We've all seen them: Those shows where a sole person of color stands out in an ensemble sea of white. For artists, being the "only one" of a kind in any given production can be a lonely experience. It also means that creating artistic cohortsa group of people focused on one task or brought together to foster brought together to create general changeis an essential skill.
Steppenwolf Theatre's Multicultural Fellows brought the issue front and center during a two-hour April workshop attended by more than 50 theater artists from a variety of disciplines. The core question: How can we foster community amongst POC/Queer Folx within the theater when we are often 'the only one' at an institution?
Organizations including the Chicago Inclusion Project, Not in Our House, the Chicago Theatre Accountability Coalition and Steppenwolf's Multicultural Fellowship program are living proof that cohortswhich can take the form of an official organization or simply be several like-minded cast members who have agreed to join forcesare thriving throughout the city.
"When I look around this room, all I see is hope," said keynote speaker and Black Ensemble Theater Founding Artistic Director Jackie Taylor.
Here are three additional takeaways from the April 30 event:
Yes, you can buck the board.
"Taylor's talk about how she got rid of people who didn't see the same vision as her just because they thought small and she thinks big was very empowering and inspiring because I've always thought that in order to make a successful theater you have to have that board support. And you can't push back against it, but she broke institutional barriers to prove that isn't true." Estrellita Edwell, Production Management Apprentice and Steppenwolf Multicultural Fellow.
Change is difficult. And necessary.
"Working on this event taught me that change doesn't happen overnight. It's an ongoing process, there are no shortcuts; and just like anything worth having, it won't be easy to achieve. The fact that we all could have this experience proves to me how far we've come, as well as how much further we have to go. It was a wonderful night with wonderful people, and we should be proud. Tomorrow there will be more of us." Mario J. Raggazone, Electrics Apprentice and Multicultural Fellow.
Embrace agency and authenticity.
"Having the agency and right to voice concerns, grievances, or issues at all levels is important. Also being one's authentic selfin any work placebrings value to all institutions." Wardell Julius Clark, Director and Casting and Producing Associate at Timeline.
"Ultimately, what I took away had to do with personal agency and the need for a multiplicity of voices on the decision-making team behind the table as well as onstage. Only then can we build cohorts to give ourselves the tools to have productive conversations with institutions. One excellent idea that surfaced was a Dramaturg/Playwrights mixer for queer and POC artists. I throw the ball in your court Chicago Theatrewhere are we having the next cohort building event?" Regina Victor.
Regina Victor is one of six Multicultural Fellow at the Steppenwolf Theatre and the founder of Rescripted.com . They helped curate the event above. For more information about Steppenwolf's Multicultural Fellow program, go to www.steppenwolf.org/education/professional-leadership-programs/fellow .