christmas concert, let's be honest), used almost exclusive Judeo-Christian themes and myths (Santa, reindeer, snow, candles, the token Hanukkah song, etc.) When a member said, to quote a favorite musical, "They don't have bobsleds in San Juan," administration turned to the membership at large during rehearsal to say over and over how the music was selected by a committee, and pointed out that committee was ethnically diverse. While this was true, the members of the committee were hand-selected by the artistic team to ensure the members had a strong command of complex technical music skill. But this often resulted in the committee putting forth personal arrangements or songs that best fit their individual vocal qualities so they would have a better chance of landing solos in concerts, not the submission of music that better spoke to more members of the chorus. One POC on the committee openly admitted to selecting music that was best for his voice during rehearsal. With music selected and commissioned sometimes 18 months in advance, once regular members got a chance to look over the complete set list, the administration made sure to use "the process" as a reason there was little possibility of adding pieces if membership at large felt something was missing. Further, we were instructed to "submit a productivity tool," which always led to the roadblocks described above.
- This is a few things I witnessed in SFGMC. First, in the small ensemble the Lollipop Guild, a POC member was being very vocal about how our Christmas music wasn’t very diverse and he felt it mostly related to white people. He was asked to apologize or he would have to leave the ensemble because he rubbed some members the wrong way. He ended up being removed from the chorus after being talked to by the artistic team who had found him as problematic in the past and put him on probation when he joined the chorus this most recent time (he is very vocal about the racial issues in the chorus and had been a member before). Not even a week or two later, a white member (Jim Kinney) of the ensemble said to a POC member that “he thought he was pronouncing a certain word well, given that he had an accent and his first language wasn’t English”. This white member is known for his racial insensitivities and micro aggressions, specifically towards Latino members. What was done in this case? A talking to and a slap on the wrist, as always. He wasn’t asked to apologize or be removed like the POC member and still remains in the group - and continues to be problematic.
Second, there is a song that was sung in the summer concert last year, called “sticks and stones” from a suite of music commissioned by the artistic director and the chorus called I am Harvey Milk. The song is full of racial slurs. The person that wrote the music, Andrew Lippa, is white. Most of the chorus is white. Yet, the AD felt it helped tell the story of the Stonewall and Compton’s cafeteria riots, as a monologue was read over part of the song. White people should never be allowed to sing or say stuff like this. But no matter what was said the song was still included.
Third, we were learning “nails, hair, hips, heels” by Todrick hall for the spring concert which was cancelled. Some of the lyrics were changed, but some felt it was appropriation being a majority white chorus. While things are on lockdown and we cannot meet, that had us record it anyways and do videos with choreography, pushing really hard to get this out for pride, even though there are protests for BLM. This was extremely tone deaf and it took several people speaking up before the artistic team and the director in particular said “he had seen the light” and it would be postponed for now.
- Was involved in a culturally specific show with little dramaturgical materials provided about the people, culture, and setting. Also required the cast to perform traditional choreography that would normally take years for someone to master. Cast was given one rehearsal with a consultant.
- Not sure which show this is specifically for, but this is an accurate description of King of the Yees. Adding to this, the props designer (white) for this show didn’t do her homework on boba. Boba was used in one scene and it was requested to have a real boba drink because seeing the character drink boba balls in slo-mo added to the hilarity of the moment. The props designer haphazardly bought uncooked boba and thought we could just make it at the theatre once a week and keep a batch in the fridge. We were on break and I was painfully listening to her trying to figure out shortcuts to make it, so I stepped in and told her that uncooked boba cannot be soaked in hot water from an electric kettle nor can it be stored for an entire week of shows; they must be fresh everyday and cooked properly since someone had to digest it 8x a week. She gave me this peeved look for being an actor who corrected her...but maybe do your job correctly and not buy culturally specific food on the weekend of tech without doing the research.
- Tried to convince the Artistic Director, Bill English, not to produce A Christmas Story in 2017 because of the racist Chinese restaurant scene. Many voices were in agreement that we should not do this show. There was pressure from a major donor to do the show and it was produced anyway. It was an incredibly hard role to cast and we got many angry emails from Asian actors (rightfully so). We kept talking with the AD that even if we would continue with the production, that actor could not sing Deck the Halls. I forget whether it was the actor who was uncomfortable with the scene or if the AD finally came to his senses but it was changed last minute to be a Bing Crosby impression. (Actors involved please feel free to correct this)
- I am the actor that was cast in the role of the Chinese waiter. I did not have a problem with taking the role because the director assured me that I would have a voice in how that scene was staged to ensure that I was personally comfortable with it matching my skill set and addressing the racism in the source material. After consulting with my friend, Asian am broadway actor and star of KOTY at SFP, Francis Jue, I came up with the Bing Crosby idea early in the process. I can only hope that it was a thoughtful solution that also carried entertainment value to make the scene work. I will say that I went along with the choice to go ahead and keep the Chinese accent during the dialogue because as Francis reminds me, immigrants are real people often with accents and there is nothing wrong with depicting their stories as long as they are not held out as jokes. Hopefully we were able to achieve that even though I could still sense audience discomfort when that scene would start probably due to anticipation of how it would be handled. I will also say I did get a sense the director was paying lip service a bit because she asked what more I would recommend for that scene and was all agreeable when I recommended recasting my little daughter in that scene with the one Asian presenting girl in the cast, but she just never did. And it was always awkward for me to have this little blue eyed girl come out to do the scene with me in a cheongsam serving tea.
- Musicals always do well at SFP, so their box office is always pretty slammed. Plays typically don’t sell as well with the exception of King of the Yees, which sold out most of their shows. Someone at the box office said during the KOTY run “We thought we’d get a break with the ethnic play, but you’re keeping us busy!”
- Was told by the director that they were almost finished casting but realized they needed another person of color, that’s when I was recommended & offered the job without auditioning. It seriously confused me. Was I hired just to fill a diversity quota? If not, this language makes it seem like I was.
- A friend of mine had his play done through their staged reading series. He wrote a character from Kyrgyzstan, which is a Russian speaking country but the people have predominantly Asian features as it borders China. They cast a white actress to play the part against his wishes because they “couldn’t find” an Asian actress who could do a Russian type accent.
- After completing general auditions a few years ago, I was invited to callbacks for a particular show in that season. I specifically asked their casting liaison if they would need me to bring a second hard copy of my headshot/resume to callbacks and was assured that no, they already had me on file, I could just go ahead and come right in. When I arrived at the callback venue and walked into the room, Bill English asked me where my headshot and resume were. Confused, I explained that I’d been specifically told that I was already on file from generals and didn’t need to bring a second one. For the next three minutes, I stared at the floor while Bill schooled me on how every professional actor in the world brings a headshot and resume to every audition they attend, and who did I think I was, because I must not be very serious about this (I’m AEA). The (white) casting liaison was physically in the room the entire time, and did nothing to stand up for me or address the issue. I only had two minutes left to do my callback, which consisted of three sides. I was stopped halfway through the first one and dismissed. (I really wanted this show, and worked really hard on those sides.) Later that day, I was chatting with a white friend who had also gotten called back. I asked him if he had a second headshot and resume to give them, since that was such a hot topic in my own callback. My friend, confused, told me that he hadn’t had one with him, and that it was never brought up. I’ve auditioned for SF Playhouse (and Bill specifically) since then, and he either pretends he doesn’t know me or avoids eye contact.
- Two words: YOGA PLAY. I’m a **non-Singaporean** actor of color, and I was emailed by their frantic casting director asking if I could PLEASE put some sides on camera for them, because they were having a REALLY HARD TIME casting the role of Fred, and they KNOW I’m not Singaporean, but MAYBE there could be a work-around, and they were negotiating with the playwright, and could I please just hurry. I put three long-ass sides on film in under 24 hrs, and was literally opening my email to send the videos to them when I got another email saying hey, so, actually, never mind about the videos, the playwright doesn’t want to deviate, thanks for all my time. I sent her the damn videos anyway, because my time means something to *me*, anyway. She wrote back saying WOW, they're so good, you know what, I’m gonna pass these along anyway because you never know, right? Two days later, I got a form rejection letter, followed by an apology from the casting director along with an excuse about their budget.
- They cast a white European woman (Margherita Ventura, an Italian National) in the role of the Latinx housekeeper from Brazil in The Clean House that would’ve gone up in April 2020
- They cast a white woman (Ayelet Firstenberg) in a Latina role (Romola) for Yoga Play. In the two auditions I attended I saw multiple Bay Area Latina actresses reading for the role, so there was no shortage of people to choose from.
- Yes! I second the above sentiment. I was also in the audition room for that and saw multiple fierce, talented Latinx women and was really disappointed with their final choice.
- I was told by Susi Damilano to “act more Chola” during a photoshoot
- They didn’t hire any designers of color for Real Women Have Curves, which I think was their first all Latinx show.
- They basically tasked Josefina Lopez (playwright and director) with marketing for the show. Where's your marketing person?? What do you pay them for?
- For a period of time, early in my career, I was a go-to designer ( I am POC, but with white passing privilege). I was paid significantly less for my fee (I only knew this because I once accidentally was given the wrong contract for a more well-established white designer), often exploited for my labor with promises of extra payment (which I received maybe once or twice), gaslit and guilted into taking on work that I did not have time or money for. I was never offered extra compensation for my travel, food, etc for any of this. Once they moved to their fancy new establishment, I never received an offer to design for their main stage productions again. As far as I can remember, I did not once work with a fellow designer of color.
- My friend is an Equity, well-versed Brazillain actress, and when she submitted herself for the role of the Brazillian House Maid in The Clean House, she was told, Thanks, but no Thanks. They hired a European actress from Italy instead?! (^^THIS!!)
- There was an inexcusable lack of publicity for their Sandbox production of “graveyard shift” because of the playwright’s firm request to not label and pigeonhole the show as a “play about Sandra Bland”. Their publicity team and AD had no clue on how to market the show involving police brutality against black women.
- Speaking of publicity and advertising. During BBQ only one image comes to mind of how that show was marketed. A hot, midriff-baring, short, young black woman ready to party - not even aware how they are using and profiting off black bodies to sell tickets.
- There was a white woman hired for Barbecue to do costumes and hair, a show with half black and half white actors. Any actresses involved should feel free to chat about their intimate experience with her. From what I witnessed, she knew NOTHING about wigging for black women. The actresses had to bring in their own hair or were told to figure it out themselves. I believe she even said the words “Oh I didn’t even think of that” when hair was brought up.
- I was the only PoC in the rehearsal room when Anthony Fusco - a white actor who works all over the place in the Bay - tried to defend his right to sing the N word if it was “in a song” and how somehow we are getting to a point where that kind of censorship is “dangerous.” Nobody corrected him or even argued with him. Bill, SM and other white actors were in the space. There was a black actor in the cast, but of course he was not in the room when that happened.
- I was told to be more Mexican during an audition.
- during the recent production of cabaret, a member of the SM team backstage seemed to have a negative attitude towards a singular Black actor and it seemed to stem from a negative interaction the two had on a previous show at a different company where that PA had used inappropriate language and actions around this same actor. This PA refused to pick up said actors costume after her QC (QC’s were in her job description) never preset that actors costumes correctly even after being confronted about it, but always seemed to preset every other actor’s props and costumes correctly and all other BIPOC actors in the cast didn’t experience the same prejudice because of the friendship that they shared with that PA. The negative actions from said PA were directed specifically at one Black actor. (Actor involved please feel free to edit)
- This was me! And this is completely accurate. The PA asked me repeatedly to hang my own costume during my quick change rather than leave it on the floor. But when I’d come offstage from the number I’d see her picking up other cast members' costumes off of the floor and deliberately leaving mine there. And my presets were usually inside out.
- Please drop names. I hire PAs in the Bay and want to ensure our BIPOC actors are cared for.
- Maria K. was the PA.
- SF Playhouse does not pay folks equitably. In Cabaret, one of the actors was the designated fight captain but was not fairly compensated.
- I’ll never forget when Bill English said that “this ‘trend’ for diversity stifles his creativity” in response to foundations adjusting grant opportunities to support BIPOC artists.
- Bill continues to openly support and work with the very problematic and harmful Carey Perloff after her blatant racism came to light, even producing and directing her show The Fit, the story of a woman of color in the tech industry. Because a cis white man directing a racist white woman’s play about a POC experience suddenly fixes everything…
- ^^THIS. Having worked with Carey, seeing that she wrote a play about a POC woman in tech (Carey is neither a POC or in tech) was one of the most gross things. Bill & SF Playhouse’s decision to support that work needs to be called the fuck out.
- So there is one costume designer woman who is hired for every musical and a lot of plays at SF Playhouse. Forgetting the fact that she never has outfits ready for a production ever, let’s talk about her fat shaming. When it comes to plus size actors she is completely clueless and insults them behind their backs. For one POC plus size actress, her assistant heard the costume designer call the actress an ICEBERG. In Mary Poppins, the costume designer bought a literal sheet, slapped some elastic around the waist and gave it to a POC plus size woman as her skirt for the show. 3 plus size people could fit in that skirt, it was completely ridiculous. We later had to refit it for the actress. Multiple conversations have been had with upper management asking they hire someone besides this designer, but she continues to get work at the theatre every year.
- Working on a show that took place in New York City, I was instructed to find “urban” music for transitions. A lot of this wound up being instrumental hip-hop style beats, but I was repeatedly told that it wasn’t right, culminating in the night before back-to-back 10 out of 12s getting pulled aside and told that “the sound design for this show has no soul.” The following day, in a somewhat rebellious mode, I replaced everything in the show with soul music, all of which had “soul” in their titles. I was told that it sounded like “circus music.” Oh, also during the process we were repeatedly told that they were cooking “empañadas,” which is not a word (it’s an “n,” not an “ñ”). This was, of course, all Bill.
- One of the reasons they gave in response to why they hired a white Italian woman in the role of Matilde and not hiring a Latina instead for The Clean House was that they ‘didn’t want to hire an Equity actor for that role’ when Brazilian Matilde is the MAIN role in the play! Oh, but they did hire white Equity actors (i.e. Stacy Ross, Courtney Walsh) for the other roles. One of those characters was also a Latina (from Argentina).
- I still don’t understand the reasoning behind not casting a non-union Latinx Actor for the role of Matilde. There are plenty of choices in the Bay, if equity was really an issue, then why not get one of these fierce ladies to do it? They did get an equity Argentinian actor for the role of Ana, so they at least got that right.
- For Dance Nation, there is one character that is ethnically specific - Connie, who is Indian American. They found an Indian actress to play the part, but her understudy was a biracial (Black and East Asian) actress. BIPOC are not interchangeable.
- As one of the POC actors in DANCE NATION, I would normally see weird snide remarks/looks from the resident costume person because my costumes would consistently need repair because some buttons just wouldn’t stay in place during very fast quick changes (Stephanie, I think??). On closing night, she scurried over to me and whispered vehemently into my ear about how I needed to “clean my dressing room” and that “I needed to pick up after myself.” Honestly shocked that someone would speak to me this way, and not knowing what I did and thought my room was clean, I went back up and saw that I just accidentally left an undergarment on the seat…. And that was it…. It was weird that I just didn’t think this was an act of racism until now and wonder if other actors in my cast had the same treatment as I did.
- I'm white. Six years ago I was approached by SF Playhouse to design a show for their Sandbox series at the ACT Costume Shop. I was told that they were still deciding which of two possible plays they were going to produce. I made the terrible decision to agree anyway and signed my contract, only after the fact did they pick a play. I know this does not absolve me of having participated in this garbage fire, but I'd just like to state for the record that that's a real dick move, and I'm very likely not the only one on the production team to whom this happened. The script was terrible. A young Black man is emotionally and mentally tortured via ongoing interrogation by two NYPD officers using the age-old trope of White Savior Cop and Plain Ol' Racist Cop, both white men with plenty of misogynistic quips to boot. The young man was accused of potentially having pushed a successful white business man to his death on the subway tracks, and blah blah cops do homophobic dialogue with another white guy for a while blah blah etc and finally after AN HOUR AND A HALF WITH NO INTERMISSION it ends with (surprise!!!) the young man getting shot and dying while trying to escape custody. The end. That's it. The cops live. His death is not shown and no one mourns. Oh, and it turns out he was innocent. Did I mention a white guy wrote this? His name is Rhett Rossi. If the play alone wasn't bad enough, director Susi Damilano and other members of the SF Playhouse staff bullied the living crap out of the stage manager, a young Black woman. This is especially horrifying given the context that Susi herself gave some spiel to the actors about how the Sandbox Series is designed as an "opportunity for young artists and designers to work with more seasoned actors" but of course that's just industry code for "Since we blow all our dollars flying in white playwrights from New York with the hope they'll write us a cash cow, we exploit the labor of eager young 20-somethings who're willing to work for cheap and won't assert themselves in the face of our abuse." One would think if they were going to profess that this "opportunity" was part of their mission they'd at least try to facilitate a positive environment, but that was so far from the case, especially for our SM. Bill English, for the record, was the scenic designer so he was definitely there pretty much the whole time. I wish I had more concise examples but sitting through rehearsals/run-throughs of this was so downright torturous that admittedly I did it as little as I could, and rarely spoke to anyone unless it was about working. Everyone was so wound up from having to sit through 90 minutes of pure mental trauma day after day that I don't doubt it's possible and even likely that I was a bitch to the stage manager too. I really can't say for certain but I feel awful about it. I think the last time I saw her, she was getting grilled by Susi for missing some sound or light cues or basically just being inexperienced at what is usually the most stressful job to have during tech. In 12 years I have not seen a director treat a stage manager like that. I remember seeing her hands shaking. She stayed nice the whole time. Someone PLEASE find her and talk to her about this play, if she's willing to talk about it, because I have no doubt that her experience watching THE ENTIRE RUN of this show had to be excruciating. Finally, here's one more egregious fact about this production: the press opening was August 9th, 2014. The same night Mike Brown was murdered. The receipt is still accessible on their site: https://www.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/sandbox-series-red-black/ (and just in case that page should mysteriously disappear, or display different information, I have a screen shot dated today, as well as 2 downloaded copies of the play's press release with today's date as the time stamp.) I may even still have the script.
- I worked as a summer intern/ teacher artist when I freshly graduated college. I was the only dark skinned genderfluid Latinx in the room, the other POC was a white passing cis asian woman that would only connect and treat me with respect when none of the white colleagues were around. Once white staff members or colleagues were in our space at the same time I was ignored and treated like an “other” or not a part of the SF Shakes clique. I was also used to be the “stronger POC voice” of why POC’s aren’t that drawn to their shows. It wasn’t a great summer internship…
- Was talking to Rebecca Ennals after a show and I mentioned my friend (female POC) would be working with her over the summer. She said “YES! I needed a person of color in that show and I immediately thought of her! She’s going to be great!”
- First and foremost, this school is the most racist and prejudiced institution in the Bay Area. There are countless cases of Black and POC lives that were in danger due to the frivolous and careless leadership of the Theatre department run by Todd Roherman (ending in 2018) and Kim Schwartz (CURRENT) These two have impacted successful Black tenure professors. For instance, during the production of Chicago 2017 a new Black professor was debuting his first show with SFSU. This ended in hateful, racist, and ignorant altercations. He was bullied by Todd and other white members of the faculty because of the color of his skin . They deemed him as non-compliant and “difficult to work with” all whilst condemning him for things he NEVER did. They tried getting him fired, and forced him to fight for his spot in the department. May I mind you he had only been here for less than a semester and DID ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. He stood amongst chairs, and other higher ups ALONE. He was traumatized by these altercations and soon left the department where he now works in the Ethnic Studies department. Think that’s all of the altercations? No ma’am. There are dozens!
- Yeaaah State has a pretty long history of nurturing the growth of white actors and completely dismissing POC artists. Most of the plays they do are white washed under the excuse “We don’t have any POC!!” In 2013 they did Avenue Q where they had multiple, very talented Asian women audition for Christmas Eve… And yet casted a white woman. I was on crew for the show, and at the same time it was running there was an Asian cultural dance show in the theatre next door. They straight up had Christmas Eve in full-on yellow face (“toned down” once they had a minute semblance of reasoning), and the actress was afraid to be seen by the other show and being called out. Guess you shouldn’t have been playing a part meant for an Asian woman, then?
- I was in a movement class at SF State in 2005. One day, our movement teacher decided to tell the whole class who had a better chance of making it in theater. She separated all of the white people in class from the POC and told my white classmates that they had a good chance of making it. She then told all of the POC that they wouldn’t make it in theater.
- Anon, was this movement teacher Jo Tomalin? How much do I want to bet it was Jo Tomalin.
- The movement teacher was Leslie Felbain.
- I attended SFSU from 2006-2011, drama major, studying acting. I am white but I can attest that there was little support for students in or out of class for anyone who wasn't thin, white, cisgender and able-bodied. It's no surprise that the students who graduated during my years and actually went on to get cast in professional shows around the Bay Area were overwhelmingly thin, white, cisgender and able-bodied. I would even go so far as to say this was mostly due to Mark Jackson casting them over and over at SF State, then casting them over and over for years after graduation. If his hard-on for fascist aesthetics in theatre and actors wasn't bad enough, his audition calls were openly ableist, and I most definitely remember him once expressing his belief that "sometimes diversity is a bad thing" in response to discussions of diversifying theatre. He's probably reading this right now, comparing the whole document to McCarthyism.
- I worked on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that Kurt Daw directed. Beyond witnessing him be passive aggressive and emotionally abusive towards the cast, Daw was particularly rude and insensitive towards the POC actors. He had both the Latinx actors put on heightened, stereotypical accents for their characters. One BIPOC actress was asked to get her hair braided, which she paid for out of her own pocket, only for him to not use it in the show. What’s more was I witnessed him touching her hair without her consent. He was also emotionally abusive/manipulative towards the other BIPOC actress and rarely complimented her on her work. The show’s success was sadly marred by the hostile environment he created.
- I had the distinct pleasure of visiting San Francisco State University between May 3•8th 2017 to attend the performance of their production of "Chicago". I was so looking forward to visiting the campus and being there in support of my dear and longtime friend XXXXX…
In the short time that I was there, I met many of the talented students as well as some of their colleagues on their opening night. As a performer, myself, I felt some of the excitement the students were feeling, it being opening night, and I also witnessed XXXX colleagues who undoubtedly were dealing with some of the stress involved in producing such a monumental show. Unfortunately, what I witnessed was not pleasant for the students nor myself as a visitor. I had been introduced to Natasha Flores when I first got there and it was not a warm greeting in the least. No matter, I completely understood she was undoubtedly under pressure of the show. However, I also had the opportunity to witness how she addressed XXX while they were giving the students their final notes before freezing the show. It was all related to the time it was taking but in XXXX defense they were late getting into the room that was still being occupied by those who had it beforehand. Ms. Natasha Flores certainly doesn't owe me an apology for her unprofessional conduct, however, she had no idea who I was and her actions could certainly have been taken to heart by someone who had tied interests to the school and could have been damaging to the staff. Again, I have no doubt there was lots of pressure on many of them, but the behavior of the faculty should always be above reproach.
Immediately following this initial incident l was introduced to Assistant XXXXX XXXXX. We were talking in a hallway where I then I also had the pleasure of meeting the costume shop supervisor, Wendy Amorose, who had a few choice and harsh words for XXXXX regarding the incident of running past their allotted time with the students that really were unnecessary and seemed to be coming from a place of anger (Wagging a finger in their face) and some resentment. This was all before XXXXX had introduced us so again, another person, not knowing who I was, acted in a harsh manner in front of a stranger and a student. In all my years of working in the theater, dance concerts, performance venues, in general, I can honestly say that I was fortunate enough not to have colleagues treat people in the production with such disrespect. I'm not trying to side with anyone but I am stating that the SFSU Theatre and Dance faculty & staff, I encountered, could really use some training in how to conduct themselves in a more professional manner whether it be around the students they work with, and serve as role models, as well as any other person they may encounter while on campus grounds.
- SAN FRANCISCO STATE'S
School of Theatre & Dance's
ERASURE OF NONTSIZI CAYOU
There was a Black History Month event presented at SFSTATES College of Liberal and Creative Arts by a black professor "Celebrating the Bold Life of Nontsizi Cayou Professor of Dance Emerita". Professor Cayou, a very strong black woman who not only was an alum in both undergrad and graduate school, began dance instruction in Jazz Dance at SF State as a Phys Ed class in 1963... she ended up creating the dance program. When she passed away on October 3rd, 2019, the very program of dance she built up from the late 1960s, didn't even acknowledge her. The very faculty of the School of Theatre and Dance didn't mention her name at a dance concert in December.
The actual dance faculty (WENDY DIAMOND, RAY TADIO, and, YUTIAN WONG), wouldn't have positions as professors if it wasn't for the BLACK WOMAN'S fortitude and perseverance. They never said a word or said her name when she passed. These people wouldn't have jobs if it wasn't for Professor Nonstizi Cayou nor a program for which to erase her from. Black students studying for a degree in Dance were never told about her! (More below) How criminal, heartless, and inconsiderate, and racist. The current Director of the School of Theatre & Dance, (KIM SCHWARTZ), the Dean of the College, ANDREW HARRIS, and many of the older, white faculty, equally neglectful and Racist to not, in the Black History Month, following her death, honor her and the University's own powerful black history, while branding themselves as bold as the strikers from 1968-69 were then, as being bold now! I guess their Boldness forgot a woman like Ms. Cayou and her greatness, so bold then, bold not.
This presentation I'm sure must have been difficult to produce. There were incredible performances, beautiful, thought-provoking words read from Dr. Halifu Osumare's recent book "Dancing in Blackness" one of Dr. Cayou's former students Tomasita Medál now in her 70s, the readings of remarks from former deans and chairs whom she supported and admired, and from Alums (former students of dance) and current students, along with a school dance group because the white ballet teacher, when she heard of the event and the organizer, a black professor from African Studies, she whispered campaigned to the mostly white students and they didn't attend and even asked the black alums that were performing, "You're doing that event?"
So the black and latin/x dance group performed with the alum dancers to a song called "Phenomenal Woman."
Not only was Nontsizi Cayou responsible for creating the Department of Dance at SFSU she also created a program in Dance Ethnology, Dance Education, Performance & Choreography plus she had an enormous impact on African and African American and Third World Studies at SFState. The Bay Area/ SF State was for a long time an epicenter for cultural festivals interconnecting many African nations, through dance, spoken word, and music because of her. She taught at State for 40 years, retiring in 2001 and still went on to be instrumental in the creation of SF's African American Arts & Cultural Complex. Many of the now-famous 1968-1969 SFSU Veteran Student Strikers (now in their 70s & 80s) attended to pay their respects, offering incredible, relevant acknowledgments of who Nontsizi Cayou truly was. One young Black woman alumni of the dance program did not know that the actual program from which she had recently graduated was founded and nurtured by Cayou for 40 years, a Strong Black Woman. How could this be? It's like the Massacre of Black Wall Street in Tulsa Oklahoma in 1921. The don't teach that in history classes. Erase and never explain or honor black excellence.
During Black History Month, isn't it imperative to honor those that have created a plateau on which we can stand and create the next one?
At the presentation a former, who could not attend, sent a message. This former professor who had danced with Katherine Dunham brought Ms. Dunham to State several times. (Katherine Dunham, is recognized as being like the "Beyonce' of African Dance Anthropology and instruction" around the world. In 1986 Katherine Dunham left a gift to the SFSU Department of Dance, a painted poster of her (KD) and her tour to South America. This professor had Ms. Dunham give her a poster from her tour to the Department of Dance. Turns out this poster went missing.For 20 years, it was found by a professor in music. Who brought it to the presentation and gifted it to the producer of the program when he was asked by the above mentioned professor as I thank you of their creating a program to honor her friend and colleague, Professor Cayou. When the producer looked down in the corner they realized-- It was hand-signed by Ms. Dunham herself!!!!! Where had this gift to the Dance Program been all these years? It was found in a mailroom behind some boxes! They said. The Dance Department didn't care about a autographed hand painted poster, a rare, and valuable artifact acknowledging the beautiful, origins of the Dance Program, started by a black woman. Finding such a relic behind a copy machine says so much about SF States School of Theatre & Dance's racism better than anything.
Cultural erasure is a real thing. The jealousy and resentment of people who benefitted from a black woman who created excellence and beauty-clearly shows disregard, and the hateful nature of mediocre white people who hate black excellence by pretending it never existed.
Cultural Erasure is a real thing. It may not be intended but, as the legendary choreographer Merce Cunnigham once said: "There is activity in inactivity."
The presenter said he wishes that they School of Theatre & Dance will rename the new big studio they have, after Nontsizi Cayou, permanently.
We will see about that...
- John Fisher is infamous for writing and directing a play at UC Berkeley in 2012 about Indigenous historical figure Ishi, casting a Korean American student to play the lead role, writing a role for an Indigenous woman with the title “squaw”, and portraying the Indigenous characters in such a racist and irresponsible manner it’s still astounding to recall that this occurred. Article about it by an Indigenous student. It’s especially worth bringing up because it was harmful, ignorant, irresponsible, etc., and also because he’s still… proud of this and thinks of himself as a troublemaker.
- A few years back, I was one of few male POC in a show here and the only POC lead. I brought up an issue once with John Fisher, and he said, "Not now. I only cast you to be the eye candy." It really negatively impacted my self-image even outside of acting for a long time.
- I auditioned for a lead role in Theater Rhinoceroses' "The Brothers Size". My first audition with the director was uncomfortable (remarks about my diction - asking if I could sound more "hood", being asked to sing a negro spiritual (i guess - but this wasn't mentioned in advance); after answer the question about where I was from, I was told I should know "thugs"). The callback was worse. I arrived at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning to read with another actor. That actor wound up being 90 minutes late, arrived and proceeded to read all of his line leaning back in a conference room chair while I stood and tried to stay focused. While no comment was made about the lack of professionalism from my scene partner, I got more critiques to sound "blacker" without any real idea of what the director was asking. While I'm not upset about not being cast (I wasn't right at all) I walked thinking I'd never work for a company like this. I've been offered other auditions but all for small token black characters to deliver sassy one liners.
- I’m a complicit Chinese actress who researched the company’s production history and still chose to participate in the company’s productions and social circle; the amount of positive attention and open nostalgia for Pearls Over Shanghai, in which white actors use Chinese accents, play Chinese caricatures, create and wear sexualized mock-ups of traditional Beijing opera costumes, and imitate the makeup used in traditional Beijing opera baffles me. I know it’s a “metaphor” for sexuality or deviance or this that or the other, but those traditions and aesthetics do NOT belong to white people and to think you have the right to bastardize them is not raw or creative, it is disrespectful. I recently saw on Facebook a white man, dressed in one of these sexualized “Chinese” style costumes and makeup, in a photoshoot series taken in CHINATOWN, in celebration of the Pearls archives being uploaded. The brazenness and continued acceptance and celebration of this show, even after multiple instances in which I tried to discuss my feelings as a member of the appropriated culture with the directors, owners, and cast members, is just hurtful.
- As a theatre-goer, there have been several instances where this company's racist behavior and dismissiveness thereof has made me uncomfortable. It really got bad after they started working with The Cockettes from "Pearls Over Shanghai" and onward and started moving more and more into 60's nostalgia musical theatre.
One of their musicals following Pearls was "Hot Greeks" where their theatre Director performed in very blatant brown face, and was incredibly dismissive of criticism to it, and the trend continued.
- I worked with We Players a few times - in that time they only hired one POC designer and said designer was treated far worse than any of their white counterparts and spoken of with derision amongst the group frequently (if this designer wants to add or correct, please feel free!).
- There is not a single person of color on their staff or board. Though I know they’ve been working to cast more POC in recent years, Ava Roy (artistic director) has, in my experience, only hired white and white-passing people for assistant directors, for her leadership team, and for her treasured collaborators that get more creative power. As far as I know, there has never been a POC director at c. I know they are seeking more POC actors, but without POC represented at levels of the org with actual power, without a strong eye to creating more POC focused narratives, I personally don’t find it to be enough.
- ^ seconded. This company is so homogenous in its white leadership. It has been baffling to see the talented BIPOC people giving incredible auditions (auditions were group auditions so we got to see everyone perform), only to have an all-white cast as the end result. I know this has been disheartening for the folks who gave their time and talent only to feel overlooked because of their race. In late 2019 collaborators received a request from the AD asking for help finding performers of color, and advice for how to reach performers of color, because they had noticed fewer POC auditioning in recent years. I feel like there was a reason fewer folks of color felt motivated to audition: for such a long time they were being shown that they weren’t wanted.
- I was told I could never be more than a PA here, while white people I worked with were given far more opportunities.
- I did a site-specific piece on Alcatraz island with WE players, with a mixed cast of professional performers and formerly incarcerated adults. There was a section where all performers laid face down on the concrete in a long line, holding each others' ankles. Once the audience had walked by us, the artistic director was supposed to give us a cue to get up and move to the next section. She forgot, went on to improvise a new & unrehearsed monologue, and left us laying face down on the concrete for an extra 10 minutes. We were all late for the next part of the show. It was incredibly disrespectful. Several other parts of the performance felt under-rehearsed and unsafe. We were not paid.
- In regards to Word for Word, if the prose does not call for Bipoc’s, you will not be seen for an audition
- I was the casting assistant for Word for Word for their last four mainstage productions, and can vouch for this ^. Everytime I recommended inviting a BIPOC to audition for a role that wasn’t specified as BIPOC, I was met with “Oh! I hadn’t thought of that! What nontraditional casting ideas!” from one of the artistic directors. Ultimately, a white person would be cast. All of their directors are white (except for one who co-directed some readings with the white AD), even for pieces about BIPOC experiences. For their readings, they use the same group of white people and occasionally bring in a BIPOC if a role is specified that way in the text. Whenever I would try to suggest BIPOC actors for readings, I was told “but we haven’t worked with them before, and this style is really difficult. We don’t have time, and so-and-so white person is available.”
- As one of those BIPOC actors, I do know and can vouch for the fact that the above casting assistant did their best, and it made not one lick of difference.
- One of the most clear cut case of discrimination by a director I can recall: during a heavy storm in Oakland (landslide warnings) two cast members who live there said they are not coming into SF for rehearsal. The white guy who drives to rehearsal was excused, but (as the SM) I was told to tell the POC who bikes into the city that he is not excused from rehearsal. Nope, not on my watch thank you very much!
- I was working on “Retablos”, by Octavio Solis during the casting process, and both the director and co-Director are white, as well as both the artistic directors. It was extremely uncomfortable sitting behind the casting table with only white people watching them direct latinx actors onstage and trying to give cultural directions to the actors that the directors did not understand. At one point during callbacks, the actors onstage were talking about the deep significance of one scene and how it related to their own upbringing while everyone behind the casting table had no idea how to connect. I discussed all of this with one of the actors after callbacks that I’ve worked with previously and she gave me permission to share her comments with the artistic directors. When I did, I was simply told that “they would consider the concerns” and then never mentioned it again. My contract for that production was over at that point, but I’ve heard terrible stories about working on this production from several bipoc friends who worked the full production length. It’s worth noting that the production manager/lighting designer, stage manager, and costume designer are all white. The assistant lighting designer and most of the technicians are bipoc. The artistic directors didn’t want to hire an assistant director, they thought it would confuse things, and only hired a latinx “cultural consultant” after several other people raised concerns during pre-production about the lack of latinx representation on the artistic team.
- Can vouch for above for “Retablos.” Additionally, during callbacks, I (who am Latinx/e but not Mexican) was told, “Wonderful, let’s do it again, and add more… I don’t know. Just hopefully you can channel some of your Mexican roots for this scene.”
- I was supposed to be the production manager for a reading by Alice Sola Kim, which was supposed to be directed by an Asian-American woman. When the artistic directors learned that they couldn’t get the rights to the story they wanted to do, they chose a new story by Alice Sola Kim and asked a young white woman to direct it, and to be co-directed by the same white director that directed Retablos. The original director and I both found out about this change through the program for Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which had the new story and new directors listed in the upcoming productions section. When I tried to discuss my concerns over this with the AD’s, I was told that they had had many conversations about this and it was decided that “this decision was not racist”. They said they forgot to talk to the original director or I beforehand about this major change, “things are just so hectic right now and we didn’t have time!” I resigned from working on this production, and have not worked for them since.
- Being overlooked by an audience member as a member of a cast. The guy congratulated an Asian audience member for doing a good job lol. She looked at me and congratulated me under her breath as we passed each other
- Both the Z Space and Word for Word are white organizations. Their A.D.’s are white and their board and charter group are predominately white. The most interesting work that comes into the Z Space is either by companies that they inherited from when Project Artaud ran the space or rentals brought in by 3rd parties. I was part of one of the exceptions, a show called BE BOP BABY (created by Margo Hall, Marcus Shelby, and partially by Ellen Sebastian Chang). Well into the development, I witnessed the director and then collaborator (Ellen) get squeezed out of the production and replaced by the A.D. and another white director. I then witnessed the tightening of the budget, forcing the final production to be only two performances with minimalist production values… just enough to satisfy grant requirements (which I believe was the main reason Z SPACE decided to develop this show, since they have never produced another one led by POC since then). BE BOP BABY deserved a full run, a woman of color director/collaborator and to be treated like all the other white led, created shows they produce (HUNDRED DAYS, WEIGHTLESS, every Peter Nachtrieb and Mark Jackson play). The Z Space shields itself behind companies or festivals like; AFROSOLO, CUBACARIBE, FRESH MEAT, NOCHE FLAMENCA (to name a few), but don’t be fooled. These are not Z SPACE developed productions. Those companies and organizations are independent and rental income. Look at what Z SPACE actually develops and produces, there is where you will find their true color: Like many Bay Area theaters, it is a white company developing white shows for a white audience. The only time they fully tow the line for POC or LGBTQ is for grant purposes and for rental income.
P.S. Someone should also talk about how they treated Golden Thread when they rented office space there - I can’t because all the stories I’ve heard are second hand.
- During the opening of Importance of Being Earnest, I was asked by a white audience member what accent I was doing - I told her I was doing an Estuary English dialect as an acting choice. She said she was surprised when she saw me and that I had an english accent - “I thought you were going to do an Indian accent.” I’m not South Asian, I’m Filipino. I was the only non-white passing POC in the cast, playing the butler. The other servant role was a queer non-binary actor. I brought up this issue with the director who is POC, and we had discussed how they wanted to reimagine and modernize Important of Being Earnest as a sitcom. We are now friends and after much conversation, I can say they wanted to decolonize the shit out of this show within the power they had. The producers who are both white males didn’t like the vision and said it “wasn’t traditional” and forced the show to adhere to standards of whiteness.
- Speaking as that above-mentioned director - who was young, naive, and fresh out of college with no theater community at the time - that show hurt me in so many ways. I was brought on with the spoken good faith that my vision as an emerging director & femme-presenting POC artist - who was pitched the piece by the producers, I didn’t choose Earnest for myself though I've grown to love it - would be supported. It was not. As soon as I was able to articulate a vision of this classic that bent what “Berkeley audiences expected”, it was squashed. One or both of the producers were always sitting behind me during rehearsal, back-seat directing. It got to a point in the process that my actors often came to the defense of my directorial agency in the rehearsal room and my artistic vision. I was not mentored or nurtured, like I had thought I would be when I signed on to that show. I was just a box to check, a diversity hire. I didn’t believe that my artistic voice mattered and it held me back for so long. I wish that I could share glimmers of wonderful things that were able to happen through that show, but it’s still so clouded by pain and having agency taken away from me. This show taught me an important lesson as a young POC artist: you can’t trust people in positions of power. I have worked my ass off to make sure no one else has to experience that or learn that the hard way.
- The time in 2018 when I auditioned at Altarena Playhouse and the white director kept calling me by the “ethnic” sounding name of a white actress in the room, I said “My name is Jennifer. It’s written on the headshot in your hand.” He never correctly identified me the entire hour we were there. I on the other hand have never forgotten his name.
- Auditioned for a role in “Fences” - auditioned for the lead role and his mentally challenged brother. Went in prepared to read on a very early Saturday morning. Heard nothing after the audition. Later I heard that the director went in “another direction” and it got back to me that the director (white male) thought I was too “Bill Cosby” looking and he was looking for more of a “Roc” personality. *If you’re not familiar with the show, think Charles Dutton (another amazingly talented actor). I think we all know what this was “code” for.
- Under the Artistic Direction of Clay David, I was asked to direct a two person ‘black play’. When the rights were unavailable and I offered that I could direct many different kinds of plays, I was met with silence. They showed me they believed “black people can direct our ‘black’ plays, but not other, ‘normal’ plays”
- Former AD would tell white directors he had to save one slot for a POC director and one slot for a female director -- not because he personally wanted to or believed in inclusivity, but because he was afraid of public perception. Basically, he wanted to tokenize and check boxes. It is NEVER cool to frame a job rejection as a “POC and female directors took your slot” situation.
- When this company produced EXIT STRATEGY last season, at one of post performance talk backs, the actors shared about the immense intellectual and emotional labor they have had to put through under the AD/director’s vision. On top of that, Ike Holter is one of the most openly Black queer playwrights… in one of the queer scene in the play, it was directed with no tact; it made the intimate s itcene a joke, a comic relief; the queer narrative an afterthought.
- I am a local Black/Latinx Equity actor, and I was brought in a couple years ago for a workshop of a new play that would premiere at Aurora (and has since gone on to be quite a successful show in numerous other cities). I was complimented on my work, thoughts, and the character I helped develop during that workshop, by everyone in the room from the other actors to the director of the workshop to the playwright himself. I made it very clear that I was interested in continuing on with the show, as it went into full production. The director kept me on the hook for over a month, telling me numerous times how talented I was, but it might come down to money and/or the number of AEA contracts available. One day, I saw on Facebook that the show had been cast, and that the role I’d been playing had been given to a well-known white male Equity actor who was on a bit of a hot streak at the time (so there went that money/contract alibi). I asked the director what was up, and was sorta apologized to, and assured that they’d find room for me soon. That was three years ago, and I’ve still never performed on their stage despite coming in for auditions and callbacks since then.
- A year ago, as a white actor asked to come in for a callback of “Loot.” After reading the script, I asked Tom Ross how he intended to address the contemporarily tasteless humor in regards to race/sex. He told me that I must not understand the humor, and perhaps “this script is not for you.” I sent back: “I’m certainly not talking about the majority of the dark humor, the comedy of manners as contrasted with the dead body, police brutality, etc. I understand what Orton is aiming at. I was primarily concerned with the racial references, prostitution and rape jokes which I believe would draw most audiences out of the script. Just curious how you were intending on addressing those.“ He said he hadn’t thought about it, and then never responded to my callback availability. TLDR; callback was rescinded because I questioned his approach to a sexist, racist script.
- Was part of Hair at UC Berkeley (through Barestage, their student theater group). We only had one male BIPOC (Filipino), and no black men, in the cast (trying to recruit from the black orgs on campus was an entire other fiasco of cultural insensitivity). The song "black boys" became even more problematic than it already is. The director (white) decided to have the white girls singing the song instead interact at points with the Filipino actor because apparently that's close enough?? Actors also brought up issues with the n word being used in Three-Five-Zero-Zero; rather than sit and have a conversation about it, the director thought for half a second and said "well, those are the lyrics, so we're just going to sing it as written." End of discussion. Several of us were clearly uncomfortable. They tried to put one of those "product of its time/problematic content" admissions at the beginning of the program, but that doesn't change how overwhelmingly white it was.
- I worked on Inside Out & Back Again for their second stage series. The show is about a Vietnamese girl whose family comes to America post-fall of Saigon. The props designer (white) was supposed to create a specific prop for the mother of the family (a letter from their relatives in Vietnam). The one Vietnamese cast member of the show looked at it and said “This isn’t Vietnamese.” The props designer said “Are you sure? That’s what I found on Google when I looked up ‘Vietnamese letter’.” He repeated that the letter was not Vietnamese and he would know since he is Vietnamese. He mentioned that their language was spelled using the roman alphabet with special accents. The letter that was printed was written with another Asian script (possibly Thai or Cambodian?). The props designer asked if he wanted to write a letter instead since he was Vietnamese and the actor told her it wasn’t his job to. She then said “Okay, well then just make sure the audience doesn’t see the letter when you read it.”
- Also worked with BACT on Inside Out & Back Again. Our (white) dramaturg was only present for half (or less) of the rehearsals, and while she provided a large binder for historical/cultural facts and findings about Vietnam and the US in the 1970s, most of our questions re: cultural specificity were left entirely unanswered. The sole vietnamese person in the entire production took on (was pushed into accepting) all of the responsibility for answering our MANY questions about Vietnamese culture. Meanwhile our dramaturg was not in the room for most of the process, and was seldom available via email. We very often needed more help with cultural clarification, which never came.
- Another incident with Inside Out & Back Again: we had one Black actor who played a character described to have lots of braids. The wig that our costume designer (white) provided was atrocious. I don’t know where she got this wig from, but it was wildly unkempt with poorly done “braids”. It played into the stereotype of a poor Black kid. The actor who had to wear it was so embarrassed to be in it, especially in front of student audiences because they’re so vocal. After hearing some pretty hurtful commentary from some kids, the actor expressed their grievances and requested a new wig that was more culturally appropriate. I believe the costume designer got defensive about it and didn’t bother to replace it. The actor had to drive to various wig shops in Oakland to find one that was more appropriate. The wig they found was SO much better and truly fit the description of “lots of braids”. The original wig can unfortunately be seen in promo photos. (Actor involved, please add or correct anything if I misspoke)!
- Thank you castmate for naming this! Yes, how they handled that horrendous wig incident was absolutely ATROCIOUS. To clarify, Maggie Yule, the costume director of Berkeley Rep at the time, was our costume and wig designer. I see we doing the anonymous thing, but my name is Gabby fucking Momah and I want to let folks know what time it is. My character Pam is described to have braids and Maggie thought it was a good idea to take a straight hair white person wig and BRAID along the TRACKS of the wig and add some dookie ass barrettes to the end. It was one of my first times working for a .professional theater company so I didn’t want to speak up. But around the 20th performance (out of like 90), we had a performance for a predominantly black elementary school. I remember when I first popped out on stage as Pam, all the kids collectively yelled things like “ughhh, look at her hair!” “Ew!” “she’s so ugly!” and it took all my strength to keep myself from crying. So I told Maggie, can we get a new wig? This really isn’t working. Maggie had the caucasity to come in to the theater and re braid the wig when I wasn’t around, so when I showed up the evening of our 4/20 performance, I came to my station to find my wig rebraided EVEN UGLIER/WORSE than before. I WAS LIVID. My cast certainly remembers that day. The next day, I came back with a wig that I had bought from the 3rd wig store I went to that day. And sent management my receipt and got reimbursed. It was a terrible experience.
- Photos of wig:
- Original wig design:
- When maggie tried to rebraid:
- The wig I went out and bought. THAT THEY KEPT. (would like to point out that the actor WAS reimbursed for this wig)
- Mid Mortem Meeting + White Tears
- We dealt with so much shit [in INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN] that we had a whole 10 page Google document, here’s a link
- Needed a mug for Nina’s white tears at that meeting. If only she could convert that white guilt into action versus continuing to hire white leadership that year.
- No understudies for any of the characters other than Brother or Hà [in INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN] . Management consistently had to bring in understudies at the literal LAST minute for the inevitable sickness/injury of a cast doing 11 shows per week. Mind you, this was also an issue with “Judy Moody” happening at the same time (which was doing 9 shows/wk), both shows that had majority BIPOC in cast. Almost as if the effort was put in to overwork the casts of shows with BIPOC centered in them, but not to give them the support to take a break.
- Not having enough/prepared understudies was a major issue when I worked for BACT. There was no set system, no clear communication, and there seemed to be little regard to casting. The example I always think of was Pippi Longstocking. Pippi was played by a POC, and her father was as well. The father’s understudy was white, and it was not a great situation. Their runs are long, and have multiple shows a day. They need to get their understudy situation together, and make sure that they are cast in a thoughtful, planned manner.
- Hannah coming to talk to us (cast of INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN) about racial slurs
- Seconded. In the play there was a moment when an extremely derogatory insult was used to bully the main character. The kids in the audience burst out laughing at the character, and from then on continued laughing at her pain. Hannah came in and whitesplained that the kids were only laughing because they were uncomfortable, and that this is a common occurrence in serious shows. We had to explain and clarify to her exactly how the kids reacted to that moment and the entire show for her to get that it was racialized mass-bullying.
- During Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, we had multiple comments on being able to have an almost all asian cast, when in fact we were an all asian cast. One of our cast members was white passing.
- I have worked off and on with Bay Area Children's Theatre for years, and throughout that time I have either witnessed or been subjected to several confrontations with white supremacy embedded into company policy. I share the following examples in the hopes that BACT and other theatres will further examine how shifting the onus of navigating systemic racism onto BIPOC actors and/or audience members is both unethical and antithetical to effective theatre-making, especially when telling stories which celebrate diversity, empathy, and collective healing.
One of these instances occurred several years ago, when—for a variety of reasons (including but not exclusive of poor outreach)—a White understudy went on for an iconic Black character. An announcement was made at the beginning of the show, but the audience had a median age of about six. As soon as the understudy came on stage, a tiny audience member dressed up as the character burst into tears and had to step out of the theatre with her grownup. While I waited in the hallway for my entrance, I watched her cry inconsolably about the disappointment of her hero looking nothing like her. To BACT’s credit, the weight of this consequence was not taken lightly, and the company has been making steady progress away from casting insensitivities in the years since.
The second example I’d like to share is my own experience. I am multiracial and often face difficulty when addressing costume designers about my “unique” Jicarilla Apache feet. I understand the fact that—because of genocide—there is very little economic demand for shoes that fit feet which don’t resemble the majority of the US population (in fact, Nike is the only major company to ever specifically design a sneaker for the indigenous community, but discontinued its production shortly after the PR stunt…even though diabetes rates are disproportionately high on reservations and within the Native community at large, and therefore cases of amputation caused by ill-fitting shoes are shockingly prevalent). Throughout my twenty years of performing, I can count on one hand the number of productions where I had neither a safety issue nor cried in agonizing pain because the designer did not put forth the creative effort to collaborate with me about how to solve this issue. BACT is no exception, and I have been brushed off by a number of their costume designers despite attempts to reach out to them in advance. Typically, I won’t hear back from them until the day of my fitting, during which I come to find they decided for me that if they just buy a half size up I should be fine. In all my years of these experiences, I have adjusted my expectations, kept my mouth shut at risk of being called a diva or an inconvenience, and learned to grit my teeth and bear it; expecting the worst, and spending my own time and money on available solutions when possible.
I understand that this is a systemic issue. Costume designers are taught a narrow scope of history in school, and I do not expect any designer, however experienced or professional, to be fully educationally-prepared to address the idiosyncrasies present in a diverse group of actors’ bodies, whether connected to race, weight, hat size, or anything else. This specific blind spot within the theatre community is simply one piece of the system of white supremacy, and the actor subjugated to a family history of genocide and erasure by the hands of the designers’ ancestors should not be held solely responsible for the weight of a creative solution. I have considered giving up on my career because of this logistical issue, because—if our bodies are our instruments—there doesn’t seem to be a place for mine in the theatre world. And how sad, when this community is filled with artists and innovators of all kinds, that I and so many others might find disengagement a more realistic solution than expecting to get an email back from a costume designer with enough time left in rehearsal to address safety concerns.
What I want to stress is not the particulars of this example, but the greater cost to BIPOC (and other underrepresented/oppressed groups) when theatre companies use us to explore more diverse narratives and profit from them, put us on the cover of brochures, and, with the best of intentions, tokenize and fetishize our image without showing up for what it really means to engage with the oppressed experience. If you are going to use us, you must come along for the ride: support us, advocate for us, and hand us the mic when faced with all the challenges of invisibility we face every single day.
And please, please understand that the solution must include BIPOC leadership, however inconvenient it may be for you to “find someone hirable”.
- I was hired by Bay Area Childrens Theatre to perform as Harriet Tubman and Flo Jo for the Green Cast of She Persisted. On the first day I learned I was only slated to be Harriet Tubman. I was upset because I had already started promoting the show and my role as both Harriet and Flo Jo. The producer Christina acted as though she had no idea what I was talking about. Everyone acted like they had no idea how I got that idea. Even though the other actress on the other cast playing Harriet was also Flo Jo. It was later admitted that they were concerned about how my body would look in the costume. It wasn't until they were in an emergency situation and NEEDED me to play Flo Jo that I finally got the opportunity. I had 24hour notice. I fit perfectly fine in the costuming. There was no need to body-shame me. It was not vulgar. They attempted to give me a complex about myself.
- In a production in their previous season there were 3 black performers in the cast (myself included). I had an approved conflict that apparently the stage manager didn’t know about. When I showed up late to rehearsal (which was allowed) I was told, “oh, you weren’t here. I thought you got here a long time ago. This stage manager also regularly gave my friend (one of the other Black actors) and I more attitude, was harder on us, and badgered us more.
- The only Black person on their staff is the “Lead House Manager” and is listed at the bottom of their staff list. Every single person on that staff that has the “most allocated power” is white.
- They decided to produce a production of In the Heights and their AD a white woman was going to direct. Then Corona hit.
- They never hire BIPOC directors unless the show is race specific. And even then sometimes they don’t (see above).
- I was paid less than half of what my white male co star was paid. When I initially tried to negotiate my rate they offered me a $50 increase and said “budget is tight for this one”.
- In WSS they had a white actress change into a black wig and dance in “America”.
- Also in the above production of WSS: They hire the same directors and actors, even after emails have been sent to the artistic director, calling out racist and transphobic behaviors. Choreographer Allison Paraiso was called out for cussing and yelling at the WSS cast, particularly the Shark girls in ‘America’ while the Jets got almost double the rehearsal time for “Cool”, bullying dancers of color and/or non-binary dancers, while featuring the same cis-white dancers up front for every number because, as she would say, “they got it, YASSSSS! BATTEMENT TO JESUS GURL!”). No public accountability was held, she issued no apology to me nor the others who called her out. Instead, she went on to be slated to choreograph most of BPH’s 2020 productions before COVID hit.
- On multiple occasions, they lament about how white their education conservatory is but don’t do much, if anything, to bring in more students and teachers of color.
- When a more diverse show was suggested for the teens to do, I heard from every single white staff member, “We can’t do that show it’s too diverse and deals with race and our conservatory is too white.” And that was it. Rather than making changes to make the conservatory more accessible to students of color, I heard them make excuses and treat it like an unfixable problem. Which sounds like they care more about pandering to their wealthy white families who can spend thousands of dollars for tuition and donations than they do about actually doing the work to be anti-racist within the organization and diversifying their shows and conservatory. I really hope this leads to some changes.
- OKAY HOLD ON. Let me correct this. BIPOC teacher for them here, hi. Is this company really problematic? Oh definitely. But the above statement is untrue. I know for a FACT that doing Bring It On was suggested by a white male teacher who wanted to choreograph it (a show that heavily relies on Hip Hop and other dances rooted in Black culture). I also know that the staff chose not to do that show in their educational programming because they knew that the majority of the students that sign up for their classes are white, therefore doing Bring It On with a bunch of white kids would be entirely insensitive and offensive. Particularly one choreographed by a white male teacher. I assume the teacher who suggested they do this show is also the person who wrote the above “testimonial.” This whole thing is disingenuous and frankly not true. Do they need to do the work to diversify their student demographic? Yes. But doing a show that would end up being appropriative is not the way to do that. To that teacher: this is a reminder that this document is for BIPOC artists to write down their experiences, not for white people to plant falsities.
- (edit to comment [8 a.] under Berkeley Playhouse) Edit: I am a white male teacher in the conservatory. I should have added more context. I bring this up as an example of a moment where I was complicit. The show suggested was Bring It On, though it was a suggestion made by the AD in an email from the education director at the time. I was not the person who suggested it. Once it was suggested, I did say it would be cool to do it because I thought the teens would really like it and it had parts specifically for Black and Brown students. I was then told minds were changed from higher ups after re-reading the script because the show was too diverse. I suggested we reach out to Black and Brown students. I already had students in mind who I thought would love to do the show. I had discussions about this with the Founding Artistic Director. Initially she agreed that recruiting more diverse students would be a good thing and that the conservatory needs to do it. But then a day later told me they had bought the rights to School of Rock and would be doing that instead because it was easier and they went ahead and had already paid for it. I heard from multiple white staff members "We can't do it, our conservatory is too white" as if it was something that wasn't able to change. I just said okay. I wanted to clarify I was never and would never push to do the show with all white kids. I was only as vocal as I was about it because I thought it would be finally taking steps towards diversifying the conservatory. I was hoping it would be a way to not have another all-white/majority white conservatory show. It would have been an opportunity to do a show that was at least 6 Black and Brown students playing Black and Brown leads or featured parts and still had a sizable number of parts for white students. But because I didn't want to make the situation more uncomfortable or tense, I got quiet and I wish I didn't. Since then, I have continued to hear staff members say how they wish the conservatory wasn't so white. I feel like it was a missed opportunity for BPH to take action towards diversifying their students and making the conservatory more accessible.
- I was hired as an assistant director for the education department to work directly with Elizabeth, once I accepted the job I was placed with a different teacher, Laura Marlin, who constantly undermined me, didn’t let me do anything, and it ended up not being the job I had agreed to. When I had brought this up to others who worked in the department the reaction I received was, “yeah, they do that”... This is why they are constantly losing POC teachers.
- In A Christmas Story, I was the only Asian American adult cast member (until another Asian American cast member joined much later -- on the first day of the Chinese Restaurant rehearsal) and I was responsible for fixing the outrightly racist Chinese Restaurant Scene. I was promised that they had looked at the scene and fixed it prior to accepting my offer (Note: that they had decided to cast a white actor as the waiter, so I assumed they had a creative workaround). I was not told I was part of the scene until the first day of rehearsal for it, where I realized nothing was changed from the script except for cutting out the offensive “Fa-ra-ras” in Deck the Halls. All other POC castmates were not in this particular scene, and were dismissed. I had to speak up in a room full of white people, including the director and actors who have worked with this company many times. Production team and cast were extremely open to ideas and suggestions, which is great, but it was a terrifying experience to have to give notes to fellow actors and suggest cutting their lines as a new performer with this company. I was also never credited for working that scene, even though they looked to me to ensure the language and props and scene setting were appropriate.
- I was on an artistic team for a past show. When casting, I wanted to cast a beautiful actor who was mixed race and the casting director told me that we needed to cast a more ethnic-looking person because “it’s about perceived ethnicity, not actual ethnicity”. Apparently it’s about “perceived” diverse casting, not actually diverse casting.
- That tracks with the way my audition for Memphis went down a few months ago. The guest director was clearly impressed, but I was abruptly released from consideration in a form email the next day. So either this is me we’re talking about, or this happens regularly at BPH. Cool.
- I have heard the founding artistic director refer to the one black show they do per season as the “soul slot.”
- Their production of Fiddler in the Roof a few years back was abhorrent. The actors were all wonderful, but it was clear that no real care an attention was given to representing Orthodox Judaism correctly, or that if research was done, it was swiftly ignored. He either spoke to know Jewish people to involve in the production or didn’t listen to them. The director made lots of choices that he seemed to think were “edgy,” but no effort to represent the plight of the Jewish people (which is kind of central to the whole story) correctly. What’s worse is this man, now at another company, is being praised for his commitment to diversity and accurate and equitable representation. He puts diversity standing on the physical stage, but it’s all optics.
- I am mixed black and white and have done Berkeley playhouse shows since I was 7 years old and was cast in a lot of featured youth roles because, in the words of the artistic director, I was “perfectly ethnic but can still play white.” I am now an adult and have done more of their productions since and am still often commented on as “ethnic but still white enough” by many faculty members and creative team members.
- ANNE NEUNSINGER-- Anne is technically not employed by Berkeley playhouse but makes herself very comfortable backstage in any shows her kids are in. (Her kids are wonderful artists and very sweet people, please do not use their mother’s actions against them). Anne had been hired as the youth coordinator at least once in a previous Berkeley Playhouse position. In A Christmas Story, last fall, Anne’s kids were cast and the youth coordinator was a fresh out of high school male of color. From the first day on, Anne pulled the youth coordinator aside, trying to give him many many notes on how to do the position efficiently and often asking after every rehearsal how the day went and if he was “managing things alright”. A few weeks in, an adult actor dropped out and the youth coordinator was offered the role and stepped in, in addition to doing the youth coordinator position. Anne immediately assumed the youth coordinator would be unable to do both and began checking in kids on her own and making lists for each kid with all their costume tracks on it, unbeknownst to the youth coordinator, who was also making them, since that was his job. Going into tech week for holiday shows, BPH often runs “secret Santa” style gift exchanges with the cast, which is also part of the youth coordinator’s job. He had made a form and brought it to rehearsal, when Anne pulled him aside as soon as he got there and in front of the kids starting yelling at him. “Everyone’s telling me there’s two secret santas, because I did all this work because I heard you weren’t doing the secret santa, and now you’re saying there is one? Well you’re gonna have to be the one to tell all this kids they filled out the wrong form. I’m fucking fed up because I’m doing your fucking job. Honey, I’m fucking fed up. This is your job, and I want nothing to do with it” the youth coordinator apologized that she felt this way and said he never asked her to do any of this work, and then burst into tears. He told the directors about it, who after repeated reports, finally took her aside and asked her to leave the building.
- Since he was both in the show and the youth coordinator, the stage managers put his station in the kid’s dressing room. He brought up multiple times that he was uncomfortable and would rather be in the adults dressing room, the director, Elizabeth McCoy, stage manager, christian tanton and resident stage manager Shannon reilly, all told him there was nothing they could do and would have to suck it up, despite every adult actor being aware of the situation and all offering to share their stations with him. As tech week went on, the kids started to make jokes about how “isn’t it weird there's a grown man dressing with all these young girls” by which then the youth coordinator went directly to artistic director Kimberly Dooley and said he felt very uncomfortable, was worried about being caught up in a child sexual harassment scandal by any parent not understanding their kids’ jokes, and felt extremely uncomfortable with how all the creative team had treated him and his discomfort and essentially put him in a very risky position, being a young black man in a room of barely clothed, middle school mostly white girls. Kimberly finally allowed him to switch dressing rooms and share with another actor with just three days until opening.
- Is someone going to talk about Lisa Danz? She keep getting hired even after she told a teen WOC in ragtime that she was too fat to costume and that “clothes don’t come in that size” even though clearly they fucking do cause she walked in in clothes that fit her. She then put a fucking shower curtain and a belt on the CHILD and told her it was fine.
- I've participated in many youth productions at Berkeley Playhouse where I was one of the only POC in a room full of white kids, with all white directors, stage managers, and music directors. This created a stressful atmosphere where I felt like I was constantly having to compensate for my non-whiteness in order to be considered for bigger roles. As mentioned above, their Youth programs are exorbitant and have not made an effort to increase diversity by reaching out to lower income communities or communities of color. This inevitably results in appropriation - many of their youth productions have had white actors play characters of color (i.e. Mulan). As a POC who would've befitted greatly from seeing other kids of color in the rehearsal studio, I implore Berkeley Playhouse to rework their Youth programs and champion exclusivity, both in front of and behind the stage.
- I saw leadership plan to give directing jobs to white directors without even considering black directors even when it was a black play. I said nothing when they hired zero black teaching staff. They talked about how great they were at being diverse because they cast Black actors.
- I am a Latinx POC who has performed with BPH a few times over the past few seasons. Since my 1st show with them I have frequently been called in to callbacks for featured roles that were non ethnic specific that 'type' wise, I would legitimately be eligible for. Each time I have only been offered an ensemble track + an Understudy for the role that I was called in for. Each time I accepted the offer and showed up to day one of rehearsals, I found that the actor who'd been cast in the role I was Understudying was a white male.
The first time it happened was during a show in their winter holiday slot. My track was an Ensemble + Understudy for a featured protagonist + Adult (male) Swing. I felt obligated to accept the offer, feeling that it was necessary to "pay my dues" if I had any chance of climbing the casting ladder. In this show, I found myself as the ONLY male POC and one of three POC's in the entire adult cast (joined by 2 female actors who were both cast as secondary leads).
Shortly after opening, the actor I was specifically understudying for started complaining about a back injury. At the time he said that it was a "minimal annoyance". Since the schedule had us doing six to eight shows a week, I made sure to continue to check in with him, and did the necessary prep work to be able to step into his role if needed, while making minimal change for rest of the cast and the show as a whole. As shows continued the pain increased enough to necessitate having to alter choreography for the actor (which included some basic partnering); makes sense. Finally, I initiated a talk with the stage manager about what was necessary to step into the role even if just for the first show during a two show day so the actor would be able to put less strain on their back and be able to finish the long run. After all isn't this the point of having Understudies in the first place? I was asked to arrive prior to call time more than once to run the specific track both solo and with my specific scene partners in front of the SM, the SM’s appointed supervisor, and the Managing Director at the time. After showing my hard work and all involved were comfortable with my knowledge, I was told to stand-by while plans were made to prep for the upcoming shows.
The following week, the morning of our first evening show back, I received a “heads up, please stand-by” message from the SM saying that a final decision would be made later that afternoon. I spent the entire day going over this new track which still included the majority of my existing ensemble track. Eventually, I was given the green light I would go on both via private txt and via a formal cast email announcement. I scrambled to get a last minute ticket for my partner to see me go on, arrived at the theater prior to call to run things on the stage, and was happy that everything was falling into place. As call time hit I was greeted by cast members congratulating my “promotion” and was then approached by Kimmy who was transitioning into an acting Exec./Artistic Director role. I was promptly informed that the stage manager that had given my the green light/sent the email, had “no authority to do so”. Further more that after a conversation with the injured actor, it had been decided BPH would do everything they could to accommodate said actor (including further altering choreo), that I would NOT be stepping into the main role that he covered, but that I would ONLY cover the lines of their bit ensemble track during one scene in Act II. HUH?! I was devastated, mad, and embarrassed as the rest of the cast was informed (and as I informed my partner on his way to the show) that there would be no change to the show that evening. All of this less than 2 hours prior to curtain. I did what I could to focus, put on my game face, performed the show that was required, and waited until I got home to break down. I continued to chalk it up to “it’s just part of paying my dues” and “This actor must have worked with the company before and therefore was given more leeway” even to “was he really that hurt in the first place?” No further explanation, discussion, or formal apology was made about the decision (EVER!).
Regardless of my feelings about the matter, I kept my head down and hoped I’d proven I was a professional/capable actor able to fill the featured roles that I continued to be called in for. “It has to be different the next time!” But it wasn't different and nothing changed; I continued to ONLY be offered Ensemble + Understudy tracks. After finally having enough, I tried a change in strategy: only accept the featured track I was brought in for and don’t check the box to “accept an ensemble role if offered”. Since implementing this strategy at the last three callbacks I’ve attended (including shows that as a Latino POC I am well suited for; ie. WSS and ITH) I have received emails from casting saying “Thank you for auditioning, but we cannot offer you a role in this show at this time.“
Of my five shows with BPH, I have only gone on for my understudied role ONCE (out of two shows that necessitated it), ALWAYS under White men (in one instance I learned they’d been cast AFTER I was offered my understudy track for the same role), and ALL of whom made their company debut with the that particular show. This feels like it's happened too frequently to just be a casual issue!
- Lisa Danz honestly CAN NOT dress black people or people who are heavier set. She would hype up how great she dress all people of color and sizes. During the rehearsals of Memphis, she would grab every cast member one by one for fitting and trying on random clothing that some complained how it was ugly, didn't fit, or wasn't in the right era of the show. If you told her you didn't like it, she would brushed it off and tell you about her idea of the show and many colors she is gonna go with. She made me feel very uncomfortable. Mind you, she did not know who my characters was, the scenes I were in which were different time settings or didn't know that we had to do a lot of dancing in the show. She was visible once during our designer run and after that I saw her over and over again during tech to try on many outfits that weren't my size or not placed for each scene. It was frustrating because I was trying to focus on tech but kept getting bothered to try stuff on which all didn't fit. When we got to our final day of tech and our preview, I did not have any complete costumes for any of my scenes. The director (who happens to be black) noticed I was wearing the same thing in every scene. He ended up bringing some clothes/shoes from his own home. During the performances she would pretend like she was helping out and trying to do her job. But the only helpful person who was always there was her assistant Lynn or some of the cast members. I've never experienced this before at any theatre and I felt really embarrassed/ashamed/unsafe to be a black person putting my trust in someone who didn't know what they were doing.
- I am mixed black and white and have done Berkeley Playhouse shows since I was 7 years old and was cast in a lot of featured youth roles because, in the words of the artistic director, I was “perfectly ethnic but can still play white.” I am now an adult and have done more of their productions since and am still often commented on as “ethnic but still white enough” by many faculty members and creative team members.
- Costumer Lisa Danz - To second what was written before, I have no idea WHY she continues to get hired. She's dangerously toxic and has little to no regard for manners or personal space. She has spoken out loud about how difficult it is to costume plus size women of any ethnicity but finds incredibly toxic things to say about women of color. When she feels she has to impress someone she attempts to drop names as if she's well connected. She also loves to re-purpose the same costumes for the same show even if it's with 2 different companies. It makes no difference to her if both shows look exactly the same as long as she doesn't have to go out of her way to costume actors. At times, she will rarely knock before entering ANY dressing rooms and literally acts as if she owns the place when on sight.
- Several days after the election of Trump I was asked to go outside of Berkeley Playhouse and participate in some sort of ceremony that involved a lamp being kept on. This was before a performance of Beauty and the Beast. The Artistic Director stood on a bench and asked us to sing a spiritual to ease everyone's fears and that " to get us started we need a good old spiritual !: she then turned to a black cast member next to me and proceeded to yell" why don't YOU start us off!! you should know this one!! " and launched into We Shall Overcome. The Artist I was next to rolled his eyes and left. I am the dumb fuck white artist who stood there. and then I left and went back to get dressed. stunned. I sit in that and learn like hell from it. that place literally worships optics and pretends one thing. and then lives and presents another
- I am a mixed black and white actor who has been performing in the Bay Area since childhood. I have light black skin and I could not count the times white directors and casting directors have said that I look “exotic” or “just ethnic enough” or “just white enough.” I always took that in stride because, while those comments made me uncomfortable, it was nothing compared to things I’ve seen and heard happen to my darker brothers and sisters. I always told myself that if dark skinned black artists didn’t make a big deal out of the ridiculously racist things said to them, it absolutely wasn’t my place as a light skinned mixed black man who has had significantly less horrific things said/done to them. But one long, nightmarish encounter with Berkeley Playhouse I have realized I need to share.
After graduating high school last year, I decided college wasn’t for me, and that I wanted to start working. Word went through the grapevine, and the artistic director reached out to me about some education positions, seeing as my work background during high school was all childcare and education based. They offered me a teaching artist position, as well as the youth coordinator position for their upcoming production of A Christmas Story. I excitedly accepted both.
A week before rehearsals started, I ran into a woman named Anne, the mom of a fellow young actor I had been in a show with years before. We caught up for a second and she mentioned her daughters were going to be in ACS, and I mentioned I was going to be the youth coordinator, to which she said “oh, wow, you’re gonna do it?!” Then she laughed it off and mentioned she had done the position before and started to give me an overbearing amount of advice and tips.
The next week, rehearsals started. I was blown away by how professional all of the kids were, during music rehearsals, the director and I just stared in awe, amazed at how well they sang and stayed focused. At the end of every day, Anne would “check-in” on me to make sure I was doing everything right and that everything was going smoothly. After a few days, it began to feel a bit condescending, so I’d start to wait a few extra minutes before leaving, or leave through a different door in the studio.
Weeks went by, and unexpectedly one of the adult actors had to drop the show. After a few hours of scrambling, the director offered me the position, meaning I would both act in the production, as well as manage the kids. I was a little nervous about doing both, but I was excited to be apart of my first professional production as an adult (having just graduated high school the previous summer) so I was up to the challenge. I had a talk with the kids about how I wouldn’t be able to manage them as strictly, but I knew they were all incredibly professional young actors who could handle themselves during the times I was onstage rehearsing myself.
It was around this time that the slandering slowly began.
Anne would wait for me outside just to say things along the lines of “you know, being in the show AND managing all the kids— that can be pretty tricky... not always easy to do both well” “hard to not prioritize one over the other, right?” She seemed to just be ‘joking around’ but the undertone started to feel a little icky, like she truly wanted to fail.
As we drew towards tech week, the kids started to get a little antsy. I had to spend more of my breaks offstage completely engaged with the kids, and not as much taking breaks for myself. It was tricky, but I talked with some of the older kids in the cast about setting good examples and giving me a hand with some of the younger ones, and a lot of them took to that surprisingly quickly. I was unbelievably grateful. Also around this time was when Anne started to send out emails to the other parents, giving them tips for what their kids might want for shoes and snacks during tech, helpful tips and other random things. She always CC’ed me in the emails, which started to feel a bit like “look, I’m doing your job better than you are.” But she wasn’t actively getting in my way, so I didn’t say anything.
Then we hit tech week.
By now, kids had moved into their dressing rooms and were setting up their personal belongings. On the first day, Anne came into the dressing room, seemingly to help her daughter’s settle in and set up all their shoe/makeup kits. And then she didn’t leave. She started going kid by kid, asking if they had proper shoes and going to the costumer to get things and assist the costumer. I didn’t really know what to say, or even if I should say anything, since nothing about assisting the costumer was at all a part of my job, I just carried on doing exactly what I was supposed to do. Working on my own track for the show and checking in with the kids.
The next day I walk in and Anne is already there with some of the early kids, hanging up signs she had made about each of their costume changes throughout the show, and putting them above every station. Though it wasn’t actually required of me to do that, I had been putting together costume tracks myself for all the kids, and I realized all my extra work was for nothing. I assumed this was more of Anne assisting the costume designer, so I continued working on my own track.
When we first moved into the dressing rooms, I realized I had been assigned a spot in the kids’ dressing room. I was immediately uncomfortable and asked the stage manager if I could be in the adult’s room. He said he would ask, but it was unlikely. A few days went by and nothing changed and the kids had now made it a recurring joke “isn’t it weird that you’re changing in this room of all little girls?” I knew I was in danger. They put a young male of color in a room of all (mostly white female) minors. One parent hears their kid’s joke and I’m done for. I brought it up 8 more times, to the stage manager, director and resident stage manager (all white) and even desperately to Anne, all of whom told me there wasn’t much they could do, and I’d probably just have to suck it up for the run (which was two months). The other adults in the cast were well aware of the situation, and just about every adult actor offered to share their station with me to get out of the kids’ room. I kept bringing it up to the creative team, all of whom completely blew off my discomfort and fear. It didn’t even register to them as putting me in danger. I’d been at the company long enough that I’d seen them let white actors move simply because they didn’t like who they were sitting next to. I finally called my boss and through holding back tears explained how scared I was and how much I needed to move. She finally agreed to let me move after I promised and laid out my plan for checking in with the kids while also being able to change in the adult’s room. As you might guess, me “abandoning the kid’s room” fueled Anne’s disgust of me.
As with most holiday shows at this theatre company, the youth coordinator typically runs a “secret Santa” style gift exchange between the kids and adults. A few of the kids knew about this earlier on and wanted to make some questions for the questionairre, so I’d been working with them on that the week leading up to tech. After the kids and I finished, I came in the next day to hand them out, only to see the kids were already filling out one. Two of the kids came up to me upset that I didn’t include their questions they worked on. I explained this wasn’t my questionairre and I wasn’t sure who sent it out.
Then Anne pulls me aside to the corner of the kids dressing room. And in front of all the kids, she says:
“What the hell is this that I’m hearing about a second secret Santa? I keep hearing that you weren’t gonna actually make one, so I went ahead and used my free time to make a questionairre and now I hear you want to just add your own? You go tell them these sheets they’ve been filling out are useless and pass out the new ones. Cuz honey, I’m fed up. I’ve been doing your job. I’m f*cking fed up”
I was completely shocked. I had no idea what to say, so all that came out was:
“Yeah. You f*cking should be. Cuz I’m fed up. Fed. Up!”
And she walked away.
I had no idea what to say. I figured there had to be some mistake. The secret Santa questionairre was my job, even written on my contract. I had no idea why she was so upset about me making it. All the kids knew that I had been working on it with them and were all aware it was happening so I had no idea who was apparently telling her I was “forgetting” it. I was so shocked. Something must’ve been communicated, so I had to go clear it up.
I went to find her in the house seats, where I sat next to her.
“Hey, I think there was some misunderstanding earlier, I thought I was supposed to make the secret Santa sheets, but I mean if you wanna use yours—“
She cut me off.
“Honey, this is your job. I’m done. I’m fed up. This is all you.”
I again had no idea what to say so I just walked away again speechless.
Later that night, Anne posts on the cast and crew Facebook group the following message. (Copies and pasted, edited for my name):
“UPDATE: (the youth coordinator) wants to manage the secret Santa and use his form ... so if you filled out the secret elf form, please fill out (the youth coordinator’s) form when it's available and return it to (the youth coordinator). Apologies for having to fill out multiple forms.”
No joke. It was that condescending. I didn’t change a word except my name. All for just doing what was on my contract.
That night, I finally emailed the director and stage manager telling about this incident in the dressing room with Anne. They apologized that I had to go through that and told me Anne wouldn’t be at any future shows after tech week. I figured I could suck it up.
A few days go by without any incidents with Anne, and the kids are exhausted so they weren’t running around or anything, meaning more time for me to focus on my track in the show. But then, during a hold for lighting to make a change, one of my fellow actors leans over and tells me Anne had been in the dressing room earlier and had been badmouthing me. Apparently she was telling some of the adults that I didn’t sign in or out the kids, that I let them wander downtown unattended at breaks and that I wasn’t doing my job. Anne also told some of my fellow actors that if they saw me not doing what I was supposed to they should email the artistic director and get me fired.
I had worked so hard for these weeks to keep my cool. I took being a role model seriously and didn’t want to lose my job for losing it with a middle aged white woman in front of all the kids. But this one broke me. I burst into tears and marched upstairs to my boss’s office. I told her exactly what happened and that I couldn’t stand having Anne anywhere near anymore. My boss told me she’d handle it and that I should go take a break.
After a short walk I calmed down and felt a bit better. From onstage I saw Anne walk up to my boss in the audience and try and tell her something. My boss stood up, walked Anne to the back of the house and have a conversation with her. We couldn’t hear what was happening but I just kept seeing my boss shake her head at Anne, who kept laughing, as if she was telling a joke. My boss shook her head one last time, and Anne left the building.
The entire adult cast celebrated backstage. Everyone had been in on the whole situation and how I’d been treated by her and were all equally frustrated. It felt like I had won the battle.
Fast forward six months later. The show has since closed, and we’re all in quarantine while also in the middle of an amazing, beautiful revolution. This google doc has been going around, encouraging actors of color in the Bay Area to share their experiences with different theatre companies, directors, producers etc all anonymously.
After spending so long thinking I wasn’t black enough to feel upset at so many different things aimed at me, I initially went on to read my fellow actors’ of color’ s experiences, and more and more of the accounts I’d read sounded exactly like my experience with Anne. I realized it was time to share.
I took a deep breathe and wrote my truth. It felt really, really good to get out, even if anonymous.
It wasn’t even 15 minutes before I checked back through this theatre company’s section when I saw a reply had been added to my story. It read (copied and pasted/edited for names):
“I was in the cast on that show and much of that story is just not what happened. With the secret santa specifically he kept ‘forgetting’ to bring the forms and promised to bring them the next day time after time. Since you’re supposed to get a gift for opening time ran out and they asked Ann if she had one from a previous show they could just print in the office. Once Ann’s had been passed out (and only like 2 or 3 days before opening night) he finally came the next day with his forms and tried to make everyone use those instead. He was never on top of emailing parents about pick up times when schedule changed, he often left the kids as young as 11 alone in downtown Berkeley during breaks and never did the sign in/out form with their parents. There were a lot of problems with that show, but (the youth coordinator) just had never done this job before and didn’t know what he was doing, or take responsibility for the kids. There really needed to be more than one coordinator considering there were like 20+ kids in the show, and it should never have been a member of the cast. Parents were furious and asked someone to help him so the kids could be safe.”
At first I was just horrified that someone in the cast really felt like that. But the more I read it over, the more horrified I got. They called me out by name, destroying my anonymity. They were completely oblivious, or just ignorant to the fact that these stories’ being anonymous was important for our safety as actors of color and overall just hurt. These statements were just blatantly untrue, and who would even know other than me, what duties I fulfilled as the youth coordinator? Then it hit me. Every adult in that show knew everything about the Anne situation, and they all had my back. And it wasn’t a kid on this document either. It was Anne. Nobody else would lie and slander things they have no idea about other than her. It hurt to read those words. It hurt bad. She knew damn well these lies would discredit my truth and just destroy my reputation, and overall just hurt. And she made up a complete lie about her involvement just to do so. Now of course, it being anonymous, I don’t know for sure if it was her, but after getting so close with that cast over the two month run, I can honestly say I don’t know who else that would be.
After this was added, about half the cast and many parents of kids in the show reached out who had read it to see if i was okay and told me they had my back and they knew what really happened. Almost everyone that reached out mentioned it seemed like Anne wrote that herself in their first message to me.
I kept this down for so long because I’d seen so much worse happen to so much darker-skinned actors, but I’ve realized holding in the “small” things is just what keeps fueling all the subtle racism in the theatre community (and really every other community). I’m done being complicit and pretending my story didn’t hurt and didn’t feel discriminatory. Now it’s time to share.
- When I was working on Metamorphoses in 2019 I approached stage management about an issue around an intimate scene I was having with an older white male actor. The stage manager, Michael Suenkel, admitted that he did not have the tools to appropriately handle this situation, at which point I suggested the help of an intimacy director. The show was already in its second week of shows and since the director was from out of town, she was not around. The next day the managing director, Susie Medak, called me as I was on BART on my way to the theater to perform in their show, and told me the only option they could offer was to bring in white male artistic director Tony Taccone (who already has a working relationship with said actor and has a reputation for not handling intimate scenes appropriately) to help. When I straight up said that made me uncomfortable, she told me I was being unreasonable and unfair because "he's a really nice guy." She left me with nothing, saying that situations like this should first be handled by the parties involved (something I had already attempted before approaching stage management.) I lodged a formal complaint and requested acknowledgment and listed clear accountability steps. Her response: "I think you would be pleased to know that your letter has, indeed, engendered much conversation here." There were two POC staff members who supported me through all this. Neither of them work there anymore.
- In 2019 I was hired to be the cultural consultant on The Great Wave. I was not able to be a part of the process in the beginning because I was working on another show, but as soon as I was available I made my availability and schedule clear to the director and stage management. Even after repeated requests, I was never put on the daily call and never called in until one day I just decided to show up. The actors seemed pretty glad to see me there and I was finally put on the call, but still never got a clear idea of when I was needed and for what scenes so I would just show up when I could. I regret not being more present because there was definitely some culturally insensitive stuff in that show by the time I saw the full production, and I regret not speaking up about it.
- The Great Wave, a story about the political and cultural conflicts between Japan and North Korea, was directed by a white British director. WHY and HOW did this pass in 2019???
- I was an understudy for The Great Wave. We had a cultural consultant?^
- ^ Ditto, we had a consultant?
- ^ I actually thought one of the understudies was the cultural consultant at one point, because of how much information she provided…
- During John Leguizamos (problematic) show, I was working in the box office (this was like 4 years ago) and a white woman whose name I forget and doesn’t work there anymore but she was part of the executive team and said to me she wished she could put me in the front row at every performance of the show as if she wanted me to be their Latinx spokes person for John and other audiences? There were not very many Latinx people working there then, and I’m sure there isn’t very many now.
- I used to work at Berkeley Rep administratively as a fellow and on the ground in FOH, I left a couple years ago - I can say with 98% certainty - not much has changed. When I was working there, only 3 (!!!) black folks were in positions of power. Berkeley Rep always prides themselves on being diverse and unless I see that reflected in your staff and audience - y’all ain’t shit. Before I left they had made every staff member, and volunteers take a mandatory EDI workshop - let’s just say it became a “white feelings workshop” (at least the one that I went to). It was highly unproductive and didn’t really confront the actual issue. Berkeley Rep, time and time again uses performative allyship to tout how woke they are - they are not. Working in that space often made me feel very uncomfortable and was not about that performative allyship.
- Also worked in FOH for an overlapping time period, and was present at the EDI “white feelings” workshop. What a damn mess.
- Head of Passes, by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Thrust Stage (2015). I worked in the box office and was able to get tickets to opening night. On the day of, my manager was asking me questions about who was coming with me (I'm a black woman and she wanted to know if the other person was also black/brown) because she was directed by the Managing Director to place BIPOCs in the center of the house where the premium seats are and move as many white people to far left and right sides of the house. She made a poster sized seating chart replica and told me that if my friend came, she would seats us Premium, and if he didn't, she would have to seat me further back. It made her incredibly uncomfortable to participate in the mess and she said she would never do it again.
- ^^ this is not an isolated incident folks! I worked in Marketing and this happened in Notes From the Field, Latin History For Morons, Aubergine, etc. in different ways. POC folks are continually invited to diversify their audience. In one instance, during Notes From the Field, black and poc folks were invited to be a part of the audience in particular because the show had an audience engagement aspect to show and so they “can be a part of the conversation.” I was just hired as a fellow, and after seeing the show became iffy as to why despite doing a show about the school to prison pipline/prison industrial complex - there were no visible efforts made to amplify the work that many organizations were already doing the work. The audience were just talking about it, there were no visible efforts to incite action. I brought this up in a meeting and asked why we can’t invite organizations to speak on their work or partner with organizations so that audiences can give their money right then and there, or donate proceeds from the show (the show was already going on at this point). I remember getting an explanation from being unable to do that to Anna Deveare Smith’s artistic choice (I can’t fully remember the details and was not in the room to hear and make decisions so I may be wrong, but that was my impression. If someone wants to add in their account I’d appreciate it!)
- I worked FOH for B-Rep before covid and the opposite is true for invited dress. During Culture Clash (Still) In America, FOH and facilities, who are predominantly POC, were seated way in the back, while upper management, predominantly white, were seated in the middle and front. This was made even clearer when all the jokes went over the first 5 rows heads and all the belly filled laughter was coming from the back. Even the performers pointed it out, further amplifying laughter from the back and awkward silence in the front.
- How about producing the trauma porn of White Noise. Watching a black man put himself in a slave collar and pretend to be a slave for his rich white friend in front of PREDOMINANTLY white berkeley audiences was traumatizing. I also know the intimacy director on this show was also given little to no time with the cast & had to fight for her pay. Would love to hear more from the actors, I hope they were given the support they needed with this emotional, trauma filled show.
- this is a Brentwood based theater company. while it is admittedly relatively new, and I have not seen every show, there hasn’t been a BIPOC lead in a single one that I have seen. they put on a lot of shows with parts that are open to any race, and yet they consistently seem to be filled by the same white people. also seen blatant sexism, particularly from director, but clearly not the main point of this doc. actors within the company have said some truly nasty things as well and gone unchecked.
- I was the dramaturg for A Raisin in the Sun in 2014. I never got credit for my work. I made the dramaturgical handbook. I was in rehearsals answering questions. I gave the pre-show talk. I was assisted by the resident dramaturg prior to rehearsals, but she wasn’t present during rehearsals. I was an intern. And the only BIPOC intern at that in the dramaturgy department. I was never given a nametag when I went to the theater space. It was never made. I had to make my own. I was clearly being used for the melanin in my skin. I stopped being a dramaturg for theater companies because of this experience and I have rarely been back to this theater. I’ve heard that things have changed for the better under Eric Ting, but dramaturgy has kinda been the same.
- Adding context (I was AAD at Cal Shakes during this production): the Black director of the production specifically requested that the resident dramaturg not interact with her or come to rehearsal because she had had so many racist interactions with her during her previous production. This dramaturg (Phillipa Kelly) is still the resident dramaturg at Cal Shakes. - Rebecca Novick
- Adding to this as well, I was one of two child wranglers for this production and on the front of house staff during the season. I am Black and the other wrangler is not. Often when I was seen with either of the boys at the venue, it was assumed we were related. I often had patrons see them interact so comfortably with me and assume I was their mother and compliment me on raising “well behaved young boys” I was 24. The only way I could have been the mother of either of those boys was if I had them at 14.
- I was in an ethnically diverse touring production of The Tempest, and my white director couldn’t get out of the way of her own guilt over the role of Caliban (whom I played). I never felt like I was able to truly meet my character, or make a choice and stick with it, because of her concern over how things would be perceived. I was never truly asked for my own opinion; just thrown in a room with the (Black) AD for “additional line work”. Three of my other POC castmates noticed all of this - I truly thought I was alone in my frustration - and told me in our carpool one day that they felt for me, and that I had been “yanked around” throughout the rehearsal process. I’m glad they saw me, but….
- I was an intern in their Education program, one of 2 Black interns in the program at the time. I was placed as the group leader of mostly white kids, aged 14-16 and they were constantly asking how I, as a Black person, could understand or do Shakespeare because, “everyone in Shakespeare plays are supposed to be white”. It didn’t occur to these kids that I could even read Shakespeare, let alone perform it. They were also extremely disappointed when I refused to braid anyone’s hair or teach them double dutch.
- For The Glass Menagerie, a black disabled actor who used forearm crutches was cast as Laura. During a production meeting some issues and questions around the set were being discussed. The set was a square raised platform with two ramps on the side and a few sets of stairs. The TD brought up how the ramps needed to be lengthened to be ADA compliant and the white female set designer (who was on the phone) was vocally upset and was resistant to changing anything because she had designed them to be a specific proportion to the rest of the set. There was another concern about safety and access for the actor and the designer again made ableist remarks suggesting that she knew what the actor could do and that she should just use the stairs. I’m pretty sure some conversations happened separately and privately that made the changes happen, but not amongst the group in the meeting.
- I was hired as an assistant by Cal Shakes to assist a separately hired well-established white designer. I was underutilized, but while on an errand with her and the props designer, she started discussing issues regarding parking at (insert location) and explicitly blamed it on “the Chinese students”, “waiting for their girlfriends”, and the “Asian parents not knowing how to drive around the area” and other things suggesting their supposed high levels of wealth. In the back seat I stayed silent, a Chinese American myself. Upon going to HR, I got the supervised conversation I wanted, but an evasive and dismissive apology from her. The potential threat of calling out a well established and connected designer was a large fear as an emerging artist. I cannot speak to what has happened since because I do not know for certain.
- When Jonathan Mascone was at CalShakes, he partnered with another theatre company and when the all Black cast took issue with Jonathan Mascone repeating lines that had the N-word in it during rehearsal, he agreed to stop after long discussion. After the show had opened, I was there when Jonathan Mascone was telling the actors how great the show was and repeated lines of the script, including the N-word. When a male black actor complained, he accused him of scaring him and felt he was being attacked. He then talked about that actor with other theatre professionals in the Bay.
- While attending The Glass Menagerie, a theatregoer was verbally and physically reactive to the actor portraying Amanda Wingfield say the lines about going to a DAR meeting. When asked why he was so disruptive, he said he couldn’t believe that actor (BIPOC) could possibly ever be in the DAR because they didn’t allow black people.
- Twelfth Night directed by Mark Rucker: my friend and I walked out after seeing Catherine Castellanos play Maria dressed in a maid outfit complete with a vacuum strapped to her back. When answering the door, she called out “No hablo ingles”. I remember looking at the mostly white audience reacting with guffaws,and thinking I don’t belong here.
- Under previous leadership, many teaching artists of color were invited to the gala to be trotted out in front of the tables, but we were not invited to stay at the gala. Moscone said something to the effect of “look at the diversity of this group”
- I worked in the education department when Eric Ting first started. During a meeting after a particular production, I expressed being uncomfortable watching an all-Black cast perform for all white crowds. I asked that we be mindful of the optics, that something felt off. My concerns were dismissed by him. He then gave me the cold shoulder, not even acknowledging me in the hallway. I’ve auditioned for him since then and he always says something snide to me. He doesn’t like certain women giving feedback. I’m not on the approved Black woman list, so my opinion doesn’t matter. He needs to do better.
- Seconded. I’ve had unpleasant interactions (rude, terse, condescending) with Eric Ting each and every time I see him at a theater event.
- Thirded. He does not like to be talked to as an equal by women of color. I genuinely don’t even think he knows he talks over us. He’s dismissive and condescending to young WOC. I’ve seen it happen often.
- Thanks y’all for validating this experience! (I’m the OP) It’s so hard to talk about because so many POC have put him on a pedestal.
- I was an intern at Cal Shakes many years ago. Fresh out of acting school. During rehearsals there were just a few times I was not at the right place back stage. This was not even om the same day ober the course of the entire summer. Yet I was printed out an article by Joy Mead on(ADD) Attention Deficit disorder. I was so hurt by the cruelty of that suggestion. I didnt know Cal Shakes was in the business of mental health diagnosis. Did it help this already huge minority with their self confidence that the theater was a place for me? Nope.
- I’m a Filipino artist. I remember going to CenterRep for the first time to see SISTERS MATSUMOTO and during intermission an old white guy came up to me and asked if he could buy me an ice cream. This is my first and only time I’ve been to this company.
- Never posted a statement about Black Lives Matter and the murder of George Floyd, despite several ignored emails. Instead posted a statement notifying people of the curfew.
- Was part of a group called back for ensemble roles in a play. Many of us were directly called back by the casting director. After the audition, which involved a lot of physical movement, the casting director said, “So I assume you’re all Latino, right?” When one of the group said, “No, I’m Middle Eastern,” he wasn’t cast. Other non-Latinx who didn’t speak up then did get cast.
- Casting Director Jennifer Perry does not encourage BIPOC auditions. She runs an all-white ballet school - says it all.
- I auditioned twice with Center Rep. The second audition was actually on my birthday. Casting Director Jennifer Perry was extremely rude. She had asked everyone for the H/R. I stood directly in front of her to pass her mine. She then ignores me and takes everyone else's. Later she tells me that I am up after so and so. She precedes to come out of the the room and call that said person. Then 6 or 7 names later she calls me in. There was one additional micro-aggression but I can't remember. I walked out feeling confused and not understanding why the disrespect.
- As a POC that passes as white I’ve literally never felt more bullied by a higher-up in a theater experience in my life. This was my first professional play in the Bay Area and I was so excited because I love Central Works and the work they put out. Still do. So I felt super honored to be there and be a part of the incredible actors cast in it.
The incident was with Jan Zveifler where she was literally on my back about every little direction. She was throwing a lot at me at once while getting angry about “not getting it faster”. To be honest, I’ve had so many bad experiences with directors that I felt like this was just part of the life if you wanna be an actor so I just shut up because I was afraid of being fired. when I asked a question about which way to turn she said “what does it matter? You’re not doing any of the directions I’ve given you anyway” and left me standing there in front of everybody. I felt so embarrassed and humiliated. I wanted to disappear. It was my first theater job and I felt like I was in that nightmare where you’re naked in front of the whole school.
I was literally holding back tears... then as if that wasn’t enough... She confuses me with another actress with a similar ethnic background as me who went on break early by mistake. So Jan says “well shit I guess we’ll take our break now” in a hands-in-the-air angry kind of way.
So I go to grab my jacket to run outside and cry when she corners me and says in the most condescending tone “did you think we were on a break?”
I said “no. You’re confusing me with (actress). I’m the one you just finished beating up in front of everybody”
I walked out and literally cried uncontrollably. I was hyperventilating. Apparently the cast (while I was gone) told her she was fucked and had better apologise. She came outside to look for me but I hid because I didn’t want her to see me that way as well as I didn’t wanna talk. I couldn’t catch my breath let alone talk. I was traumatized.
When I finally got back I was barely holding it together. She came up to me and hugged me and apologised profusely. She blamed it on her old age (which was 60, hardly old in my book but ok). I told her if she wanted to recast me to just tell me. She hugged me again and said she wanted me to stay but things weren’t the same between us after. She gave me a few more minutes that I asked for to wash my face and calm down because I didn’t want anyone to see me broken down like that.
For the record, I don’t think Jan is a bad person at all. I think she was going through personal stuff that affected her professionally. It was a good lesson for me. Now I’m much more vocal when others or myself are being mistreated.
- Auditioned for a play where the characters are all family. Was called back. Drove over an hour for the callback. Was only non-white person in the room. After a 2-hour callback, the director pulled me aside and released me, saying, "I just want to let you know, I love your work! But, we just want to make sure it looks like a realistic family. I just wanted to see more of your work."
- They did a production of Once on this Island that was choreographed by a white woman. I was infuriated in the audition room because the choreography was so appropriative and an offensive version of what white America thinks African dance looks like. They tried to offer me a role - I turned it down without questions.
- About a decade ago, CCCT did a production of Big River. Issues of race were for the most part handled with sensitivity. For example, a lot of thought, care, and discussion were devoted to whether or not the use of the N-word should be removed from the original text (by Roger Miller, borrowed or adapted from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn), and if so, in which instances. My recollection is that the director consulted carefully with multiple Black members of the cast and production team, removed instances that they deemed unnecessary, and left them only in cases where removing them would harm the author’s intent (such as where a slave trader was addressing an enslaved person). The director explained all of this in a sort of “Trigger Warning” as part of the curtain speech.
One incident that I found disturbing, however, was during a tech rehearsal that the Black actor playing Jim (Huck’s enslaved friend) was unable to attend due to a scheduled conflict. The director, himself arguably white-passing (and of mixed Pacific Islander and European heritage), jumped on stage and performed the entire role of Jim for the duration of both acts of the play: spoken lines, blocking, songs. He did so using the same “uneducated Southern enslaved black” accent that the original actor had done. When asked why he did not simply have the stage manager read out the lines from within the house (as is normally done when an actor is absent), the director stated that he needed to put his body on stage in order to make sure the lighting was calibrated correctly for Jim’s blocking. (This made no sense, of course, because the director’s skin tone was VERY different from that of the actor playing Jim, so the director’s face could not be used as a lighting guide in this context.)
The director actually said in front of the whole cast and crew words to the effect of “Wow! I always wanted to get up and play the role of Jim!”
- The above story is partially true. The director did physically fill in for that tech rehearsal.
- While working for another culture org, I was contacted by the stage manager for Allegiance to ask about costume consulting. I told them Japanese-American clothing choices in the 40's would be typical of general dress for the time, but the show presents some opportunities to incorporate more traditional dress, for which I would love to help out and make some costuming available for the production. I never heard back from them again. I understand maybe they didn't need my assistance, but since they had reached out to me to ask me for help in the first place, it felt like once I couldn't do their job for them, it was just "any Asian will do then" and I was ignored completely.
- I was in their production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. If you know the show then you know it’s problematic to begin with. My overall experience was great. I loved the cast and staff! However the show features two stereotypical Chinese characters and another character in yellow face. I was the only BIPOC in the female ensemble (I’m Filipino). I always wondered whether I was cast for diversity’s sake ESPECIALLY because of the bit at the end of the show where the two Chinese characters are reunited with their long lost mother. Guess who played the mother? Yup, me… It made me very uncomfortable. I should’ve spoken up and said something. That’s on me. The costuming for this bit was more of an afterthought. I was fitted in a top like the one below and black bottoms. I was told I would be given a hat to cover my wig. The 2 males were given one like the one below. Those first choices didn’t work out and instead I was given a huge lavish robe with a farmer’s hat (???). (See example below) That was my least favorite part of the show.
- This was during auditions for 9 to 5, the last show they produced. There is a character in the show who is explicitly Latinx. The woman who was cast was half-asian. They treat BIPOC as if they are interchangeable.
- They did a production of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and even though they had Asian talent at the callbacks, they ended up casting a blonde, white girl to play Marcy Park.
- We were two black and one POC actors that were cast for their production of the women. We were offered small, tiny roles and no pay, but we were grateful for the opportunity. We quickly realized that we were also the stagehands, okay, mostly the stagehands. Again, no pay was offered. We were often yelled at and encouraged to be on top of furniture moving. Many times the white actresses would blame us for their inability to miss their marks. The mistreatment only got worse as the run continued. We were also yelled at several times in front of the entire company for being late (usually no more than 5 minutes). Because of financial issues we were 3 people with only 1 car. Our carpooling situation was intensified because two of us could not get off work any earlier. Most of the younger white women in the show did not have jobs. They never once asked how they could help or what our situation was. They just assumed we were lazy or disrespectful as a choice. Since that show, one of my colleagues has not returned to theatre as that show broke her.
- I was the sole poc in a traditionally white 100 year+ old play. This is a minor story, but during a talkback when asked to share our thoughts about the process: I expressed my gratitude to be able to speak these words primarily written for white people. The talkback mediator had a look of cringe on their face and proceeded to quickly downplay and dismiss my feelings by saying “we don’t see color here / we believe in color blind casting” and moving on to the next question. I felt really stupid and not included.
- (came and supported a friend’s) perform(ance) at the Flight Deck to have a white critic walk up and Congratulate ME on MY performanceI am that actor she came and supported.
- I was the one Black person in the show and my friend was the only Black audience member. The critic thought we were the same person.
- THIS is a copy of a letter that was sent to Lindsay Krumbein and the Board of Gritty City Repertory in September 2019.
Dear Gritty City Rep Board, Date September 3, 2019
I hope this email reaches you all in good spirits and health.
It is with a great deal of consternation and contemplation that I craft this email. After much consideration, I realize that for the betterment, growth and integrity of the Gritty City Rep (GCR)., and myself, I must bring some alarming concerns to the attention of the board. These are not trivial matters, and directly affect how our program fosters the growth and development capacities of the young people we serve.
Before I begin, let me state that I requested that Lindsay Krumblein, call a special meeting to discuss some disturbing events which have come to light.
On July 29th, a GCR ensemble member shared with me some concerns she and the ensemble have regarding Lindsay, who they all care about, and love. I also have enjoyed a close friendship and professional relationship with Lindsay, and care deeply about her effectiveness as a mentor and leader to young people of color.
This GCR ensemble member, who serves as a big-sister role to younger members, requested I speak with Lindsay, which I did, to discuss and come up with solutions to the following concerns:
1. Ensemble members were disturbed by Lindsay’s laughing "Nigga/Negro Salt" response to an ensemble members question about how the title of GCR's new play, "Black Salt," came about.
2. Students were met with blatant racism when Lindsay took an all youth-of-color ensemble to view theater in Ashland, Oregon without any other POC adults who could have supported, advocated and protected the ensemble, as well as properly hold a safe space for everyone to debrief and process that particular experience with racism.
3. A former GCR ensemble member) left Gritty City one week before opening of Taming of the Shrew (a role she was very excited about playing). She was having a hard time emotionally and shared with Lindsay that she was having thoughts of suicide. Lindsay brought me on through my company The Artist SelfCare Guide, LLC to provide personal guidance to this ensemble member for 30 days. I saw her make a transformation into self-love and value and helped her make choices that brought her closer to her goal of being happy. It was later brought to my attention that the reason she left GCR was because she refused to take any more verbal abuse from Lindsay. I was also made aware that this was not the first time a GCR ensemble member decided to leave because of being verbally abused during the rehearsal process.
4. A GCR member visited Lindsay’s house for Halloween and Lindsay's 6-year-old daughter says that the reason GCR member doesn't know how to carve a pumpkin is because she "grew up poor".
After I brought these concerns to Lindsay’s attention, she told me she called each ensemble member and apologized. I expressed to Lindsay, after checking in with the GCR ensemble member, that calling and apologizing was neither satisfactory or appropriate, and requested again that we sit and give these concerns some serious thoughts, and together come up with a solution to ensure that these type of issues, should they happen again, are handled with care and urgency in a culturally appropriate way. Lindsay thanked me for my thoughts and, without any further discussion or consultation with me, decided to hire Restorative Justice to help “create healthy boundaries.”
She also expressed that she wanted the process to involve a “neutral party,” one who does not know her or the ensemble. I found this very problematic and asked why she felt bringing in Restorative Justice was the best solution for all parties involved, and that if she decides to move forward with her plan, that I be present in the room as an advocate for the ensemble (this is crucial in our mission in helping our youth of color find their voices). I have not heard back from Lindsay since August 9th regarding this issue and it was brought to my attention that the meeting with Restorative Justice happened last week. Lindsay is no longer communicating with me which is why I am bringing the concerns of the ensemble and now my own concerns to the board.
The ensemble member came to me in good faith that I would make sure that her voice and the feelings of the ensemble were heard, and to make sure they feel safe and never again have these experiences within GCR. Also, most of GCR’s ensemble members are minors and none of their parents were notified or asked to join the meeting secretly planned and held by Lindsay. It was my understanding that Lindsay brought me on as a colleague, board member, and friend to advocate for youth of color while providing a much-needed Oakland-community perspective. In addition, I believe my role is to bring attention to the need for GCR staff to reflect the community of the youth it serves and that there be education and conversation around the issues of cultural equity, transparency, communications, and accountability.
For years, Lindsay and I have shared critique of other companies’ practices, and their cultural appropriateness. She has requested of me, specifically, that I provide guidance and make her aware if I ever saw her behaving in a culturally inappropriate or insensitive manner. Now is such a situation and I am compelled and obligated to shed light and help heal this healable situation.
I came to Lindsay in good faith, believing that she would do all she could do to resolve this issue, and that she would be appropriately inclusive in the process. I was totally surprised when Lindsay decided to not only hire in an outside organization, to deal with a sensitive matter that needed to be addressed in-house with POC who the ensemble members know, trust, and respect, but that she decided to shut me out of the entire process, allowing me no role or voice at all and to make matters worse she conducted this meeting without notifying the minor children’s parents.
Due to Lindsay’s silence and her questionable actions, I have been moved to call on the board because I am concerned for the wellbeing and future of the youth the GCR serves under Lindsay’s leadership. I was advised by members of GCR Advisory Board, who are on the advisory board of GCR, and other community members to request an emergency board meeting. I reached out to Lindsay via email requesting that she call an emergency board meeting to address the concerns outlined above along with my concerns regarding the lack of culturally appropriate policies and practices set-up to support the youth of color GCR serves. Again, I have yet to receive a response.
I am of value for my skills, abilities and extensive background in theater, but I find equally or more important (while working in this setting) is my extensive background and familiarity with crime survivors, and their journeys through restorative justice. I am an African-American woman from Oakland with more than 20 years of experience working with youth of color from Oakland. I am a trained actor with degrees from Pace University and NYU. I am well connected and respected in the Bay Area arts community and have worked professionally as an actor for more than 15 years. Again, it was my understanding that my background and experience would be of value to both Lindsay and GCR, but based on the way my communication attempts have been treated by Lindsay regarding the concerns of the ensemble, and my own, it is clear that my voice, expertise and experience are not being acknowledged, respected or valued. I can’t help but to think the youth are having similar feelings, which is entirely antithetical to our mission.
How do we get an emergency board meeting called? I do not possess a copy of our by-laws so I am unsure of how to proceed from here.
I have clear thoughts about a course of action that will address the indiscretions and concerns in a manner that will allow all parties to be heard and understood, while landing GCR in a place where all members can better work with and trust one another moving forward.
I hope you all see this as an opportunity for us to grow and learn so that GCR can stand strong and honor its mission to "inspire young adults (of color) to risk and explore, developing their leadership, confidence, and compassion for the human family..." because it is very clear this is not what Lindsay is doing.
We all have an opportunity to sit down and get the issues and facts on the table so we can all make informed decisions about how to right what clearly has gone wrong. The futures, both of our program, and of these youth are depending on us to do better and get this one right.
AFTER these concerns were treated poorly by Lindsay Krumbein and the GCR board (which is made up of Lindsay's friends and family) and no resolution was met, the following letter was sent to Lindsay and the entire board.
Dear Gritty City Rep Board of Directors/Advisors September 7, 2019
I would like to inform you that I am resigning from my position as Board Director for Gritty City Youth Repertory, effective immediately.
Based on the concerns outlined below, the lack of culturally appropriate policies and practices in place, the lack of transparency within the organization and board, and proof that “poverty pimping” is being exercised by the organization leaders, I can no longer, in good faith, associate myself with Gritty City Youth Repertory in any capacity. And it is with great hopes that the organization leaders will stop exercising their white privilege to silence, shame and exploit the youth of color they serve.
On July 29th the following concerns were brought to my attention by an ensemble member of 3 or more years regarding Artistic Director, Lindsay Krumbein.
1. Ensemble members were disturbed by Lindsay’s laughing "Nigga/Negro Salt" response to an ensemble members question about how the title of GCR's new play, "Black Salt," came about.
2. Students were met with blatant racism when Lindsay took an all youth-of-color ensemble to view theater in Ashland, Oregon without any other POC adults who could have supported, advocated and protected the ensemble, as well as properly hold a safe space for everyone to debrief and process that particular experience with racism.
3. A former GCR ensemble member) left Gritty City one week before opening of Taming of the Shrew (a role she was very excited about playing). She was having a hard time emotionally and shared with Lindsay that she was having thoughts of suicide. Lindsay hired me through my company the Artist SelfCare Guide, LLC to provide personal guidance for 30 days. I saw her make a transformation into self-love and value and helped her make choices that brought her closer to her goal of being happy. It was later brought to my attention that the reason GCR youth left GCR was because she refused to take any more verbal abuse from Lindsay. I was also made aware that this was not the first time a GCR ensemble member decided to leave because of being verbally abused during the rehearsal process.
4. A GCR member visited Lindsay’s house for Halloween and Lindsay's 6-year-old daughter says that the reason GCR member doesn't know how to carve a pumpkin is because she "grew up poor".
Myself and several members of the community were deliberately locked out of the meeting that was facilitated by an inexperienced employee of Restorative Justice and attended by only the youth ensemble, Lindsay and her assistant. This meeting was held in secret without any advocates present to support the youth or insure the youth felt safe and comfortable sharing their concerns. In fact, the youth were silenced and the GCR member who presented the concern mentioned above was made to feel like her voice was not important and they glossed over the issue not restoring the justice at all. This was a huge red flag for us. When Lindsay was confronted about conducting this meeting without the presence of the parents and community advocates (considering her ensemble are all underage youth of color) she refused to take responsibility and accountability for her actions and asked the youth who voiced her concerns to leave the ensemble and no further actions were taken. Black Salt was produced with foundation funding and our voices were ignored and GCR went back to business as usually. Recently Lindsay posted and "In Solidarity Statement” on the GCR website. This is troubling because she refused to stand "in solidarity" with the youth of her own theater company and concerned community members when it really mattered.
Thank you for this opportunity to have our voice heard.
- Auditioning for a Peruvian role (and I’m Peruvian) was told to not white wash it.....?! I was very confused. Also I’ve been told (by a white female acting coach) that I will never do Shakespeare and if I move to LA all I would play would be roles of Chicana ..... and I’m not even Mexican. I’ve also been told (with all good intentions) that my accent limits my opportunities.
- 2016:They cast a white Sebastian in The Little Mermaid and had him do a Jamaican accent.
- Same production of TLM, a critic called them out on it. The director was furious and called a meeting with the cast to say that he “doesn’t see color” and that because “no black actor showed up to the audition”.
- The only black person in the cast. Also, the only cast member with no features. A white cast mate said something about that while we were blocking and I got to say 2 lines.
- A troubling production of In The Heights (that I was sadly involved in) had several suburban white kids in brown face.
- I have mixed feelings about the Peter Pan Foundation. They have tried to be inclusive with many of their shows, but it often feels like a “favorites” game, and if you aren’t one of them and you’re a POC, you’ll probably get relegated to a POC type side role (e.g. Mulan, Jasmine, or Tiana in their annual Disney show) and not be considered for more standout lead princess with better stage time. The leader of the foundation is nice, but has done brown face before (is very white and played Maria in WSS) and the rehearsal process is always very stressful. Lots of people, not enough time to rehearse, and then you have to do rehearsals on your own time and are blamed if things go wrong, and if you aren’t in “the know” about their original show it’s incredibly hard to keep up. Those of us who were new would not immediately know harmonies and were made to feel bad about it, but mind you we were never given sheet music of any kind. It was all about singing by ear. And yes, they are Disney songs, but if you’re gonna get mad at people for not singing things “right” then give us the damn sheet music! Overall, I felt like certain POC were given more limelight and were “tokenized” and others of us were sort of left to the wayside. On top of that their casting has been that all BIPOC are interchangeable like casting a south asian actress to play Princess Tiana.
- They legit had a white girl playing Aida in like 2013 or something...they’ve made some changes since then but still.
Plethos Productions (Hayward, Castro Valley, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Union City)
- Multiple times during a production of a play that was being developed, white opinions were listened to more readily than the opinions of BIPOC actors. A friend of mine in the cast was told to act more “Latin” and with more attitude. Another friend of mine was shamed for showing up late to a rehearsal because she got into a car accident. When a white crew member was late to rehearsal that same week because she got into a car accident, we were all instructed to “give her some space and our love because she’s very shaken up.”
- In the same production: I (the only Black actor in the show, playing a homeless, drug-addicted character) was told by multiple people on the design and production team that they thought I was “really ghetto, until they met me and realized I’m not.” I was also told multiple times to be more “flaky, sketchy, and more from the street, you know.”
- In the same production: I had an allergic reaction to something in the building at the Flight Deck in which this show was being produced. I told the director, the stage manager, and the assistant director that there was something in the room that was making it difficult for me to breath and see. They responded with “well you play a druggie so just channel it into the character” and they did nothing about it. After the show opened, a white audience member left at intermission due to their allergic reaction to the space and suddenly they cared about it.
- Will second the testimony above. I was working in front of the house when the white audience member left at intermission and finally took the actors seriously because of the set… I went on a retreat with Ragged Wing where they were trying to make rituals for the Art of Leaving. Being Latinx and because we did this retreat during the weeked of Dia De Los Muertos I mentioned that this ritual that people would be experiencing could potentially cause people to not like it, just like colonizers didn’t like walking in and seeing natives do their own rituals like celebrating the dead for a whole month making them cut it down to two days and white wash it with religion. Once I said that the room got quiet and the white cis woman artistic director got defensive thinking I was accusing the company of being colonizers… I didn’t say it. She did.
- “I know YOU know how to moonwalk. Cause black. *laugh” -Director
- “She’s a little pudgy. I mean for an Asian girl. Look at that headshot- her thighs are rather thick. Black girls can be a little pudgy, that’s fine.” -Director
- “You can’t say colored- you’re racist!” “I didn’t say colored, I said I’m a person OF color.” “No that’s all wrong. You don’t even know what to call yourself.” -Director
- For yellow face look up The Forest War and for brown face look up Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness. Apparently white actors can play Asian, but perhaps Asians are not “blank slates” enough to play white?
- This company never willingly casts Black actors unless it is SPECIFIED in the script. They have just recently begun to cast Black women outside of script necessity and they essentially cast one of the same 3 “favorites” every time.
- I was at an audition for a show (I am a Black woman) and the AD - who knows me - looked around the room without acknowledging me multiple times. When my name was called for my turn, he finally looked at me and said “I didn’t recognize you because you’re hair always looks different.:
- I was cast in “Love is a Dream House in Lorin”. As we neared opening night, and were told to speak with the box office manager directly about comps and purchases, he (white) always reacted to me (brown) as if I was annoying him. Moreover, he always spoke to me in a condescending tone. Mind you, when black men approached him about tickets, he always acted eager to please (and scared). Last I heard he had moved up in management.
- When, in passing group conversation, I told the Artistic Director I was moving to LA to try my luck there, he condescending chortled, “Humph. You’ll be back.”
- Ooh, the men in this organization love women of color. Too much. Well, Mark Jackson has a penchant for young blond women, but Patrick D. and R. Black love some women of color. They have continually formed top down relationships with various women in the community and then when they are found out, the women are blamed and shamed. One of my friends of color was texted that she was a B by the wife of Patrick, never thinking how much power a director, AD of a company holds. Many women have told me that after their affairs they have moved away for fear of retaliation. They were all women of color.
- During the run of ‘Arcadia’ at Shotgun, one of the female POC actors stated her intention to email Cal Shakes expressing gratitude for their commitment to hire local BIPOC artists. One of the white male actors who overheard her replied, “And taking jobs away from us.” The AD and director, Patrick Dooley, later called her and apologized for what’d happened, and asked if she wanted to have a public conversation with the whole cast/staff, but didn’t discuss how that’d be facilitated. When we all got together to talk - with very limited time - Patrick prefaced a discussion of what had happened with at least a half an hour of his own general reflections on how inclusivity came to be important at Shotgun. Then he asked our cast member what had occurred and how she felt about it (and only those questions.) Immediately after she spoke, the older white men in the room completely dominated the rest of the conversation, with zero self-awareness, getting defensive, saying things like, “Well the important thing is that we’re having this conversation,” talking about Buddhism and intentions, and mentioning that one of them did a lot of EDI facilitation. It was a very poorly facilitated discussion. There was hardly any space for the BIPOC/women to talk and then, naturally, we ran out of time before getting anywhere. When Patrick asked if we wanted to continue this discussion, many people spoke up and said “Yes,” but there was never any follow-up or time set aside for more conversation about racism in this industry and in that particular space.
- Without change in leadership, this company is UNFIT to indiscriminately audition BIPOC actors. Within the audition documents there are comments about Black actors’ hair/dreads (HOW IS THIS RELEVANT TO CASTING?) In casting discussions for Black actors, phrases like “Just doesn’t look African enough” or “I want someone who looks scrappy, like they’re hungry, like… you know,” have been used.
- I am really surprised at how few testimonials there were about Shotgun Players, as of 6/12/20. They were so problematic while I worked there repeatedly during 2011-2016. I'll try to stick to only the racist shit I heard and witnessed as I am A. a white person and B. can't be here all night writing a whole ass encyclopedia of Shotgun's Abusive Nonsense.
- I already saw Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness (2013 season?) mentioned here, and I just want to say, YUP. I was involved in the production, very briefly. I never had a copy of the script or saw a rehearsal all the way through, so to see FULL BROWN FACE (on a white actor using a stereotypical "Apu from The Simpsons" Indian voice) on stage at opening night? Hell no. No clue whatsoever what, if anything, was discussed in rehearsal or how it was handled, but I still can't believe director Beth Wilmurt went with that choice, and that no one in the company stopped her. Also!!! The review in the SF Chronicle (who was writing that then, Robert Hurwitt?), or maybe another paper, did explicitly refer to it, calling it "casual brownface" --- almost as if it were something charming or quaint.
- Artistic Director Patrick Dooley loves getting up in front of audiences to talk about the Lorin district, a k a the south Berkeley area around the Ashby stage, a k a an area historically populated by Black families because Berkeley is still segregated as all hell, being his "home" and "community" but behind closed doors he isn't afraid to say that he doesn't care if he offends anyone by crossing the street if he sees a group of young Black men walking his way while he's on his way home after dark. When he talks like this he doesn't explicitly say *Black people*, it's really more of a "them" or "those people" type of rhetoric. Once when it was pointed out that 'The Coast of Utopia' had a enormous primarily WHITE cast, his response was to point out that "they" had all left - "they" meaning TWO Black actors he'd cast in the first run of 'Voyage', two out of a cast of what, 30? Both of these actors were cast in the possibly the smallest speaking roles in the entire show. Amazing how he managed to replace them (and other roles) with, you guessed it! More white actors, several years of remounts in a row.
- The Shotgun Players love virtue signaling. They love to pretend they're a "community" theater, dedicated to the wondrously diverse city of Berkeley and all the lovely kinds of people therein. Because of this, they like to put on plays about Berkeley, including 'Love is a Dream House in Lorin' and 'Daylighting: The Berkeley Stories Project', both plays based on real stories told by local Berkeleyites. Great, right? No. I don't know much about "Lorin" but I can tell you that the only time it came up in conversation was when various company members referred to it as terrible (offering no further explanation), or when they want to tell audiences how Marcus Gardley once wrote a play for them, as if having had a young pre-fame Black poet proves they're not just a bunch of clueless white folks. "Daylighting" boasted the most diverse cast of any Shotgun show probably EVER, but it was an absolute mess, completely mismanaged, basically ignored by the company and treated like a throwaway part of the season because it was scheduled at the same time as their big gala fundraiser, which is invite-only. As far as I know none of the artists working on that show were given an invitation.
- Shotgun used to have a rehearsal space in Emeryville, around 34th and Hollis. This area is often populated with local houseless folks, primarily older Black men, who aren't allowed to post up in the surrounding shopping center parking lots or anywhere near the Pixar campus without being bothered by cops or security. While I do know that on occasion car windows were smashed or people were mugged (much like any other major metropolitan area), the way this company made such an overwhelming show of always warning casts and crew of how "dangerous" (read: ghetto) the surrounding area was, definitely stank of some pearl-clutching white nonsense. Sincere lack of compassion for houseless Black folks all around. I witnessed similar treatment of Black folks from the Ashby Flea Market who'd walk by and look in the open front doors, or Black folks just waiting at the bus stop out front. For a company that prides itself on "community", they sure like to treat Black members of the local population like bogeymen.
I know I could have been more assertive about all this crap. I could have said it nicely or screamed it but honestly? They know. They know they're racially problematic and when something did get called out, there was always either some brush off response from the AD or admin staff in the vein of "Yeah, well, whadya gonna do, that's just how it is, blah blah." or full blown gas-lighting. They probably knew could do better, but they just wouldn't actually do it.
- So I already just submitted a whole essay on Shotgun Players, but I forgot to mention that I have also explicitly heard AD Patrick Dooley discussing how the students they invite from Laney College to attend previews (they do this every show, or almost every show, or a least they used to), who were usually mostly young adult BIPOC students, were expected to be rowdy or super vocally responsive, and may need to be told to "tone it down" because this particular play had nudity in it and he didn't want them "hootin' and hollarin" at the actor. This is of course all just a bunch of coded language for how white ppl love telling Black people they're too loud. Also why assume only the young BIPOC folks from a community college, but not LITERALLY ANYONE ELSE in the audience throughout the entire run, are going to be wild and disrespectful? hmmmmmmmmm....maybe racism???
- this is a youth theater company that costs money to join. they have scholarships, but it is abundantly clear that the majority of their casts are drawn from privileged, white, youth around the bay area. the casts are absurdly white. additionally, the staff is nearly entirely white, and the staff that the youth actively work with is entirely white people (all directors, choreographers, musical directors, etc.) in fairness there is clearly a smaller amount of staff due to the nature of the company, but still. in the production of legally blonde they did a few years back, i saw the choreographer ask the Filipino actor cast as Grandmaster Chad to put on an accent, and wear a “rasta hat” with fake dreads. ultimately he said he was uncomfortable with the dreads, and while the director ended up respecting that decision, she first lectured him that you shouldn’t tell a director what to do. the following year, during a production of Little Shop of Horrors, director looked at script and realized nobody was cast as the “Old Chinese Man” for Da Doo. Whole cast watched the director say “old chinese man... you!” to that same Filipino actor. also, this company tried to put on a production of Once On This Island but has an approximately 95% white cast. That was recent, and they had to be convinced out of it. A few years before, they actually DID put on a white production of the show. most (if not all?) leads were played by white people. I haven’t been with this company in recent years, but i know that their diversity hasn’t improved. also, obviously the cast are youth, but i’ve definitely heard people say some racist garbage and not get called out for it.
- This was a while ago but I (asian american actor) was definitely cast as one of Maybelle’s kids in Hairspray
- During a production of In the Heights, our (white) props person went to the Mexican market and bought tamale wrappers, tajin, breads, etc for the bodega as props. I guess all Latinx cultures are interchangeable, right? The (white) director also made little effort to pronounce the spanish words correctly, mostly laughing at getting them so wrong. It felt like he wasn’t invested in researching Latinx culture before directing the show, sort of relying on the Latinx cast members to share knowledge...and sometimes dismissing that.
- I am an Asian American who was cast in their production of West Side Story in 2014 (?) I was cast as a JET GIRL for most of the show but was also put in as a Shark girl in America. I was very confused when I got the e-mail offer. I don’t put the show on my resume (also because that show was a trainwreck.)
- Was in a production of “A Little Princess” in 2013, where the ensemble makes up the “African chorus”, singing almost entirely in gibberish (more of a critique of the show choice, considering their demographic is a majority white). In addition, however, the ensemble was asked to wear foundation one or two shades darker than their skin tone. They also had us sing/speak in non-specific African accents (flipping “r”s in “Sara Crewe”, “ha” instead of “her”, etc.).
- Jon Tracy uplifts many POC but completely ignores the existence and validity of others.
- THIS ^^^. He definitely plays favorites. It’s so obvious because of which shows he attends and how he talks to the actors afterwards. (And I get it that there are artists he may feel more connected to or whose work resonates more with him, but it’s like he doesn’t even try to give other BIPOC a chance.)
- THIRDED. I’ve done multiple readings with Jon, and he’s nice to me in front of producers and then goes back to not really caring to know who I am. He has already preselected his little cluster of artists who matter to him, and everyone else just has to watch them be brilliant.
- It still don’t sit right with me that he remains the artistic director after a conscious restructuring to include BIPOC,LQBTQ+ and womxn in the theatre structure but still a white cis het male remains the leader of the company and is credited with that.
- This one is long, because I think calling out requires nuance. Since this is mostly about a casting choice, I'm going to go back to the beginning: when I discussed my vision for La Profesora as a one-person show, Jon was all about it and super supportive in my vision for it be about Uruguayan history, the dictatorship / its brutality. Partially because I was on the East Coast and then Spain for two weeks that August, we had actors submit self-tapes. All the actors we auditioned had somewhat accented English, because part of my vision for the piece was to collaborate with a woman who had lived through the immigration experience and give voice to that. One actor sent back a phenomenal callback to a second round of text I sent off, taking adjustments beautifully. We cast her in the role the first week of September. We rehearsed madly from mid-January to early February, implementing cuts and changes fluidly as Jon suggested new drafts, especially cuts. All told, there were 5 drafts of the script written & rewritten between January, when the actor and I first started working and the first performance in mid-February.
However, during Feb 9-14, as we moved into rehearsals and previews, Jon gave me the feedback that the actor we had cast just didn't have enough vocal training and he couldn't hear her. This was devastating after a month of working on the piece with the actor in isolation and devastating to hear less than a week before opening. He softened this by partially blaming the projection issues on the way Live Oak Theater swallows sound since we'd been rehearsing. When watching the rehearsals, this didn't ring true to me at all. I postulated that perhaps it had to do with the fact that I was used to being in the room with her and had grown up with that exact accent in my father's and abuelos' English. In particular, Jon emailed me to say:
"_________ is challenging to understand. This is the main reason I say cut to the bone. There are moments that she is totally clear, accent intact, and there is 75% of it where one struggles to even understand what the words were that she said. Simpler statements are needed to help us along the way. I'm not saying cut the extended ideas, but know we get lost in her delivery of them. At least give us clear summary sentences every once in awhile or we tune out. In short, there is the play you want, and there is the play she can deliver. I don't think they are the same play right now and you need to sacrifice something so she can succeed.
I really love the ideas, the passion and the research involved in this piece. Let the best of it get unlocked from what is holding your actor back. She certainly is green in some ways but obviously has so much to offer. Shape to her."
In other words, Jon was saying: "don't give this immigrant actress complicated lines and thoughts. Keep it simple so a white audience can understand her, because I don't understand most of the show and therefore a white audience won't either." The implication is also clear that a white audience is the targeted audience and that audience must be coddled, which isn't something I ever thought was true at TheatreFirst. I forwarded this email to my partner with the line, "How is it that every time I get notes from Jon it's devastating?" I didn't share this email with the actor, because as much as it devastated me, I felt that if she knew any aspect of this, she would no longer have been able to have kept working on the play in good faith. I also chose to play along and act as if I accepted his feedback because I didn't feel confident calling out what was going on considering that I was relatively new to the Bay, young, and had a far shorter resume than him. I regret, deeply, that I let him think giving this type of feedback was okay & we didn't have it out.
I left every rehearsal during production week feeling horrible that I had put an actor in that position. It felt like I was dishonoring my own history by having created a piece for a gifted actor doing a ton of work that wasn't being respected. Jon and I then had a similar conversation in the lighting booth of TheatreFirst (where we went so it could be private). As the discussion turned once again to her accent, I started getting angry with myself. Jon at one point emphasized that critics were coming to opening night, which angered me because we had previously discussed critics coming later in the run as all the pieces were in development and might get rewrites. I felt slowly convinced that my vision had been wrong, that Berkeley audiences couldn't and wouldn't do the work to understand an actor through an accent despite their toted progressive values. I asked for places specifically in the show where she wasn't understood, but Jon wasn't able to give me any. I was particularly upset when I reflected via email that perhaps in the future it would make sense to cast in-person and he told me that many of the other teams for BETWEEN US had actually done auditions in-person AFTER our casting process for La profesora. I chalked it up to poor organization instead of malicious intentions. But especially, I wondered why the accent wasn't an issue until it was close to opening and the pressure was on because Jon had invited a bunch of critics.
Once alone, I returned to my original thoughts: there's no way she wasn't that understandable. It was ridiculous that I wasn't getting specific notes on where the problems existed with diction if diction was truly the problem. And I regretted, immensely, that I hadn't had another person in the room during that conversation. I entertained that there was a possibility I was wrong and Jon was right about understandability, and so decided to invite some playwright colleagues to come see the dress rehearsals and previews so they could tell me specifically where maybe they were missing things. I invited a Latinx playwright along to a dress rehearsal and a white playwright along to a preview and a rehearsal. Despite the fact that neither of them had seen the show or read the script before, they both had no problem understanding what was being said. The narrative was clear for them. Two weeks after opening, with no notice or explanation, Jon chose to change the order of the program of the one-act shows, placing our piece second instead of first in the evening, with his own piece closing out the night of performances. Despite my intentions, the actor clearly received the message that our piece didn't seem as strong as the other two and therefore needed to be sandwiched and hidden. In addition, she shared that extensive reworkings of the tech required only an hour earlier than call put a lot of excess pressure on her to learn transitions that had not only been rehearsed but PERFORMED for multiple performances.
I felt so disappointed in myself and so frozen in how to help the actor, I struggled to return to watch my own show that I'd written and directed until the closing matinee. The people who were at the talkback that day loved it. One cried throughout because the actor's performance resonated with him, another spoke how the experience of oppression resonated with people of color who didn't even have the same history. Two people approached me and asked if I'd like to make a podcast with them about the piece because of the performance they'd seen. I started crying because this was the first time I'd felt good about the thing I'd made in that space, despite the immense trust that I had with the actor.
This was the last thing I worked on with TheatreFirst, despite the fact that I lived in the area for another year before moving to NYC in early 2019. Despite having been a board member in during the 2016-2017 season and having been heavily involved in set design, fundraising, and literary, I never came back to see or participate in another show again. Every time I walked by that building, I remembered the late nights questioning myself despite the fact that my vision had been clear from the beginning. I got the sense, as well, that my voice was important in all those other aspects when it contributed to the # of POCs in the room behind the scenes, but not when it was actually my voice (written) or a voice similar to those that raised me, especially after white critics gave it lukewarm reviews. I felt betrayed; it seemed clear from my own lived experience that Jon didn't support the communities and voices he claimed to care about supporting. It seemed he and I had been chasing different goals all along.
Overall, my feedback is this:
1. One of the tools of white supremacy is language and facility with it. I have seen this as an educator, as a child when I first came to this country, and from my own parents talking about how other people speak Spanish. It is exceedingly hurtful to talk about a collaborator who has signed on for a show as if they are not able to rise to deliver complicated language and thoughts. To really uphold people of color is to allow their voices to be heard instead of using them as vehicles for your own voice, message, or aesthetics.
2. The other tool of white supremacy that we commonly experience is urgency. Jon, despite talking about long development timelines and extended conversations, somehow always manages to communicate urgency: we must be quick to cast, quick to develop, quick to cut, quick to make artistic choices. I want to reiterate that I didn't get feedback about the actor's accent until the week before opening. This dynamic of urgency is damaging for people who need time to consider and commune with each other to really discuss what the right choices are. It prioritizes a form of white excellence that comes from extensive education and experience with a certain aesthetic. It also prioritizes assimilation. When it comes to Jon, I am certain this is NOT purposeful, in fact, I think it often comes from wanting get work of POCs out there and give voice to them. But what it has taught me as an artist who has now come into her own is that when you "move fast and break things" and your artistic vision is to work with POCs, usually the things that get broken are those POCs' experience in the room.
- Want to second the John Tracy (Theatre First) situation. In workshop, he wanted to create a space to talk about abstract issues and solutions but it always felt like what he really wanted us to talk about BIPOC experiences. Except, he wanted to hear certain narratives that he had crafted w a YT male lens.... I don't believe he intended this at all, I don't believe it was malicious and I appreciate TheatreFirst being vocal about racial justice. But it felt to me that John Tracy had some unchecked biases, took up too much space to lead these conversations as director-figure. + yeah, he definitely invalidated mixed identity.
- They are very conscious about hiring POC actors. But one opportunity for learning - in MARGARET OF ANJOU, they fed into racial stereotypes and cast the one Asian male actor in the cast to play the ineffectual, weak Henry.
- POC people are not interchangeable. I realize this is a small org with good intent AND maybe you shouldn’t do the show if you can only hire some that is the “playable ethnicity.”
- I wasn’t sure I was going to post this but I did a show at Town Hall and I think it was their first show with an all-asian cast. For tech dinner (which I appreciate any free food) they got us Chinese chicken salad and chow mein...it definitely surprised myself and a few of the other cast members and made us feel weird. Like, what? Good intentions, poorly executed.
- I am a white artist who auditioned for a jet role for WSS, I was told to join the men on the shark side of the room because apparently I wasn't as white as the other men in the room. I was then called back for chino and then being told while I was not dark enough to play chino *but* I could play an ensemble shark. I was fresh out of high school and was a stupid, ignorant kid who just wanted to be in the show but I was complicit in this casting decision by accepting the role. They had me dye my hair black to look Puerto Rican and I am often told that I am “ethnically ambiguous” by other white actors because I am portuguesse and “can pass for latino”. No I do not.
- I am a white artist who was cast in their production of the King and I. We were told specifically not to use make-up darker than our natural tone, and were told not to use any winged eyeliner (good call). However, we were all required to dye our hair black or wear a wig for the show. They were “careful” to avoid any yellow-face issues, but it was bad that so many non-Thai actors were cast in Thai roles in the first place.
- I was asked to play a Jewish character in a theatre class at Cal, and one of the lines was a character referencing my character's curly hair (the line was something like, 'your hair, it's so...exotic.'). I'm a super white biish with stick straight hair, and I was being asked to play a character being discriminated against for their looks--associated with a different ethnic group. And I mentioned that I felt kind of uncomfortable portraying them to the teacher, who just told me to use a curling iron before doing my scene in class. I just felt super gross about the whole thing. It's not quite the same as black or brown face, but it felt...bad
- Remember at Cal when they threaten to “blacklist” actors for a year if they don’t accept a role? They split a role based on a real life Black nurse into two separate characters, added a white nurse, and then threatened to blacklist the two actors in the roles if they didn’t accept it? Heart of Spain was all wrong. ALL WRONG. I accept the fact that I really should have backed out from the role. Not only was this director repeatedly problematic,our department turned a blind eye to it, despite them knowing his history of abuse of power. Also, casting brown folks as Spaniards and the white folks as American…?
- Perhaps the worst theater experience ever. The corners many of us were pushed into (either forcibly, like with the blacklisting policy, or because we simply didn't know better). The casting effectively homogenized all brown people into a singular identity, or belittled our stories to uphold white saviors. And there was little patience from the higher ups for our many varying criticisms that we did in fact try to air in the room.
- In 2016, in an advanced acting class a white student told me my accent was getting in the way of storytelling. I was performing a monologue from King John by Shakespeare
- In 2010, they mounted the play ISHI THE LAST OF THE YAHI as part of their season. Written by a white playwright. Please Google/read about the play itself - it’s horrifying and I don’t want to put it here. Actively protested by the Native/Indigenous communities. The cast had no Indigeneous actors. The story itself was centered on the white male anthropologist Kroeber. Actively showed on stage violence against Native/Indigeouns characters. Was forced to watch for class assignment. And the response from faculty and leadership was to get defensive and not listen to the very real concerns and complaints.
- Oh my word, where do I begin with TDPS. (I am bolding #3 because goddamn!!) In an already horrifically triggering scene about being female army veterans talking about rape experiences, my cis-male scene partners were yelled at by the Director to stalk us (myself and another femme scene partner) “like we were Bitches.” We had been blocked to be crouching on the floor, caged by metal chairs, while receiving this triggering language. No care to our wellbeing was ever addressed in that moment or later on. In another instance, the Director, who scripted the piece in “verbatim theater” style (using the words taken from interview transcripts with actual Cal veterans) paid no regard to the racial representation of the cast or in assigning very culturally specific texts to the actors. When text in the script originally spoken by a Latina veteran went to my White castmate (I was the only Latinx in the cast) and she spoke up in protest, the Director argued against it with a tone of belittlement for nearly 20 minutes, before conceding with “fine, do whatever you want, I just don’t think that kind of thing is important to the story.”
- From an email by a former acting professor. (For context: All I did was ask for a letter of rec, attached my personal statement for grad schools as requested. In that statement, I reflected on the general influence of white elitism in UCB’s department. This professor, clearly, read my statement and what follows was their response): “When I asked you to choose your own monologue and scene, why did you choose Caucasian playwrights? I try so hard not to take things personally, but I have to confess to being a little worn out with being called out for cultural insensitivity in a general wash aimed at UCB and the world at large. Please … Have you considered how many scenes and monologues I found for people last year alone that were by playwrights of color? Have you considered the problems of finding scenes for a class in which Latinx people want to explore texts written for Latinx actors but don’t want to be “typed” as Latinx and do not want to see non-Latinx students in those roles? Have you considered how difficult it is to find twenty-one scenes for fourteen people of varied ethnicities in different combinations over the course of a semester giving each student the opportunity to portray a character that reflects their specific ethnic heritage in the context of a scene with a partner who should also be given the chance to play a character of her/his/their ethnic heritage? Have you considered that a teacher who is trying to accomplish “inclusion and excellence” in her/his/ their curriculum faces the challenge of giving both students in three scenes an acting challenge specifically chosen for that individual student in the context of a scene that reflects both students' ethnic heritages? Please consider the make-up of your class alone, and consider the mathematical difficulties of working this out. Ever try to find a scene between a Vietnamese person and a Latiinx (or a many other ethnic mixtures) that is about four minutes long and challenges both student's specific acting challenges? Add to the equation that many scenes shouldn’t be assigned because one group or another would consider the material insulting and/or politically incorrect. If so, PLEASE send me those texts or tell me where to find more of them! On a slightly different issue … I’m also a little discouraged by needing to explain to people that the job of an acting teacher is to awaken in the student new depths of empathy for ALL PEOPLE and help the student acquire the skills that will enable them to awaken greater empathy FOR ALL PEOPLE in audiences. Where are the edges of “cultural appropriation” in this context? I don’t expect you to write an essay on any of this, but please consider that many of us are trying to do our very best in complicated times. I read many, many plays each semester looking for the right material for my students. I am deeply saddened by the implication that you feel I have not tried my best to give you the sort of training you wanted. And, why on earth, given the entire cannon of modern/contemporary drama, DID you choose to do a monologue by a dead white guy?” Why did I do it???? WHY DIDN’T I DO THEIR JOB???
- During Chavez Ravine, I heard another white classmate say “Let Them have Their show” in addition to various criticisms from white students upset that they were going to miss out on being cast in a mainstage show because it was the Brown Play.
- Acting faculty (most of whom are ACT faculty!!!!) had NO CLUE as to how to “deal” with their POC student actors in my time there.
- 2017 - An African American actress was cast in the role of Bloody Mary over an Asian American actress. Yes, because BIPOC are interchangable, I guess. (*I second this note.*)
- Auditions-hip hop and salsa taught by white women. In the Heights cast had white people in the ensemble, overall major lack of diversity within the company that is led by all white people.
- Might we forget when they felt the need to create another set of leads for Oklahoma, because they cast a Black man as Judd and a white man as Curly. Their remedy was to cast a second Judd as white (the director…) and a Black man as Curly.
- I was in flower drum song 2004 and they put their both their sons in the ensemble because equity weeks (?) but did they really have to give them features? One just walked on and delivered lines as the “stage manager” did nothing else in the ensemble, and the other got to do the Chinese opera dance. In full costume.
- Same production of FDS… Mei li played by El Salvadoran American.
- Same production.. witnessed fellow Asian auditioners asked by old white male director and AD (since deceased, though company still run by his family) if they were brothers. You can probably guess that they looked nothing alike other than similar shade of skin.
- While watching their production of In the Heights, Harriet comes out to do the pre-show speech. She has by her side a Latina member of the cast. Harriet introduces her as their “token Dominican in the cast”. She then proceeds to do the speech while having said cast member to translate in Spanish. Woodminster is probably the most problematic company in the Bay Area.
- I was in the ensemble of Beauty and the Beast for Woodminster. The company had recently done a musical that required a Black ensemble and the company generally casts the same people for its entire season, so it turned out there were like 5 or 6 Black women in the ensemble of this show. 5 or 6 Black women in a show not dealing with race is way more Black people than one usually finds in shows that aren't "Black shows." Anyway, there's this big ensemble number in the show, and probably most companies who do the show utilize the entire ensemble for that number. Well, this company decided to have everybody in the number except for all of the Black women and one White woman. So during the blocking of this number, all of the Black women and the one White woman sat off to the side for a couple of hours watching everybody else rehearse. It felt so strange. I kept thinking, now I know what my parents felt like growing up in the segregated south. It was the strangest feeling. One cast member (a White male) came over to us and said, "This really doesn't look right." Well, it didn't feel right either. That night after rehearsal, I couldn't sleep. I couldn't sleep because I knew I couldn't let it go. The next day, I went to talk to the white director (Jodi) about it. The conversation did not go well. It ended with Jodi telling me she wasn't going to let me "play the race card" with her and me dropping out of the show, knowing that meant I'd probably never get to work with Woodminster again. Since I didn't trust the director Jodi, I went a couple of days later to talk to the artistic director of the company (Harriet). I told her what happened and she told me Jodi gave her a different story. Apparently she told her that I had said there was racism at the dance audition. I didn't even go to the dance audition (which had taken place months earlier)! Anyway after my talk with Harriet, that evening at rehearsal, all the Black women (and the one White woman who had been left out) were put into the number. So a change was made which is good news. During our talk, Harriet seemed to understand the issue (although during our talk, she did say that anytime they do “Black” shows, there’s always trouble and she said her daughter Jodi can’t be racist because she cheered with Black cheerleaders in high school).
- Unfortunately, years later, I started a letter-writing campaign after I noticed that Woodminster had cast a Black actor as the villain in their show (Oklahoma) and a White actor as the hero. One of the people who wrote Woodminster shared Harriet’s response to her email with me. The email was full of lies that Harriet made up about me in an effort to distract from the fact that their casting practices perpetuate racism. That year, a Black employee of Woodminster showed up on my Facebook post about the company excoriating me for calling them out. It seems to be playbook that whenever I express concern about a theater perpetuating stereotypes or committing racist acts, one of their Black friends or employees tries to discredit me and talk me down.
- In the Heights 2018:
- Jodi Jodi Jodi…..There were more than a few very uncomfortable interactions between Black/POC cast members and Jodi, which usually involved offhand comments made in order to….I don’t know, be edgy? One comment I remember her making was when choreographing the Club scene, she said something about dressing “like Black people when they go to church on Sundays” and turned to one of the few Black cast members and asked “they still do that right?” Another time she put a white ensemble cast member in for the Club scene and said something along the lines of “oh people don’t like when we do that anymore huh, but white people can dance too!” She’d always make sure to follow up comments with “it’s okay I grew up in Oakland”. Honestly they need to do better in a lot of areas, but getting people in leadership positions who are not just part of the same (white) family would be a start.
- I am a white/middle eastern actress (long story short, i struggle with my identity plenty) who attended an audition workshop for this company, run by members and friends of the company. When they were helping me put together "the best audition" they said I should sing something from In The Heights for their production of On Your feet. Both Shows are explicitly about Latinx characters. When I responded with "I'm not comfortable with portraying a racial specific character that isn't my own" I was met with these responses:
"Well honey, might as well be you, because they wont be able to find enough to fill the whole cast"
"But being ethnically ambiguous is so versatile"
And from Harriet herself, "You know what you just told me about your casting? You are just not a team player."
It made me sick, huge waste of money. Also if you paid for this workshop you were put in the front of the line for auditions. not conductive to diversifying your casting pool. can't believe equity hasn't shut this down yet.
- After weeks of misogynistic conversation and belittling in the workplace during a build for a production, there happened to be a “miscommunication” around working dates and time requested off that was acknowledged by the scenic designer, Nathaniel Card. Half of my final pay was withheld with no prior notice given and no room for communication around the matter. Some time later I was accused of breaking into the workshop to steal tools and smear feces on accessible surfaces under the assumption that I might be upset over the wage theft. Though there was a security camera showcasing a large, older male and I am both female-bodied and small - I was later told the false accusations occurred because we all kind of look the same...which led me to assuming this scenic designer was speaking directly to my race (Black). I was eventually left a voicemail apology specifically asking not to respond or speak about the incident to let sleeping dogs lay. Very upsetting, blatantly racist, and unprofessional. This designer now specifically seeks out women of color to work for him to virtue signal on social media.
- 2018-Broadway by the Bay produces Aida with only 2 black people. To this day, they continue to whitewash and have all white casts, then getting defensive with the “no one shows up” excuse.
- As a black woman I just want to be clear that casting any Non-Black POC as Nubians in Aida is inappropriate and wrong. Just as wrong as it would be to cast a black woman as Kim in Miss Saigon. POC ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE.
- 2019 - all-white cast of “Into the Woods”
- + The internal email the cast received from Alicia Jeffrey over the Into the Woods backlash had a VERY different tone than the public statement they put out. People feel muuuuuch safer tone policing brown/black people behind closed doors. Here’s a few passages:
- “Casting is about the people who show up and want to be a part of the process. If you don’t show interest, I’m not chasing you.” VS THE PUBLIC STATEMENT “We plan to (and have already begun to) have a conversation with our POC community to work on enhancing our talent recruitment process so that we ensure POC artists are always a part of our casting and callback process.” So...which was it, then?
- “I will not cast someone because of the color of their skin - Black, White, Brown, or Otherwise. I don’t think that advances the cause of inclusive casting - talent must be a factor. Period. All of you are stellar artists who chose to be considered for this product. It pains me that someone we are being singled out for being “white” before any acknowledgement of your talent. There is certainly a battle to fight for representation in theatre, but they (THEY WHO, GIRL?) have turned their weapons on an ally. I have responded to some of the comments, but may not anymore. I usually don’t reach down to engage in charges dialog on social but this has infuriated me, so I did.”
- I was offered a role in Aida that I decided to turn down. When I saw the cast list barely included black people and said something to multiple people they all responded “well you turned it down” as if I’m the only black actress in the bay that could’ve been cast.
- 2018 was my first extremely positive experience with BBBAY. The cast of Sister Act was diverse and I never had an issue as a POC in this cast. The environment was mostly positive save for a few artistic conflicts regarding set and tech, nothing too unusual. The individual I want to call out is Bay Area costume designer Bethany Deal. She has treated all of her actors, especially POC, like absolute garbage. I’ve experienced it firsthand and seen how she treats POC women, and then subsequently fetishizes POC men. She acts inappropriately at all theatre related functions-getting belligerently drunk and loud and never being held accountable for her actions. Imagine if a POC woman behaved this way. She would be labeled as “loud”, “problematic”, “inappropriate”, and likely lose her job and be “cancelled” from the Bay Area theatre scene. Specifically during the process of Sister Act, she came in once in the beginning to do fittings, and then disappeared for the entire run of the show leaving our AMAZING costume assistant to do virtually all of the work. When she decided to come in one day during a tech/dress, she completely disrespected our female lead, a Black woman, critiquing her inability to just “do the quick change faster” and barking orders at all of the volunteers helping with costumes backstage, creating a stressful and hostile environment. I have heard multiple accounts relating to how she behaves in many different theatre company settings and it seems to follow the same formula. Bethany needs to finally be held accountable for her behaviors relating to POC actors (especially female POC) and crew members.
- Their production of Miss Saigon from a few years ago had 2 Latinx women playing Vietnamese bar girls. One of them was also the understudy for Kim.
- ^^^ And a white director and white choreographer for Miss Saigon. The show was filled with cultural insensitivities. No cultural consultant was listed in the program. I cringed through the whole performance.
- I am an APIA performer. Several years ago when they produced MISS SAIGON, I told the artistic director that I was interested in auditioning for Ellen and noted that on Broadway, producers had shifted to casting the role and/or her understudy Asian. I explained how that specific casting made the story richer, as an Asian Ellen held a mirror up for Kim. With Ellen being the same race as Kim, she more painfully represented the life that Kim wanted. The AD proceeded to tell me that she didn’t see it and that the role was really a “white role,” and she discouraged me from auditioning.
- When they were called out for their all white cast of Into The Woods, Broadway By The Bay publicly put out statements about supporting diversity and engaging in dialogue with the POC community to do better. In their internal communications with the cast, however, they downplayed what was going on as an overreaction and not a real issue. When I asked one of their actors how they were doing with the problematic attention, he flippantly replied "Oh we're just fine. People are making such a big deal." His answer suggests minimal recognition of the problem within the organization and a missed opportunity to break down the US vs. THEM mentality.
- I had posted my story already, but I want to include the FULL receipt, if that's okay.
When BBB did an all white production of into the woods, they released a very diplomatic statement saying that they "have begun to have a conversation with members of the POC community to work on enhancing their talent recruitment process so that they ensure POC artist are always a part of their casting and callback process. HOWEVER, the internal email that was sent to the cast had a VERY different tone. Here it is in its entirety, written by Alicia Jeffrey. I'll be sharing some comments via parentheses.
"Tonight's posting of our cast photo has ignited a firestorm on FB from POC, as our cast appears "all white". I am absolutely shocked at the hateful language used by people who know better. (TONE POLICING POC)
Brian Palac (villainizing a POC speaking up for equality) seems to have posted the first comment - ironic since he declined multiple callbacks for this show. (Just plain bitter and mean) I want you all to understand my philosophy here:
1. Casting is about the people who show up and want to be a part of the process, If you don't show interest, I am not chasing you. (Interesting, because in your public statement you said you're working to enhance your recruitment process.)
2. I am 100% in favor of non-traditional casting. We have done that many times this year in our productions of Joseph and Grease particularly and have had very diverse casts for many years. (ahh, the old "I have a black/brown friend so I can't be racist" excuse)
3. I will not cast someone because of the color of their skin. Black, White, Brown or otherwise. I don't think that advances the cause of inclusive casting - talent must be a factor. Period. (I can't even begin with this one...)
All of you are stellar artists who chose to be considered for this product. It pains me that someone we are being singled out for being "white" before any acknowledgement of your talent. There is certainly a battle to fight for representation in theatre, but they (THEY who, girl??) have turned their weapons on an ally (are you an ally? really? because this sounds like a lot of white guilt and defensive fragility). I have responded to some of the comments, but may not anymore. I usually don't reach down to engage in charges dialogue on social, but this has infuriated me, so I did.
I'm very sorry that this theatre community that bangs the drum for inclusivity has suddenly turned so hateful without ANY CONTEXT. (ONCE AGAIN TONE POLICING POC) I am insanely proud of this cast and production - and if anyone has anything to say, my door is open. I welcome a direct conversation with anyone who has concerns, but I can't fight it in the Facebook area....
Here to talk if anyone would like to....
- When BBB did Hairspray the entire ensemble who was supposed to represent POC were Asian.
- I was doing a show for Half Moon Bay Shakespeare when a fellow cast member told me to introduce myself to a man who was directing “The Lion In Winter” at Coastal Rep. The cast mate said he was the director you wanted to work with if you wanted to be pushed. I was excited when he came over to chat. When we went to shake hands , I felt a pain in my forearm as he twisted the handshake so his hand was on top. He then cupped his free hand underneath. The entire conversation, he did not let go. Safe to say I was not interested in working with him, but the kicker was when he went to talk with a white, male cast member, he didn’t twist their arm.
- I was in a new works production of “Caeneus and Poseidon” I was the lead character being a genderfulid latinx person who identifies as being thicc and proud. I was surprised I got this role because I don’t fit the stereotype lead or stereotype vision of what it means to be a greek trans demigod, but I was happy and proud of myself to get such a role. The issue was I was the only queer and trans person in the cast. Also for publication the ads for the show was a stock image of a thin white woman and man washed out by the ocean. I was told they got the postcards and posters made before casting so there was nothing they could do about it. I was one of 3 POC’s that were cast as leads. I was constantly misgendered and made aware of my differences. When I spoke out and address the issues I had of not feeling safe in the rehearsal process with the white cis director Amy Crumpacker (now changed to Amy Turningbrook) she provided empty promises of change. It got to the point where she removed me from the room during rehearsals where I needed to be a part of. I was the lead and practically in every scene, but she got tired of me correcting and calling her out on things that made me feel “othered” and not respected that she removed me from rehearsals. This got the casts attention and we had a huge production meeting to address her conflict she was having with me and in turn everyone else. I spoke my truth in that meeting and asked why she wouldn’t talk to me anymore, why she wouldn’t let me be in the room anymore, why I wasn’t being acknowledged or looked in the eye by her anymore and she stated, “I’m afraid of you! I can’t interact with you because I’m afraid of you and people like you.” I will never forget these words. I went into a panic attack and felt my true “otherness” in that moment. From my skin color, to my gender identity, to my queerness, and to my Latinx background. I felt like I was the problem… There was a choice of whether to cancel the show and have the cast be disappointed in me for making that choice after months of rehearsal and work, or have Amy fired and continue with the show if I promise to keep quiet. I continued with the show being it was my first actual lead role in my acting career after graduating college. I didn’t want to disappoint the other cast members who were supportive/ needed to get paid… I didn’t want to put my career in jeopardy. I sacrificed my feelings of pain to continue with a show that was the worst theatre experience of my life.
- I too have had the horrible misfortune of working with Amy Crumpacker and can affirm the above statement, although it was not with Dragon. This person should really be reviewed before being hired. Her language habits towards POC’s is shocking. She is not a person that can take respectful feedback. In fact, she has a tendency to become alarmingly hostile especially to those she does not deem to have power in the world of theater, ie POC!
- When being called out for their lack of support to the black community I was responded with, “Please also note that though I have the dubious privilege of passing as white, I am a Turkish immigrant who moved to the United States 20 years ago, right before 9/11. And I don't particularly appreciate the way you have been educating me about POCs when I have not seen you engage with any of the work we have been doing with the Dragon since Alika and I took the helms last year.”
- I’m fully aware I look white and am white presenting to theater companies. I was the only mixed race/poc in a production and I made it know that I am ALL about my Filipino/Hawaiian heritage and voice it daily. I was in a production and the costume designer refused to fix my jeans since they didn’t fully fit. They didn’t button. She told me to stop “eating rice” instead of just making a new pair. When telling others white actors about this, most of them were silent. Two were angry with me but said costume designer still works all over the bay.
- It was the after party of a production of Twelfth Night. The director's parents said me and the Viola looked exactly alike that it was uncanny. I'm a full 6 inches taller than her and I'm mixed while she is full Vietnamese. Also, we were the only Asians at the callbacks and I knew either both of us were getting in or neither. The show was also double cast and no one made mention of the other Sebastian/ Viola combo looking soooo alike (looked nothing alike)
- In 2017, after the TBA Generals, Half Moon Bay Shakespeare reached out to me to audition for their Romeo and Juliet, which (if I recall correctly) was to be done approximately 50% in Spanish and set in Mexico. I don’t speak Spanish, and am Filipino.
- West Side Story - blatant casting of non POC in clearly POC roles. The director has a history of being dismissive to POC so not surprising, and Hillbarn has had its share of all white casts (their whole staff is white too).
- Stopped auditioning. They don’t cast black actors in anything but black-specific roles/shows.
- Hunchback of Notre Dame - casted white actress for Esmeralda
- To clarify: they flew in someone from NYC for esmeralda. That's how far they'll go to cast friends over BIPOC
- During the 2011 conservatory summer at Hillbarn, they decided for the teen show to do The Wiz when the majority of the students who sign up are either white or Asian.
- In To Kill A Mockingbird, the AD couldn’t find any POC, so some of the artistic staff had to find them, but they still were missing characters. One of them was the preacher and they asked a female poc to play him.
- During Legally Blonde there were only two POC.
When Hillbarn did Sister Act, the artistic director didn’t really bother looking for a POC for sweaty Eddie. When he failed, he ended up using the choreographer who is white. There were only two black people in the cast and to make it worse, the understudy for Deloris was also white. In fact the entire production team was white except for the sound designer and the costume designer who were both Asian.
- In the summer conservatory show, Thoroughly Modern Millie, the actors who play Bun Foo and Ching Ho were played by white actors, and the director asked a white female staff member and a white male staff member to switch off playing the mother at the end of the show.
- During Hunchback, caring staff members objected to using a white woman for the role of Esmeralda in which the AD ignored and did what he wanted.
- When they did Mamma Mia, the director who happened to be the Artistic Director stated, “This is the most POC Mamma Mia in the Bay Area” when Sky was Asian and the Sophie was Latina. The rest of the cast was white.
- The AD tends to cast all white, but give one or two token POC role. Especially in the shows he has directed. Since he has taken over Hillbarn in 2014, he has chosen primarily white shows including White Christmas, Fiddler on the Roof, A Christmas Carol, Mary Poppins, Legally Blonde and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (which he directed and starred in).
- Let's start with the blatant fact that of the full time workers at Hillbarn, only ONE is a person of color. There is close to zero representation for people of color at Hillbarn tin the shows they produce. And anytime I was cast in a production for them, I was cast as the token colored character (and half the time it didn't even encompass my actual race)
- Theater companies need to STOP doing shows with racist plot lines. As white allies, we also need to carefully consider which shows we choose to do, both as cast members and those in leadership roles. Last year’s production of Anything Goes was not handled well. For those who are unaware, it has a super racist plot line against Chinese people. Here’s some of what went down:
- - First mistake was choosing to do a show with a extremely racist plot line that can’t simply be cut out. Then not creating a fully fleshed out plan for how to handle it or hiring a cultural consultant to help.
- - Leaving it up to the white director to come up with a plan to “fix” it. The plan was never fully communicated to everyone in the show. We just sort of danced around the topic.
- - Casting Asian actors in the racist stereotype roles without explicitly telling them they’d be playing the parts. They didn’t find out until a scene breakdown was sent out and it was too late to reasonably withdraw from the show without potentially jeopardizing their future with the company.
- - Thinking that changing China to a fake Asian-sounding country would do the trick and then leaving pretty much all other racist elements in until members of the cast pushed to remove them.
- - Not including POC actors in all conversations about how to address the issues in the show.
- - Some White cast members spoke up, but most did not. Those of us that did could have done more. Too much burden was placed on the POC actors to speak up.
- In their production of West Side Story a few years ago, they cast two white women to play Anita and Maria
- YES. I saw this production and was extremely confused. They were VERY white, not even Latinx-passing. But my question is how does someone feel comfortable accepting a role they are clearly not right for?
- Attended callbacks for a show in 2019. There were dozens of actors in the room, at least 40-50, and I was the only non-white-presenting actor in the room.
- Won’t say what show as to not incriminate myself, but they wouldn’t even call me in for a callback for a certain show bc of the setting and time period the show takes place in, and I am a black artist, This was fairly recent and if you look at the cast it was all white with maybe 1 Asian in the ensemble.
- Their production of "All The Way" was fraught with challenges, many created by the director Peter Allas. The show itself is about LBJ's first year in office after JFK is killed and has maybe 50-70 characters, most of whom are white male politicians of the era along with MLK Jr., black activists, and more. The show alone prescribes such an imbalance of race within the cast. The production team was all white men except one. There were likely more instances than these two, but during a production meeting when trying to describe the kind of music Peter wanted for the show he said, "Well, it would have been colored music." Another time, the costumes for the actress who was double cast as Fannie Lou Hamer and Coretta Scott King was being discussed. Vying for verisimilitude with the historic Fannie Lou Hamer, Peter began commenting on the actresses weight and chest suggesting that the white male costumer needed to give her "bigger, heavier breasts" and gesticulating what that meant. By no means was his manner not objectifying a black woman's body.
- Players' Bright Star in 2019 had a cast of 19, and the only non-white cast members were 3 men of color in the ensemble, which felt very "token." All leads (which included their precast managing director), featured, named roles were white actors.
- Palo Alto's Into the Woods, a show many BIPOC dream of being part of because it takes place in a fairytale world and can be composed of all colors of people, only had 2 POC in some of the smallest roles in the cast-the most ensemble roles, again feeling "token." The only other casting of note was The Witch who was also a POC, but she was the artistic director's wife and was precast. To say this was a true opportunity for any POC is debatable to say the least. There were numerous POC at auditions/callbacks.
- Palo Alto's 2017 Spamalot was all white except for 2 Laker Girl ensemble. There is a definite trend at the company for many of the big musicals to have all white leads/named roles, with just 2 or 3 "token" POC in the ensemble, and a related trend there to only cast POC in roles of substance in shows that demand/require it-In the Heights, Flower Drum Song, Allegiance.
- I just want to add to the comment about Hillbarn Theatre re:Anything Goes - The idea to change the country name came from me, an Asian. There has never been any misconception that doing so would “fix everything.” I don’t know anything about the casting side, though, and agree that discussion with the Asian actors prior should have happened.
- AD Rush Rehm doesn’t cast POC in shows unless the text specifically calls for it. I worked with SRT during their summer repertory for two years as a stage manager/stagehand and technician (I was a student at the time); my first year, the casts of the shows were overwhelmingly white, with the exception of roles that called specifically for Black actors. Rush made extensive and unreasonable demands of the stage management team, all of whom were students, 2/3 of whom were POC. I only came back for a second year specifically because I knew that Rush would be out of town that summer, and a different director (who I had worked with in the past) would be helming the season as Acting AD. My second year was markedly better but the TAPS department was understaffed at the time, so I was not given adequate time or resources to do my job. I was tasked with reconfiguring the theater’s lighting plot, but as the cast rehearsed six to eight-hour days in the space, I had to come into the theater/rehearsal space after rehearsal hours, staying late and adjusting the lighting grid entirely by myself. In recent years, SRT has been more closely affiliated with Stanford’s TAPS department, so the concerns about understaffing might be less pressing, but as far as I can tell Rush Rehm’s unchecked misogyny and regular microaggressions toward POC (especially students of color) seem to be pretty pervasive.
- Moby Dick, Rehearsed is a play they did in Summer 2014 - basically, the cast of King Lear decides they want to work on Moby Dick instead. Pip, the African-American cabin boy, was played by a white appearing woman, and spoke in that old school Steven Foster style dialect
- I was cast as one of the TWO token BIPOC characters in a play. This play was a HEAVILY white story line and included offensive language like “if it wasn’t for the food, I would like the Chinese,” and similar things. I was oftentimes corrected by and given notes from a fellow actor (who played the lead and was a white man). He once walked all the way across the theatre to my dressing room to give me a note on something that had accidentally happened on stage. He then turned to my dressing room mate, a white woman, and exchanged pleasantries with her. He left without acknowledging me again.
- In this same production: my being cast was “financially justified” by my being an actor and a crew member. I was paid significantly less than every other actor on stage and did more manual labor. Almost all of my blocking included my putting jackets on for white people, handing white people drinks and food, and catering to the white male actors.
- Also in this same production: There was a line in the play in which the term “light skinned” was used as a comparison between two white men. During our table read I brought up the connotation of that term in the Black community so that the other actors in the room would be aware of the words coming out of their mouth and how it might feel to Black audience members when they hear it (speaking from personal experience as a light skinned Black woman - I hated that the term was used this way). The same actor who liked to give me notes then went on a 5 minute rant about how I was “reading into the text wrong. It wasn’t about race. That’s not the point of the conversation the characters are having. It’s not relevant to the scene. It’s not racist, and how I was accusing the characters of being racist.” The characters were based on actual HISTORICAL FIGURES who were racist.
- Previous artistic director constantly mixed up BIPOC actors’ names.
- Was in a show where the BIPOC played supporting roles and were told to stand in the back during curtain call.
- During one of their rotating POC slot plays, I was told by the casting director that if I didn’t take the understudy job instead of going with another offer, she would tell the AD about me and it would be hard for me to work at that company again. I took the job and have never worked there again. All the BIPOC actors were from out of town while the understudies were local.
- Rehearsing student written shows, I pointed out that the drug dealer was played by the ONLY black man in the pool of actors.
- I was an intern at TheatreWorks in 2010-11. I am white passing. I asked the dramaturg if steps were being taken to diversify the casting pool and she said "We do one non-white play a year!" and I looked at the schedule for that year and said ".....I only see white plays here?" and she said "Oh well there is a Black character in the Christmas show and we did a whole Jewish play earlier in the season. We're very proud of how diverse we are." That and the fact that from what I could see, the Casting director had two drawers full of white actors headshots and only a single binder for all POC put together made me never want to work there or see their shows again. I have other stories about anti-semitism, sexism, and general terribleness that I could share but they're not really mine.
- Cast some non-Black POC and even a White woman to play the Black ensemble roles in Ragtime. I guess there's some slight chance she had Black heritage, but she was so White presenting (very fair skin with dyed black curly hair), I'd be very surprised. Either way, it was super uncomfortable.
- has cast a white man to play a Cuban (Anna in the Tropics)
- Anna in the Tropics. The director wanted to keep all the Spanish. The artistic director at the time said that keeping the Spanish in a play about first generation Cuban Americans, would turn off audiences, and made the director cut it.
- The role of Chief in Cuckoo's Nest was played by a white man of Norwegian descent. The director still defends that choice, and does not understand why it was harmful.
- Cast a white man to play a Latinx character (Between Riverside and Crazy). Also did a production of Escanaba in the Moonlight and cast a young white woman as the only Native Character. The cast members suggested making a change to the script because of this (just a few lines). The director/artistic director disregarded this.
- I’m not a BIPOC, but feel the need to share that I was called in to read for Amir in “Disgraced” for this company. The character is of Pakistani / South Asian descent. I am clearly - CLEARLY - a white, very fair-skinned caucasian man. I didn’t go.
- Cast a white passing Latin actor to play a Native American character. News flash, BIPOC are NOT interchangeable.
- Their leadership are posting support for cops/defending cops.
- Can we talk about how they decided that their “ugly” witch in Into The Woods was going to have salt and pepper dreads, before “transforming” into BEAUTIFUL blonde hair? Super tone-deaf, but the white audience loved it.
- A Black friend of mine found a note on the floor written by a white stage manager saying (something along the lines of) she was “not good, didn’t know how to take direction, and should be fired.” (Please feel free to correct me. I am recounting a story I was told.)
- When they produced Midsummer last year with an (almost) all Black cast, supposedly set in “Africa” (country not specified ever) that was directed by a white woman. The AD of the company later at a party told someone “you should come see this show, it’s our first show ever with a POC only cast.”
- I saw “Measure for Measure”, the show before “Midsummer”, where they were advertising the show and referred to it as “our first show with a non-white cast” which ruined me for the show I was watching because that ALREADY had a lot of really REALLY problematic elements. They were just SO PROUD of themselves.
- This company is beyond unprofessional. Something very, very off about the way these white folks are so damn proud of saving Black men in prison while simultaneously bad mouthing their Black actors behind the scenes for having the *audacity* to speak up about cultural appropriation, ill-conceived concepts of “Africa” as a general “theme”, “brown-blind” or sorry “non-white” casting as they said. I’m pretty sure Rob is just drunk half the time when he’s making curtain speeches about the “non-whites.” Not to mention the sexual harassment allegations that have been swept under the rug year after year. This isn’t including the way they enable their older, white male audience members to grab, grope, smell and even LICK THE SHOULDERS of their young, often straight out of high school femme-presenting ushers and “hospitality ninjas.” I am ASTOUNDED that this place is an Equity house. CANCEL THEM.
- In regards to the production of Midsummer, the director (a white woman) told the audience before the show that she was nervous because she didn’t think a POC cast could handle/do a Shakespeare play. She tried to play it off as a joke but as black female actress I was very offended and upset.
- Lesley Currier told me to come straight to Midsummer callbacks because “the theme is people of color”. I did not go.
- Was a member of a predominantly Black cast and one of 2 Brown actors (this whole production was messy) but the Pilipinx bodies in the room were not seen as different, but a part of this world “inspired by Africa”
- Did their generals a couple years back. In addition to performing a monologue, people were asked to prepare a special skill (dancing, singing, instrument, etc.) Since I arrived early, I saw white actors going in and most of them sang. When it was my go, I performed my monologue and was promptly dismissed afterwards. Every person before and after me were asked to do their skill. Not me. Only POC of the 6 I saw
- Was invited to callbacks for Love’s Labour’s Lost and Three Musketeers. I was the only POC in the room for most of the day and they couldn’t remember my name and kept mispronouncing it. I was kept almost the entire day waiting to read while watching several white actors read multiple times.
- Calling out their production of Much Ado About Nothing a few years back. There were two BIPOC in a cast of white people in a show set in Appalachia in the mid-1800s. When director Robert Currier was asked during first rehearsal how race might play into the show, he replied "well, I think we can assume that to these people it doesn't matter." Benedick was a black, formerly incarcerated man, and Hero was a young Filipinx woman with an all-white family. Claudio was a white man 20ish years older. Very uncomfortable to see that shit play out.
- Was in a show where the title role of Othello was played by a black actor, who had been previously incarcerated. During a note session the director, Robert Currier, said to the actor- “there’s a line about how you’d rather go to prison than do that, etc etc. You gotta give the audience a little nod or a wink when you say that because they all know your story. You have to acknowledge it.” The actor was very quiet and finally said later that he would not be doing that. Robert responded by saying “I’m the director.” Another actor chimed in to say why that felt hurtful and before she could finish her sentence Robert responded by saying “When you’re directing the show, you can give the notes. But I’m the director here and this is my show.”
- Same production as above, every single night of the show, the director or managing director gave a preshow speech about how amazing this actor was who had just gotten out of prison, how much the audience was going to be so amazed at how good he was for not having any experience and then an endless stream of white savior pattings on the back. “ We took a chance on this guy. Our board thought we were insane. Everybody thought we were crazy. Look at us now.” Those were some of the ACTUAL words he said.
- I am still ashamed to admit that I was in their production of Midsummer Night’s Dream years ago which was set in HAWAII with a predominantly white cast. 2 actors of color in very small roles. The director said the setting was going to be like the George Clooney movie “The Descendants”....
- Their recent production of Measure for Measure had two POC actors in it, one playing a pimp and one playing a murderer.
- Witnessed this happen at an audition. An Asian actor had the last name Ho. Robert made a joke by saying “Who you calling a Ho?” When he was told by one of his auditors, (Maybe Lesley?) that what he said was not appropriate he responded by saying “This is my company, if he doesn’t think that’s funny, than maybe he’s not someone I want to work with.” That was end of that conversation. All this while the actor is just waiting to perform his audition monologue.
- A non-comprehensive, somewhat chronological list of nonsense from Marin Shakespeare Company: