JACQUELINE LAWTON: What excited you about attending TCG's 2012 Fall Forum?
AL HEARTLEY: I was excited about the chance to talk about diversity and inclusion with many leaders of the American theater. I was also particularly excited that TCG decided to invite the Young Leaders of Color who are very invested in the conversation. TCG also asked me to be a small group facilitator for the larger group conversations that we were going to have. When I looked over the curriculum, I was excited and nervous. There was a lot of ground to cover and some intimate topics that I certainly had strong opinions on. However, the nervousness was met with excitement by most that I had talked to prior Fall Forum.
JL: What were some of the common themes and challenges being addressed?
AH: One common challenge I felt people had was the idea of rhetoric vs. action. I think many people in the room had the rhetoric about why diversity is important. It was clear that the whole room could agree on specific examples and terms surrounding diversity and inclusion. What you also saw though, was clear disagreement on some issues with some people being very liberal on issues and others expressing more conservative views on diversity and inclusion. Despite the rhetoric though, I think people wondered where to go, how to go there, and I think most importantly, what was the litmus of when true diversity and inclusion occurred in the theater. The challenge wasn’t talking about diversity and inclusion (though there were issues at some tables). The challenge was looking past our own biases of what is diversity and inclusion and figure out how we can do more at our own theaters and within the field.
JL: What surprised you the most about your experience?
AH: I was surprised by how versed people were in the conversations. One exercise that we had to do was to define specific terms given to our table. The term at my table where I was the facilitator was institutional racism. I thought this was a great term to tackle, but also I was extremely nervous about it. I knew what the term meant in my eyes, but I did not think that my table would be able to tackle the term. However, this is where I was pleasantly surprised and I had to check my own biases. I had come to believe that most white people could not recognize institutional racism because they tend to be the beneficiaries of such racism. But my table, as well as others, was very adept at the various terms that were being discussed. However, it was also surprising how many people needed to start with some simple definitions. What is race? What is ethnicity? That was also surprising that people needed something that they could wrap their head around, which is a positive thing. People need to ask the question and I think that’s the central goal.
JL: When considering Models for Diversity, what does it mean to have a commitment to diversity?
AH: It means that with greatness and leadership comes trial, error, and even resentment from others. There are many who do not see diversity and inclusion as important or they see it as an attack on whiteness in favor of people of color. In other words, it is not simple and it is not easy. Instead, this kind of work takes a lot of effort and courage amongst people that want to fight for total diversity and inclusion. However, it does not take time. Something wonderful I heard at the TCG Conference was this: “Change does not take time. It takes new ideas.”
JL: Where do you see Models for Diversity working in the theatre community, whether locally, regionally or nationally? What can we learn from their efforts?
AH: One of the companies that I have looked toward in terms of Models of Diversity has been Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I have admired how they have chosen to tackle diversity and how they have approached diversity as something that should just be and not something that is forced. They also were brave enough to take the time to have the tough conversations about their organization. I also look to their diversity consultant and someone who I take a lot of my cues when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Carmen Morgan. OSF has put in place specific plans and goals when it comes to diversity and inclusion and has put the resources and investment towards equality. For instance they have a Diversity and Inclusion Planning Committee as well as an Audience Manifesto about how they will help to bring in minority communities (age, race, ability) to the theater. I look to them for tools and techniques that help to shape my own thinking.
JL: What efforts have you made, or been involved with, to foster diversity competence and understanding in your community? How were these efforts met? Do you see a change?
AH: I have recently moved from Chicago where I did some work with fellow colleagues at Steppenwolf that I worked with in the Multicultural Fellowship program. The fellowship specifically focused on bringing more people of color into arts administration. We also attempted to help strengthen diversity and inclusion in various ways at Steppenwolf. We had our own inclusion committee that worked with staff members to discuss issues of diversity at Steppenwolf. We also incorporated a Multicultural Social Hour where we would send out an invitation to artists in Chicago to come and have conversations with others in the community around an issue of diversity within the Chicago and US theater community. There was also a program that we modeled that encouraged our coworkers to support theater by minority playwrights as well as women.
Since moving to Cleveland, I am pleased to say that I am discovering a community at Cleveland Play House that has a passion for diversity and inclusion. I would say that in Cleveland I have not seen a change yet, but I have heard vocalized from leadership that diversity and inclusion is very important to them. I look forward to working on a proposal for a diversity and inclusion statement.
JL: Coming out of the TCG's 2012 Fall Forum, what goals have you set for yourself to Model the Movement?
AH: I have set a goal to keep the conversation toward action. I think that there is a lot of excitement around the topic now, which is wonderful. However, I want to see conversation turn into meaningful action so that we are not just talking about the issue constantly. But there is also a goal to keep the conversation alive and to keep the movement going. I want to continue to work with communities and theaters that have a vested interest in diversity. I want to continue to be a part of programs nationally that are finding ways to promote diversity and inclusion. Anything that I can be associated with that is action based will be important to me. I also hope to continue to train with various people about promoting diversity and inclusion.
TCG has invited those who attended the 2012 Fall Forum on Governance: Leading the Charge and those, like me, who wish they could have attended, to keep the conversation on diversity and inclusion going. They have created a public group on 2.0 called, Leading the Charge: Advancing Diversity and Inclusion. Here, you can take part in the conversation. They've even uploaded the brilliant and useful documents and resources made available at the Fall Forum, and you can even upload your own.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!