Our Commitment to Creating a Place for Inclusion and Care
Seattle Shakespeare is committed to the true diversity of classical stories, including strengthening the voice of Shakespeare’s work through conversation with a broad spectrum of artists, communities, students, and audiences.
This commitment requires us to uproot systemic harm by undertaking new practices and continually examining them. We see this as our collective and conscientious path toward relevant classical theatre, one that we hope will enrich our hearts, deepen our understanding of humanity, build connection between people and ideas, and inspire social change.
Action Plan for Inclusion & Care
We invite you to read through this living document, which will grow and change as we do.
We at Seattle Shakespeare investigate the stories of the past to inform the present and form the future. We do this through a classical theatre practice that is constantly reinvigorated by what our Vision calls “new interpretations and disruptive creativity.” We believe that Shakespeare and classical stories can have the power to speak to anyone willing to listen. Therefore, we are committed to expanding our definition of classical theatre to honor the diversity of voices that have existed for millennia and continue to exist in our communities, students, audiences, and artists. We believe the voice of Shakespeare’s work is made stronger and more relevant for modern audiences when in conversation with a broad spectrum of classics, particularly those historically marginalized by classical western theatre.
These beliefs require us to develop new practices, so we have asked ourselves: What would it take to make the true breadth and power of classical theatre show up in our organization, in our board, on our staff, on our stage, in our audiences? How can we impactfully show up in our community in a way that prioritizes antiracist, anti-oppressive theatre that enriches our hearts, deepens our understanding of humanity, builds connection between people and ideas, and inspires social change?
The following action plan is part of our answer to these questions. It is one step, of many, toward the goal of uprooting systemic oppression, racism, and other forms of bias, which have long been ingrained into theatre practices across the industry. It lays out some initial, definable actions that move our classical theatre practice into alignment with the true diversity of classical stories and storytellers. It is a living document, subject to repeated re-examination as part of our ongoing strategic planning, and at its core is the language and intent of Seattle Shakespeare’s Vision, as this action plan cannot be separate from the heart of what drives the company.
Above all, it is a commitment to being part of a future that learns from the past to invite dialogue, celebrate difference, and stop oppression in its tracks.
Expanding the Definition of the Classics
This is a chance to live up to our stated idea that “we believe in telling the great stories of the past to inform our present and form our future.” Shakespeare has always been and will remain an integral part of our repertoire, but great stories of the past exist in many rich traditions from around the world.
Expanding how we define “classics” has the potential to be transformative for our company. A wider, more diverse variety of productions will not only appeal to a wider, more diverse group of directors, actors, designers, technicians, and staff members, but require that we work in relationship with them to craft these productions. We recommend artistic leadership develop an inclusive process for casting and staffing artistic and production teams to support the expanded definition of the classics and the representation of Shakespeare on our stages. This work will lead to stronger, more vital storytelling, and create a feedback loop of inventiveness that will open even more opportunities to deepen Seattle Shakespeare’s artistry and community connections.
A wider variety of productions will also connect to a wider audience. Seattle Shakespeare’s current audience is overwhelmingly white and older, so even beyond crucial equity issues, our survival depends on growing our base. Sustained diversity in offerings is necessary to maintain any growth we achieve as those new audience members advocate within their communities, ever widening our circle. The wider our circle, the more potential donors, audience members, and board members we reach.
We recommend that our Artistic Director create a process for identifying and programming productions which include work from outside the Northern European canon, in collaboration with a select committee of staff and artists as soon as program planning is possible again. Though expanding how we define “classics” is an internal decision, this will lead, of all our suggested actions, to the greatest external impact. Our programming is at the core of who we are, and it communicates how people can engage with us, and how we want to engage with others.
Improve Internal and External Communication
For example, the marketing team needs information about a production’s casting or concept to gear their marketing efforts toward specific audience development. Additionally, increased transparency around the EDI actions that individuals, departments, and committees are already taking will increase the speed at which we can move to further change together.
We recommend that new communication benchmarks are set in the calendar around all projects, and that we refresh the ritual of sharing work in both board reports and meetings. As we bring in new staff and artist voices, we want those voices to be heard throughout the company, not just in areas directly impacted by their specific role. Our goal is to create a culture of collaboration, with mutual problem solving and support for one another through challenges.
For example, our land acknowledgement statement and the page built around it presents an opportunity to engage with our community around indigenous sovereignty and justice. Future statements and actions should have the same treatment.
We recommend the hiring of a community engagement position who will work with internal teams to review and improve our external communications. More on this position can be found in the fourth action item, on community engagement.
Invest in Tools & Ongoing Training
In order to do this our staff, board, and volunteers must be trained to recognize ways in which our company may exclude, marginalize, or overlook the needs of the people we purport to serve and learn to offer a non-judgmental way to address grievances.
We recommend the engagement of a human resources professional to consult and guide the theatre as it works to change the culture of this predominantly white institution and create a fully inclusive workplace environment. This HR role has been identified as a common need that could be shared among nonprofit organizations in the region. HR should assist in more diverse hiring of production teams, vendors, artists, technicians, and teaching artists; work with the managing and artistic directors to set equitable wages; and help resolve conflicts and past harms. They should help empower a workplace culture shift, as well as guide the legal and social aspects required to build a more inclusive workplace environment overall.
We also recommend additional training for both the staff and the board. Our training, to date, has focused on antiracism, but should be expanded to address education on other historically marginalized groups, as well as practices which can tangibly foster belonging and accessibility. Again, the goal is to create an environment at Seattle Shakespeare Company which makes all people of our community feel fully welcomed, respected, and supported. In order to do this all training should move us toward awareness, give us tools for change, and enable us to support our full community. We recommend allocating resources for ongoing areas of training, including those access issues which the pandemic brought to light.
Invest in and Expand our Community Engagement
The work of this position will be to develop ongoing relationships with communities who are currently underrepresented in our audience and partners, focusing on historically marginalized groups, as well as help our company center the needs and priorities of these groups. Possible areas of work for this position include:
- Connecting with new or additional Wooden O venues in different neighborhoods.
- Focused marketing to underrepresented groups.
- Partnering with community (non-theatre) organizations to enrich productions.
- Expanding or better publicizing free and reduced-price ticket options.
- Increasing mainstage access for student groups.
- Involvement in selecting a location for Seattle Shakespeare’s new home.
- Reviewing our vendors for their practices and areas to diversify.
- Overseeing reparative and restorative efforts to address past harms.
- Working collaboratively with other departments to amplify Seattle Shakespeare’s EDI efforts, in particular our education and marketing teams.
- Advise the board development committee on community leaders who might be interested in board service, and whose skills and perspectives would strengthen our leadership and community connections.
Create A System of Accountability for Our Actions
By taking the above-mentioned actions, we expect that our company will begin to better reflect the demographics and represent the communities of King County on our stage; in our staff, board, and supporters; and in our audiences. In order to see change and progress in this area, we recommend collecting data, identifying benchmarks, and tracking actions and tactics we are implementing.
- We will measure our current audience and donor demographics to establish a baseline.
- We will track metrics, conduct surveys, and review data as part of ongoing staff and board rituals.
- We will bring on expert help to collect and analyze information, identify potential causes behind trends, identify potential opportunities for improvement, and set further goals.
- In order to ensure that we are working to change our organizational culture and adopt inclusive practices, we recommend creating a staff document to track actions and tactics to integrate into our day-to-day work.
More to Come as We Grow and Change
- Expand the Definition of the Classics
- Create a process for identifying and programming productions which include work from outside the Northern European canon.
- Create inclusive processes for casting and staffing artistic and production teams to support the expanded definition of the classics and the representation of Shakespeare on our stages.
- Improve Internal and External Communications
- Set new internal communications benchmarks to promote cross-departmental collaboration.
- Improve external communications with the help of a Community Engagement staff position.
- Invest in Tools and Ongoing Training
- Engage a human resources professional to guide the theatre as it works to change the culture of this predominantly white institution and create a fully inclusive workplace environment.
- Set trainings for both the staff and the board for continued anti-oppressive education and inclusivity tactics.
- Invest in and Expand our Community Engagement
- Hire a community engagement position to build relationships with historically marginalized communities and unify the organization to center the needs and priorities of these groups.
- Create a System of Accountability for our Actions
- Collect data, identify benchmarks, and track actions and tactics we are implementing, in order to see progress in the above-mentioned areas.
With a dedicated theatre space, Seattle Shakespeare will be the home for classical theatre in Seattle, putting Shakespeare at the heart of our community.
We will grow our programs for our community – audiences, artists, and students – in Seattle and across Washington State.
Why? Because we are Seattle’s Shakespeare Company, and we have always been dedicated to fostering our passion for classical theatre locally. Students of our programs become the audience members and artists in the next generation.
As the hub for classical theatre, we will ensure that Shakespeare remains fresh, inclusive, accessible, and relevant in our own theatre and in parks and schools around the state.
Why? Because we believe the past informs our present and forms our future. For classical theatre to remain vital in our world, it needs to be accessible to everyone. It needs to meet them where they are.
With a dedicated home, we will expand our legacy of nurturing emerging talent and fostering diverse voices. We will provide a safe space for exploring new perspectives.
Why? Because we believe that classical theatre can stay vital only when it is invigorated by new interpretations and disruptive creativity. But new voices need support and nurturing, and we will provide that home.
- In this document, when we use the term “historically marginalized,” we are primarily referring to racial discrimination. However, as we move forward we plan to examine and reevaluate what additional groups have historically been marginalized in the theatre, and add them to this definition and to the scope of this document.
- We have focused Seattle Shakespeare’s actions into two sets of work. The first is externally-facing to reach and impact our audience, potential audience, and community. The second is internally-facing, promoting change within Seattle Shakespeare’s staff and board. There is, of course, overlap between the two areas, and one must affect the other, but as we enact the plan, we must be mindful that allocating resources to internal actions will reduce our ability to take externally-facing actions that could have a more immediate impact on our community, which is our priority.
Curious about how we got here?
An invitation to the ongoing conversation.
We come to this conversation deeply interested in accountability, honesty, and a real path to change. In the interest of being open, we would like to share the work Seattle Shakespeare is doing to create a culture of care at our organization, how we have gotten to where we currently are, and some framework for where we hope to be heading. We acknowledge that this is an ongoing process that will be ever changing and developing, but here is some insight of where we started.
Our ongoing movement towards inclusion and equitable practices has been focused in our education spaces and on stage, where we have spent years building equity of access and representation. This work was mainly seen in the acting and teaching artists we employed on the mainstage, outdoor touring productions, and education programs.
With gratitude for the call to action from WE SEE YOU WHITE AMERICAN THEATER in the wake of the George Floyd rebellion, we began the deep, company-wide work of unstitching ourselves from our investment in whiteness. We are becoming collectively aware of our company’s identity as a primarily white institution who has produced theater exclusively by white, Western European, male authors and how this creates and holds oppressive spaces in our community.
We started by absorbing the energy surrounding us and moved to action with staff and board trainings, reading, learning, and the deep conversation that truly begins an organizational change. We spent time listening. We spent time reading. We spent time engaging in new material and new ways of thinking. We spent time asking others to challenge us, our routines and assumptions. We met in groups of board and staff to discuss antiracism in our individual contexts and modes of work. We met to take on responses to current events and past harms.
Together, we read “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” How to be an Antiracist, All the Lights On, and WE SEE YOU WHITE AMERICAN THEATER. Our staff and board spent several days with Nicole Brewer in her Antiracist Theatre workshop. We engaged with the Community Centric Fundraising movement and the Seattle Theatre Leaders group.
We also took time to disagree, to be uncomfortable, to find the spaces where our organization is not yet able or ready to go. We asked how we, as a theatrical organization, might stand up in explicit political spaces. Might we have an institutional voice to speak to current issues and movements? Or is our voice stronger if we start by discussing our own practices, like how to reach true pay equity? We worked to understand and counteract the privilege of being able to accept artistic pay below a living wage. We worked to be explicit in recognizing different costs to preparation, to showing up in this racialized world, depending on an artist’s identity.
While taking the time to be honest about our fear and our identity, we saw many questions from both the board and staff. Could making these changes turn us away from our focus on Shakespeare? How does Shakespeare’s particular role and place in history work even today to hold up European, white, male cultural hegemony? We needed to articulate clearly our interest in not just expanding the canon from which we produce, but expanding the ways we interpret the canon we already perform.
We learned to celebrate the ways in which we have already been moving in this direction: diversely-cast, bilingual shows reaching students throughout Washington state; the Shakespeare Equity Engagement program; and our inclusive roster of directors who craft productions for our stages. We have been excited by the artistic possibilities of an expanded canon.
We have committed to work collaboratively and communicate in new ways. We formed an EDI committee that is, for the first time, made up of both staff and board members. We are engaging new artists to develop images and messaging for our productions, creating more transparency and removing barriers in job listings, starting a new structure of involvement for mid-career artists, and developing a practice for investment in script and project development. We are trying to embed a culture of care in all areas of our organizational practice.
Our next steps are the continuous work and reexamination of creating a high-level action plan which is introduced and shared above. We are currently working to fill in the regular actions and practices our staff and board can implement along the way. We consider sharing the work to be part of the work, and hope that you, as part of our community, are along for the journey of this work with us.
We acknowledge that the process has been by no means ideal and is nowhere near done, but we are digging into the work, and hope this has provided insight on where we came from and where we are beginning to go. We are open for questions and feedback. We intend to keep learning and shaping on this living, breathing, imperfect, and ongoing journey.
It will take all of us to change.