As theater-makers, we are charged with engaging honestly and deeply in conversations about our humanity, and our inhumanity. We are holding ourselves accountable to an ongoing practice that will ensure that Chicago Shakespeare is an inclusive, diverse, equitable, and actively anti-racist organization. We pledge to do better, beginning with these commitments:
- Our stages will be home to stories that better reflect the multitude of identities, strengths, and viewpoints in our city and our world. As we interrogate what it means to be a “Shakespeare theater,” we acknowledge the power of our platform, and the voices that have historically claimed it. Investing in the stories and talents of those who have been marginalized and silenced, we commit to producing more work from BIPOC theater-makers.
- A far wider spectrum of perspectives is required around the table—from the rehearsal room to the board room, on our administrative and creative teams. We will challenge existing recruitment, hiring, and casting practices, and increase BIPOC representation at every level, including our Board of Directors and leadership team, and across all departments and our stages.
- A theater is its community. In addition to looking inward, we will look outward, and actively welcome the broadest community possible to participate and partner in our work. We will extend our commitment to anti-racism into outreach, engagement, discussions, and planning with external constituents, collaborators, and audiences. Through active listening, advocacy, and resource-sharing, we will uplift organizations on the front lines of activism and community-building.
- Evolving into an actively anti-racist and anti-oppressive organization now becomes an ongoing priority and practice. We fully commit our time, attention, and resources to this important work. We will be open and honest with ourselves and our community as we address our progress as well as our challenges and shortcomings. Over July and August, we have taken the following steps:
- Led by Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Director of HR, Diversity and Inclusion Ty Woodfolk, we are building an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion plan that focuses on eight foundational aspects of our work: Inclusive Artmaking; Diversity in Casting; Recruitment and Hiring; Diverse and Equitable Leadership; Diverse Board Representation; Culture, Retention, and Professional Development; Communication (internal and external); and Education and Community Engagement.
Our industry continues examining theater’s embedded structural inequities and shining light on ways in which we can address them (including We See You WAT, Black Theatre United, and more). Learning from these national conversations, we have engaged cross-departmental working groups to examine our practice and policies and to establish short- and long-term goals for the organization across each of the eight areas mentioned above. Metrics and structures of accountability at every level of the organization and inside each working group are being set. The draft of this Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion plan is being reviewed by each working group, by the Board of Directors, and by the staff at large to ensure buy-in at every level.
- Chicago Shakespeare’s Board of Directors has elected Nazneen Razi and Binta Niambi Brown to chair the Board EDI Committee and join a new slate of Board leadership: Sheli Rosenberg (Board Chair), Paulita Pike (Treasurer), Linda Myers (Membership Committee Chair); Marguerite Griffin and Richard Porter (Development Committee Chairs); and Ray Whitacre (Audit Committee Chair).
- Chicago Shakespeare’s artistic and producing team held virtual meetings, inviting BIPOC artmakers who have worked with the Theater over the last five years to share their experiences with Chicago Shakespeare’s casting, rehearsal, and production processes. These small-group ‘Listen In’ sessions exposed hard truths and candid comments from the collaborators who chose to share. The learning from those sessions is going into our EDI working groups, our artistic planning and process, and into our individual and collective consciousness.
- One of our most impactful education programs, Bard Core, is a year-long professional learning seminar for CPS teachers, introducing them to drama-based strategies for engaging students. We also host an annual Chicago Shakespeare SLAM program with high schools from our region diving deep into finding their own voices as they interpret and perform Shakespeare. With both those programs, we have reframed readings, materials, and discussions to foster open and meaningful conversations about race and diversity, and the dominant, pervasive force of white culture in our decisions—from curriculum to casting and performance choices.
- Every summer since the inception of Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks, our collaborations with neighborhood organizations across the city have best embodied the unifying spirit of this program. Right now, many of these partners are standing up against oppression and injustice, engaged in powerful, on-the-ground relief efforts for their neighborhoods. We are supporting their vital work and amplifying their efforts by refocusing our Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks program on these essential community partners.