Episode 4 - The Future
In our final episode, Rafael explores what the future of educational theatre, Seattle, and the arts community at large might and could look like. Learn about artists who are pushing us forward with new interpretations, new work, new people in the room. Dive deep into the Shakespeare Equity Engagement program with Lamar Legend, learn more about upstart crow collective with Rosa Joshi, and hear about what BIPOC and predominantly white institutions should do next (and so much more) with Sara Porkalob.
Join our conversation with the following speakers
Hello, and welcome to What We May Be: Race and Education. In our last episode of this series, we’ll explore what the future of arts organizations, Shakespeare and education might look like. Our interview guests on this episode are Sara Porkalob, Rosa Joshi and Lamar Legend. Let’s get started.
Rafael Molina (00:27):
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Lamar
Lamar Legend (00:29):
I’m Lamar Legend. I’m born and raised in New York city. Uh, started doing theater in the arts back when I was, uh, 13. And, uh, I think my first art form that I fell in love with was, uh, drawing. I was an illustrator. I loved to doodle and create superhero characters and stuff. And so I started doing that much younger actually. And then, um, writing was my second greatest passion and wrote poems and short stories and stuff. And then right around 13, there were auditions for Oklahoma, the musical. And I was like, yeah, I can do that. Anybody can do that. It’s acting, it’s so silly. And so, yeah, I auditioned and, uh, and then I got the lead Curly in that and I was like, okay, this thing is easy. And then quickly, uh, took all of my licks and realized how hard this profession is.
Lamar Legend (01:32):
Um, and nervousness, um, took hold and took root. And I’d say about, about a year and a half later when I started taking serious classes, um, in dance and, uh, music and, um, and acting classes specifically. Um, that’s when I realized, Oh my gosh, this is like serious. This is real. And I have to like really be myself in front of a bunch of strangers and for an introvert that was incredibly scary. Um, but I took to it like a duck to water. And then, um, moving along, um, went to DePaul University, their theater program, um, for undergrad and left there in the middle of my junior year, because I was getting, um, professional work in the industry and, um, felt personally that an acting degree would be useless. So if I continued, uh, so I was like, why wait when I can work now?
Lamar Legend (02:33):
And so I left, um, that was incredibly controversial for a lot of people except for myself. Um, and, um, then, um, moved, I’ve been living here in Seattle off and on for 15 years. And so yeah. Then began my professional career. And I’d say within the last three years, having worked all over the world, um, that I am a professional actor, a working professional actor, um, and got my Equity card to join the union, uh, about three years ago. So yeah, that’s the long and short of it. Oh, directing, right? Yeah. I’ve been directing for, um, the same amount of time for about 15 to 20 years. Um, and I love it. Uh, it gives me great joy and still writing, um, writing a lot. Most recently I won a, uh, screenwriting grant for black screen writers. Um, so yeah, just doing a little bit of everything. What about, what about
Rafael Molina (03:39):
Your role as an educator? Would you consider yourself an educator?
Lamar Legend (03:41):
Oh, absolutely. Um, gosh, I’ve been doing that for about 20 years too. I think it started as a, I started as a teaching artist in New York, um, working with a company called EnAct. Um, and so they would go around and tour, um, educational theatrical shows for public schools in New York city and, uh, plays that we wrote, um, that addressed social issues like bullying and racism, um, and peer pressure and things like that. And, uh, it had a, you know, an educational component and I really liked that on the sly. I was teaching classes in Shakespeare and Shakespeare technique and, um, yeah, that’s, that’s how I kinda got my foot wet into the artistic educational field and been doing that kind of off and on, you know, ever since
Rafael Molina (04:41):
Talk about the, the Shakespeare Equity Engagement program and Shakes. Can you tell me a little bit about the program and your role as the Diversity Program coordinator?
Lamar Legend (04:50):
It’s a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful program, um, where basically we are, um, going into the community, um, communities that are typically marginalized, um, and meeting them where they’re at and, and, uh, having dialogue and workshops, um, centered around building skills for them so that they can be more integrated and having more in depth, um, uh, uh, connection to Shakespeare’s work and, um, and the classics. And so that’s anything from learning, um, scansion technique and how to read a Shakespeare play as an actor and as a performer, um, as a designer, um, really from any background in the arts that you may have and may bring and utilizing your own, your own story, your own personal story and your own culture, rather than sacrificing it and feeling that you need to, um, divorce yourself from it, to bring that to, uh, his work, his stories, um, and uplift your own story within the process. Um, and we do that through workshops, through mentoring, um, and, uh, hopefully, uh, bringing in more, um, artists within to, uh, Seattle Shakespeare Company. So that it’s a more diverse, uh, company in and of itself.
Rafael Molina (06:19):
The program, uh, specifically reaches out to BIPoC. And I, I just want to, I’m curious, how does, in your opinion, how does this program help to dismantle the innate predominance of, of whiteness in Shakespeare’s in Shakespeare education?
Lamar Legend (06:34):
Well, I mean, just engaging with, with the BIPoC community, uh, uh, I feel like does that, I feel like, I mean, there’s a history, a long, a long, long history, you know, with Shakespeare, um, on both sides, you know, from a white perspective that, um, BIPoC’s, um, are just not educated enough or educated in Shakespeare or the classics in general. Um, uh, that, I mean, it’s insidious, it goes down to the, you know, like, well, you’re, you’re, you know, audiences, predominantly white audiences feeling like when they see a person of color, you know, saying Shakespeare’s words, not believing, um, what they’re saying or flat out, not understanding what they’re saying and attributing that, that misunderstanding of Shakespeare’s texts to the person of color in that role. And just being like, I can’t understand them. It’s like, well, maybe you just can’t understand the words because it takes any audience about five minutes to tune in and to tune up for their ears, to tune in, into the tune up to Shakespeare’s texts, because that’s not how we normally speak typically.
Lamar Legend (07:47):
And even in Shakespeare’s day. So attributing that to race and culture is just flat out silly and ignorant. Um, but it happens. And then on the other side, you know, that again it’s, so that kind of, um, pervasive, um, thinking, um, plays a role and has allowed to condition BIPoCs to believe that that’s true, that they are incapable of grasping Shakespeare’s work or understanding it, or, um, accessing it. Um, and so it’s, it’s, I feel like it’s the duty of, um, other BIPoCs who are well versed in Shakespeare, um, and feel a call to educate, to support our own community in that way. And then the best way possible and say, Hey, this is actually very universal. This, this story is, is your story. And in fact, your version of this story only enhances his version of his story in the way that he wrote it. And, uh, it only, and making that explicit and, um, displaying it for the community at large, only, um, speaks to Shakespeare’s universality and also emboldens and enlightens and enrichens and, um, inspires, uh, other BIPoCs to access it as well.
Rafael Molina (09:17):
What are, what are your thoughts just like on a, on a more macro level? What are your thoughts on, you know, true decolonized educational programming versus, uh, the struggle that BIPoCs face being constantly and consistently defined and validated by, you know, the white metrics of success and excellence in, in education, educational programming. When we learn something like Shakespeare.
Lamar Legend (09:42):
That’s a toughie. You’re asking me what my thoughts are about, um, how we tackle this, correct.
Rafael Molina (09:48):
Lamar Legend (09:50):
I think that, um, I’m going to quote Harvey Milk. Um, yes, I’m not quote the activist, um, and politician, Harvey Milk, um, loosely phrasing, um, that he said that winning, um, cause he, he failed several times, um, in his campaign. Um, and when asked about that, uh, he said, it’s not about winning, you know, it’s not about winning. It’s about the fight. It’s about the fight. As long as people are fighting. And as long as people are arguing and making the arguments, then that is in and of itself is a win. And I believe that, uh, sincerely and deeply, because if we’re not fighting, if we’re not talking about it, then erasure becomes ubiquitous and that’s scary to me, that’s, that’s the death of everything, you know, um, us as BIPOCs, not, um, letting, letting our voices be heard or giving up, um, accepting apathy, you know, uh, can kill a movement.
Lamar Legend (11:09):
Um, and exposure is everything. Whether or not we win because winning is, I guess, in, in many ways, subjective, um, and personal to each specific, you know, human being, but like, that’s, that’s up for, I guess, textbooks or records to put down or what have you, whether or not someone won or what success looks like or all of that stuff, but it’s, to me and how I measure success is whether or not we’re visible. And in order to have visibility, you have to show up, you have to be present and you have to speak up, um, when you are called to, and even when you’re not, you know, um, and so in terms of, of, you know, decolonization and dismantling these systemic, um, structures of power that are very much inequitable, um, as long as we continue to say that this is not right, then I feel like we’re winning. I feel like we’re winning. Um, um, it just, we just need to continue to do that, uh, so that no one forgets, you know, so that no one forgets, no one gets complacent and, and, and we don’t get too comfortable. Uh, yeah, I think that answers the question.
Rafael Molina (12:33):
Absolutely. Uh, moving into that, like the continuation of that, though, what, what kind of impact do you hope that, you know, the continuation of, of, of this dialogue, of these programs of bringing people into the room, you know, of something like the Shakespeare Equity Engagement program, what kind of impact do you hope that that has on, you know, the companies like Seattle Shakespeare Company or whatever companies are implementing them and the communities?
Lamar Legend (13:01):
Well, I think speaking specifically about Seattle Shakespeare Company, I have big dreams for, for this program. I, I would love it, that it becomes, um, just a new standard, uh, just a new standard of, of, of creating work and that, you know, uh, that BIPOCs are integrated in every part of the organization from top down, bottom up, you know, that they’re a part of the board, they’re a part of the creative team. They’re a part of the education department. There are charter in, in, in, um, in, in leadership roles, in marketing and, um, and fundraising and I mean, administration to box office to front of house, you know, like all through. And of course, through playwriting and everything. I mean, I, I hope there’s new works that are being created. There’s a wonderful company in Virginia called, um, the American Shakespeare Center. And they implemented about four years ago now, um, a new program called Shakespeare’s Contemporaries where, uh, you know, we’re, uh, playwrights of today can create a, play, a new work that’s in tandem and in conversation with Shakespeare’s work. And I don’t see why any Shakespeare company within the nation shouldn’t do that. Like we should be fostering that specifically within marginalized communities and, and, and, um, communities that have been historically marginalized. Um, and so my hope is that we are saturating every single part of, of Seattle Shakespeare Company. And then it becomes a standard, um, and a place to look
Lamar Legend (14:52):
Towards for other companies here in the Pacific Northwest and the nation at large, you know, and as like, this is what we should do. This is the best form of practice, at least right now. And that practice, whatever, how we create this program and whatever that standard is. My, my other hope is that it is, uh, that it continues to be scrutinized by the community by, by my community so that it continues to get better and better with each generation that follows that they go, you know, what? You guys missed the, you know, um, pass the buck here, or you missed, you missed the Mark here, whatever I intend, I intend to be not above scrutiny at all. I hope that my position is, um, succeeded by someone who can do far greater than, than I imagine with my, with my role. Um, and so I like that that is also a measure of success for me, is that it continues to morph, uh, to transform into something beautiful and useful for the generation that, uh, is receiving it.
Rafael Molina (16:03):
Thank you. Thank you so much for your time and your insights.
Lamar Legend (16:06):
Rafael Molina (16:10):
Hi, Rosa. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Rosa Joshi (16:13):
Yeah, so I am a director. I am a educator. My full-time job is that Seattle University, where I am a professor of theater. And I also am chair of the department of performing arts and arts leadership, and also a freelance director. And I’m one of the founding members of upstart crow collective along with Kate Wisnewski and Betsy Schwartz. I’ve been living and working in Seattle since 1994. Um, and right now I’m hunkered down, uh, at Seattle U teaching online and figuring out how to pivot in this new virtual world and also, um, really embracing the challenges of, of that, of that medium, but also really embracing the opportunities and the changes that are happening in the world and in our field, um, as we try to become a more anti racist society.
Rafael Molina (17:23):
Amazing, thank you. As someone who is at the forefront of refreshing and reinventing classical works for contemporary audiences, can you talk about your process with upstart crow collective?
Rosa Joshi (17:36):
Sure. That’s very flattering. You know, I, when I talk about the process of upstart crow, I always feel like I need to talk about the, um, how, how we came into being, I feel like the process that I have right now is something that has envolved. Does that make sense? It’s not like I was like, I am going to do this thing, and I’m going to make this new way of thinking about doing the classics. It really came from Kate Wisnewski and Betsy Schwartz approaching me because it came from them saying we’re kind of tired of like only competing for the two roles that are available every season, um, in classical theater and, uh, never getting to work with each other. And, you know, there are, there’s a history of doing all male production. So why don’t we do an all female show? And they approached me and asked me to direct an all female show. And at first it really was like, Oh yeah, you know, no one else was asking me to do a production of Shakespeare at that time. So it’s what you do, right.
Rosa Joshi (18:42):
You create your own work because you don’t have the access, um, to do the work that you love necessarily. Um, then that’s hopefully not going to stop you. So we started doing these productions and at first it was just, you know, whoever we could find the, were our friends and as we started doing the work more, it was actually doing the work that taught me like, Oh, yes. I mean, I knew it right. Intellectually women don’t have access, but I had sort of just, it had been the norm for me to be in a room of a lot of men and often a lot of white men, because I love doing classical work. And I hadn’t always thought critically about who was in the room with me, because I was just desperate to get in the room and have a seat at the table. Right.
Rosa Joshi (19:26):
So I was like, yes, I can do this work, put me in, put me in, and then working with women and upstart crow I realized, Oh, this is what this room can actually be. Like, I can actually change who’s in the room with me as a producer. I can, I can ha I can open the doors. Um, and then, yeah, talking to women during the process, you know, I heard all kinds of stories about how women of color particularly had never been invited to audition for Shakespeare, but women who, when they were in a room would, um, not feel like they, you know, would just keep your head down. You’re lucky to get in the room. So many women auditioned for this don’t make any waves, don’t ask any difficult questions, just do your job. And then I was also really struck by how, women we’re aged out of the profession in terms, I mean, it’s pretty bad all the way, all the way around in, um, Western and American theater and particularly in classical work.
Rosa Joshi (20:34):
So I started to see all the ways in which women were excluded. Um, even though I have lived experience of that, but I wasn’t can’t explain it any other way than saying that I was so focused on just trying to prove myself as an artist. Right. Um, and that this really made me see, um, that I wanted to do more than that. And so, so to me, upstart crow is a lot about the work that we make, but also the process and the space that the, uh, that is create created in rehearsals, that it’s a space where you can take up space as a woman. Um, and then also we expanded our mission to include nonbinary people, because we realized what we really want to do is create a space for marginalized voices and marginalized bodies in classical work. So that was some, we changed our mission about three or four years ago.
Rosa Joshi (21:40):
And honestly, right today, after our conversation here, we’re, uh, Kate and Betsy and I are also going to now talk about, okay, we have called ourselves, um, or defined ourselves as all diverse, all female and non binary, but now I’m being exposed to more ideas of like non binary. Um, what do we mean by that? And are we, uh, by using that term, are we really being inclusive? Um, and that we may need to think about what we mean by, because not all non binary people, um, have the same experience. Right. And so part of it is, um, you know, going back to your, to your question of what the process is. I think the main thing about the process to me is always questioning the process or always questioning where we are and never, like, I don’t feel like that we ever can define this is how we do things.
Rosa Joshi (22:42):
And this is how we’re going to continue doing things. This is how we’re doing it now. And this is who we are now. And as we learn more, uh, um, we need to adapt and change, you know, change the way that we do things to make sure that we really are creating a space that empowers people who have been marginalized from this work, which is really what we want to be able to do. And as we learn about how gendered spaces are defined or not defined, we just need to stay open to learning and to changing, um, as we go along. So it’s a constant process of evolution. I would say that whenever you think, yes, I’ve done it. You know, look, you know, you never have, it’s never enough. You need to keep the work is ongoing. And that’s a good thing.
Rafael Molina (23:35):
Can you speak a little bit to how you approach text and what texts you choose with all of that in mind with, with the process with upstart crow collective.
Rosa Joshi (23:44):
To me, whenever I look at a classical play, always thinking, why am I doing this playing now? What does this play have to say to us today? So I’m really drawn to the history plays because they, in terms of choosing content, because they really speak to the nature of leadership and the characteristic of leadership. And I think in a democracy, you always need to be examining and questioning who our leaders are, um, what we want from our leaders, what we can forgive and what we must not forget. Um, and I really do believe that the morality of our leaders matters and the character of our leaders matters. And that’s what I think the political war plays of Shakespeare really dive into and, um, keep me endlessly and enthralled. Um, and also that they’re deeply personal they’re plays in which the personal and political are deeply intertwined.
Rosa Joshi (24:47):
Um, so there’s, there’s just the, um, that kind of obsession that I have, but also, I will just say that those are the plays that really are filled with a male bodies, usually on stage, right there, you know, usually in those plays, there are two or three women. So yes, absolutely. It gives me great delight to take a play that has often been seen as a showcase for, you know, the best and the brightest and the greatest male actors, and fill that stage with talented kick-ass bad-ass women. Um, um, and so, uh, in terms of thinking about the work also, it’s always thinking about often politically, what does this play have to say to us today? Um, and then how is this going to open opportunities for women, non-binary folk, um, and, and make an, and also make them see that there’s a place for them in this work outside of the, uh, conventional places that they’ve been relegated.
Rafael Molina (25:59):
I recently watched your Red talk on making inclusive spaces in classical theater, which is amazing. Everyone should watch it by the way, Red Talks are the speaker series at Seattle university led by the office of diversity and inclusion and partnership with the office of the provost. You can watch it online at Seattle U’s webpage. It’s also on upstart crow. collective’s webpage, am I right?
Rosa Joshi (26:26):
Yeah, it is. Yeah. I was terrified making that thing because I had to, I had to memorize, I mean, I’m not a performer, right. And I was like, Oh man, I gotta memorize this. It gave me a lot of empathy for my actors, for actors in general.
Rafael Molina (26:42):
Well, I love it. I, it should be mandatory viewing for everyone. Um, and you talked about this a little bit already, but I just want to, um, to let you expand on it as, as greatly and as magnificently as you want, um, what your, what is your vision for the future of classical work?
Rosa Joshi (27:03):
Um, so I touched on it a little bit in terms of, like, I think that it, it belongs in the hands of artists of color who will re-imagine and, and, um, reclaim and redefine what these classics are to a contemporary audience, you know, and for contemporary, that will make the work for the, for the community. Right. So whatever that means, and, and in whatever way is that, um, I do it with, um, all female and non-binary femme, um, people who are interested in, uh, you know, uh, attacking the patriarchy. People who have lived with misogyny, people who are interested in the, um, in a process that centers, the female experience and centers women’s experiences, um, so that we were dismantling white supremacy and patriarchy. And as we look at these works and that there is a opening of, of what it means to be classically trained, you know, doing the work, unpacking the text and understanding the structures of the text, all of that is really important, but I believe that in the future that it’s not going to be fetishized, it’s going to be, instead of that, being a gateway is that we will see that actually, that’s just about access.
Rosa Joshi (28:35):
That’s just about access because you know what what’s scaring people off from it is that they don’t understand how it works. And they think that they will never understand how it works, because they’ve been told they wont, that’s kind of like, you’ll never be able to play the clarinet. Yeah. If no one teaches you. And so I, I really believe that the future of it will be one in which the doors are wider, open. And, and one in which, you know, this is going back to my Red Talk, is that when I was thinking of a title for that, and I was like, it Shakespeare for, for everyone, for everybody. And I, I was like, literally for every body for all bodies, because I think the body is so important. But I think that also that, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to grapple with what it means for, um, a brown body to play a particular role.
Rosa Joshi (29:31):
Right. And what that means next to a white body, or, you know, like, I think that the future also will be one in which we’re more intentional, or at least more aware and more thoughtful about how we’re doing that. Um, and it’s complicated, right? Because there are artists who are like, uh, I’m trained for that. And I want to do that. And you can’t say, I can’t do that artists of color. Right? Like, how are we taking away agency from artists of color? Right. I mean, like, if somebody told me you can’t do Shakespeare and that’s a betrayal to who you are, I would have issue, right. This is what I love. And for me, there should be lots of space for lots of other kinds of work, given that Shakespeare is taking up the space. I want to change how that space is occupied.
Rosa Joshi (30:28):
Right? Like this is the space that, and I won’t be able to change all of it, but some of it, and yes, actually, I mean, I do have grandiose plans or not, is it plans or, or hopes or ambitions that the kind of work that upstart crow does and that if more people do that, that it will actually change the future of classical work in the United States. So I want to find a way to do it warts and all and glory and all, you know, beauty magnificence is to use your word, which I love, like the work is can, can take me so out of myself. And, and I just want to say like, yes, some of the words, like, why do we say welcome instead of sky? Just say sky and full it doesn’t scan if you say sky, but one of my favorite lines, I’m going to misquote it now. Um, is Richard the second where Richard says, “Ay, no; no, ay; for I must nothing be” and it’s it’s yes, no, no, yes. But when you hear it, it’s also, I know, no, I, I know there is no me for, I must nothing be that’s not, you know, ancient, you know, antiquated language, that’s….Beckett,
Rosa Joshi (31:54):
Right. And that’s poetry. And I just mean that it doesn’t have to be about, uh, intricate syntax or complicated language. It is about something that transports you out of the ordinary.
Rafael Molina (32:10):
Thank you for your beautiful vision.
Rosa Joshi (32:13):
I think it’s up to you.
Rafael Molina (32:17):
Well, thank you for teaching me to play the clarinet. Thank you so much, Rosa, for your time and your insight.
Rosa Joshi (32:26):
Thank you so much for this conversation and, um, for doing the series. And I really appreciate the work that you’re doing Raphael.
Rafael Molina (32:40):
Hi, Sarah. Tell me about yourself.
Sara Porkalob (32:42):
Hey all, Sara Porkalob here. My pronouns are she and her, uh, first-generation Filipino Chinese Hawaiian American growing up in the PM dog and, uh, known locally as a storyteller theater maker been working primarily in Seattle, professionally for the last eight years, about to have my national international breakout in theater, film, and television. And, um, I’m excited to be alive in this time of pandemic black lives matter, civil rights protest and the stuff, white supremacist, fascist government that we’re all experiencing. That’s me.
Rafael Molina (33:18):
Thank you. What are your thoughts on the importance of platforming BIPOC artists and their work?
Sara Porkalob (33:25):
The first thing that is crucial consider is whose perspective and whose filter are we looking through? Are we looking through the filter and perspective of PWI, AKA predominantly white institutions? If the answer is yes. And I have a specific answer for that. If we are looking within BIPOC communities and talking about how they uplift their communities, that’s a very specific filter as well. I have a different answer for that. So be your choice friend, which, which answer do you want to hear?
Rafael Molina (33:58):
I’d love to hear both.
Sara Porkalob (33:59):
Yeah. Yeah. So it is the historic responsibility and privilege of predominantly white institutions to reckon with their history of white supremacists, transactional culture and how they can reckon with it in order to dismantle it in order to make room for the antidote. Uh, one of the things that they can do is to create space within their predominantly white institution for BIPOC folks, stories, communities, collaboration, and power. It’s crucial. I, I really think, no, I don’t. I don’t think I notice that a predominantly white institution, which is largely bodied by white folks. If they say that they want to do that work and they have to do that work. And one of the first steps that they can do is actually to create space.
Sara Porkalob (34:56):
And then the second, the second answer is like within BIPOC communities they’ve been doing that. We’ve been doing that for each other for a long time. Um, we have solutions and I think that it’s really crucial as well for not only white folks, but also for black indigenous and other people of color to examine how we all, as Americans living in America have unconsciously internalized ideas about our intersectional identities. Um, how do we confront our unconsciousness, which is shaped by our history, spiritual, social, economic, cultural, how do we, how do we deal with something we’re like, we wouldn’t even know we’re aware of that. Baby, we got agency. That’s what makes us humans the ability to be like, Hey, I wonder if this could be done differently or I wonder why this thing happens. We, we have the power to do that. And I, in my work, um, in terms of platforming, you know, it’s a buzz word, taught word. Everybody wants to talk about platforming and community in EDI as if they are new ideas. They’re not new ideas. They are to some people. And that’s another thing that people have to remember is that all this, maybe a new, exciting thing for you to try on this has actually been in place historically institutionally systemically, interpersonally for hundreds of years, like Hondo years. I hope that answers your question.
Rafael Molina (36:32):
Yes. Thank you. Um, and speaking of history and, you know, looking to the history that we’re currently living, what world do you think can emerge from the current challenges we’re facing? COVID-19 the political hemisphere that we’re navigating?
Sara Porkalob (36:48):
I don’t know. I don’t feel confident. I don’t feel truthful in making any type of assertions about what the world will look like once we’ve moved through this. That’s also because one thing that I’ve been trying to keep myself accountable to, to myself is I have a lot of access and a lot of privilege. And especially when it comes to my professional life, I have a lot of things that are waiting for me. Like I’m not as impacted negatively by these things that are happening within our career. And as a non-black non-indigenous person of color, the civil rights, black lives matter protests that have been happening in the city. Yes, they do affect me. But as a non-black non-indigenous person, they affect me differently. So when it comes to making any assertions about what we’re going to be like, this world is going to be like the only thing that I can say, like truthfully is like, God , I hope we’re better. I hope that we come out the other side and more people are like, Hey guys, uh, just hyper like individualistic capitalist system that is upholding white supremacy and vice versa. Ultimately like harms the majority of us. Maybe we should let it go and find something new. Or maybe the solutions have been here on this American soil forever. And we just have to teach ourselves how to find them and to see them and to value them and to allocate resources to people who’ve been doing this work for hundreds of years.
Rafael Molina (38:28):
Well, assertions aside, uh, what, what about vision? What is your vision for the future of new theater work, storytelling And writing specifically.
Sara Porkalob (38:38):
Okay. Zooming out as somebody who cares a lot about cities and city wellness. I think that we should have an income tax. Why do I think we should have an income tax? I think that our state has really regressive tax laws and I believe truly deeply in the idea that like, yep. If it means that I have a little bit less so that other people can have a little bit more than that’s how it should be and how this ties to storytelling and theater and, and, and like the arts community is that like art, the arts are like those of us who work in the arts we’re cultural workers, right. And the cultural wellness of the city has to be at like the top of, uh, like local governances objectives. Like they have to be like, Oh, we have to care about cultural workers.
Sara Porkalob (39:32):
We have to care about them guys. We have to prioritize them. So I, I hope local governance and what’s going to happen after COVID and where we are right now, in terms of wrestling with white supremacy and allocating resources to BIPOC communities. I hope that cultural art workers and other cultural workers are valued in the consideration of a city’s wellness, so that those cultural workers and artists and theater makers and storytellers can do our job. So we can show up to rehearsals. So we can sit down and write that play. So we can do the work that is needed in any community without having to live paycheck to paycheck and just struggle every day, just to pay and meet like our baseline needs. Like nobody should be houseless in Seattle. Like there’s like, no reason why that’s the case considering how much, how many resources and like money we have in this city.
Sara Porkalob (40:56):
You know what I mean? So when it comes to like branching out and moving into like the national international perspective of theater and storytelling, I, I want to see more stories. I want to see different people in those stories. I want to see different directors. I want to see, I want to see black excellence. You know, I want to see indigenous stories in indigenous organizations, bodied by like indigenous culture and community. I want to see queer spaces. I want to see plays about trans folks that don’t focus and center like trauma porn. I want to see differently abled people as superheroes. I want to see neuro atypical people as ingenues. It’s like, that’s what I want to see.
Rafael Molina (41:54):
I would like to see it as well. Yeah,
Sara Porkalob (41:56):
Man, let’s make it happen. Light a candle, do what we have to do.
Rafael Molina (42:01):
How do you think we, as a community can come together to hold institutions, companies and each other accountable?
Sara Porkalob (42:07):
I think every non-profit, well, let’s get specific, get specific. I think every non-profit theater organization that has an educational department specifically in Seattle, um, should look at their educational department. Um, when I say look at it, I mean, that sounds very basic, but from my own experience and working at almost every single theater in Seattle and being like adjacent or directly involved with education, like the work that nonprofit arts organizations think they’re doing with their main stage, like what they think they’re doing with that main stage is not happening with their main stage. And it’s more often happening with their education program.
Sara Porkalob (43:03):
And then we look at who’s in charge of the educational program. And often we have BIPOC folks. We have non cis males in positions of power or like, um, uh, staff workers, right. Or we have teaching artists who are like BIPOC folks. Uh, and then we look at their main stage season or like, wait a minute. There’s a disconnect here. And I, I really think people have to, I think nonprofit orgs have to look at their educational department and go, wait a minute. Are we really just valuing this thing? Because it upholds our mission. It gets us grant money. But in reality, we’re not going to give it as many meeting hours we’re going to slash the budget. We’re going to overwork the two women of color who head this department. We’re going to hire all BIPOC teaching artists to do this. But then when those BIPOC artists like audition for our main stage, we’re going to probably put them not in the show.
Sara Porkalob (43:57):
You know, I think people need to be honest with themselves and be like, or, is that educational department like a pipeline to get young BIPOC folks working in Seattle without actually talking about how the infrastructure we actually need to support these people. And this cultural work is not present. Therefore we are setting ourselves up for failure for most of these people. And it comes down with that. What happens to that? Right? In terms of success in this educational pipeline is individualism this overvaluing in our society of individuals, on the people who like work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps and who talk louder and take up the most space and have the most sold out audiences. Those are the ones that like people value. And that’s a bummer, especially when you’re a BIPOC person, because there’s already like limited spots for that. At least that’s what we’re taught to believe. So, yeah, I wish I could answer your question better, but like, this is truly how I feel about education. I really think the seeds to what non-profit regional theater can look like live in the educational department. And it bums me out that that’s often the department that is like devalued, silenced, overworked, has the most BIPOC folks and is like the least integrated in terms of like main stage. They’re like two separate departments.
Rafael Molina (45:29):
What about your vision for education, institutional education and education in the arts?
Sara Porkalob (45:34):
You know, this is a sticky topic for me personally, because once upon a time I used to be somebody who truly believed that access to education would solve most of the world’s problems. For example, I was like if only every child had the opportunity to go to school, they could use their education to find a job to lift them and their families out of poverty. Or if I was like, if only we could educate white supremacists enough about the history of America, they would be able to decide for themselves to be anti-racists. And what I have since to realize since my early twenties is that, especially when we’re talking about an American white supremacist, transactional education, and I keep saying white supremacist, transactional, like education or culture, because that’s what we are. So I’m going to keep saying it is that our educational system is also a white supremacist transactional system.
Sara Porkalob (46:38):
So if we’re going to talk about the vision of education and like what it can do, we have to first acknowledge the falsehoods and the harmful, uh, uh, uh, like false understanding of what education actually does for people. Because I see how much of our white supremacist, transactional culture doesn’t actually allow the mission of education to happen as it should. And it doesn’t allow education as a system to be what everybody thinks it is, which is like an equitable starting point for all people. That’s not true. And when I think about like educating oneself, you know, what can, what can we do to, to hold ourselves accountable, to like what we think in the world, what we do in the world, what we say. And one thing that I also truly believe about education is that it’s a process. We have to approach education as a process that is not linear.
Sara Porkalob (47:47):
That is in fact, cyclical with many false starts, many like branches. And once we start to think about our drain, actually as an interconnected system with our body, maybe then we could start to think about education systems in the same way. So rather instead of it being like give the individual, the tool and the individual succeed, actually, it’s like, no, we’re all together in this process. Here we are. What can we learn from one another? What can we unlearn together? How can each of us use our individual agency to question what we think we know about the world and to hold ourselves accountable for when we are causing harm, because maybe we don’t know, and to create opportunities of sharing our stories with others so we can continue to.
Rafael Molina (48:42):
that was beautiful. Thank you. That’s it for this series. I hope you’re inspired. I know I am. And I know doing this work for yourself and for others can be exhausting. It can spark feelings of apathy and disillusionment when you don’t see the fruits of your labor, but change and progress is undeterred. Despite it being slow, despite it sometimes seeming invisible more than anything doing the series has affirmed my belief that we have the power to build a better future. And I hope you see that too. So don’t get complacent and never stop dreaming. Thanks for listening. This series is a fundraiser for Seattle Shakespeare Company’s educational department. If you enjoyed this content and would like to learn more about Seattle Shakespeare Company’s educational programs, or if you’re able to support us with a donation, please visit seattleshakespeare.org/educationcelebration.