To HUGE Theater audiences, supporters, performers and community:
If you don’t already know, get ready to know – at HUGE we’re devoted to diversity and inclusion. It’s a goal and a process. Along the way, we’re fully aware and ready to admit that we have made mistakes in the past and it’s very likely we’re going to make some more mistakes in the future.
The following is not the story of blaming or admonishing one production for mistakes that were made, it’s an account of some recent mistakes and lessons learned as we work to recognize our blind spots before we veer into them next time.
[ BEFORE WE START : Four white people wrote this.
For readers of color, these learnings will likely be obvious to you. We recognize the place of privilege from which this note is written. We sought advice from our colleague of color (diversity and inclusion director John Gebretatose) to help us see around our blinders.
We recognize that what we’ve learned has come at the cost of a lot of emotional labor from our colleagues and performers of color – we want to make sure that effort reaches more people so we can all do better in the future. Thank you, again and always, for your patience with us while we get there.
We are writing to a mostly to a white audience of improv producers and directors. Our goal is to help us all do better recognizing our privilege and create more inclusive spaces.
If you’re thinking you don’t need to think about this, please know that’s the first sign of trouble.]
Ready? Here we go.
- Issues arose during the rehearsal and production process of a show called Party Riot
- Party Riot is an independent production, supported by HUGE Theater, as are more than sixty percent of our weekend shows.
- The show was created with the goal of empowering and supporting female-identified and non-binary artists, and the shows producers made intentional efforts to cast a diverse group overall, including four women of color in a cast of 23 people
- The leadership team of Party Riot as well as HUGE Theater are almost entirely white.
- Over the course of rehearsals, concerns were raised by women of color about their experience and communication difficulties.
- The original show promotion artwork design featured an abstracted image of a woman of color as the only human image representing the show featuring a small (but still greater than any other previous show) number of women of color – when paired with the title created a negative connotation.
- The original artwork was scrapped when concerns were voiced – it was never used – HUGE Theater leadership also failed to flag the design it when it was sent to us.
- The production team of Party Riot held several meetings to involve the entire cast, listen to concerns and repair the process moving forward – new artwork was created for the show that featured photos of actual cast members that emphasize the positive aspects of the show’s original intent.
- HUGE Leadership met with show leadership to improve communication.We also contacted the Party Riot cast directly via email to make sure they know we’re aware that we could have done better from the beginning and make ourselves more directly available going forward.
- We also let the cast and production team know that this public post would be coming – it is a hard lesson, and we know more producers can learn from it.
- The Party Riot leadership team and cast continue to work together – The show opened at the beginning of January to a packed house and brought. the. house. down.
Here are some things we as an organization learned from this experience about being effective (and sometimes failing) in meeting the challenges of creating a space that truly supports – in addition to valuing and encouraging – diversity and inclusion.
Specifically, our mistakes as HUGE Improv Theater were:
- Not understanding the limits of good intentions without immediately providing support and infrastructure for change.
- Not anticipating or recognizing that “safe space” is not the same for all performers, and needs to be defined so that people of color feel equally celebrated and supported.
- Not recognizing and flagging a combination of image and title that showed an icon of a person of color only, paired with blindness to social and cultural issues of race in relationship to show title.
- Overall, the need for greatly heightened transparency and care – as well as being more visibly available to our independent producers and casts as well as shows directly produced by HUGE.
Support mechanisms need to be more accessible to work better for everyone. In the future, when productions begin, the theater will ask for the contact information for the cast so we can give them logistics (show guidelines, comp instructions, etc.) as well as giving everyone a direct channel to reach us if they experience problems or have concerns.
The simple fact that women of color felt they could bring these issues to our attention — and did so — is tremendous. We have to thank them for bravery atop of courage atop of trust atop of patience. Again. We are so very thankful you are here. Thank you for giving us another chance to do better. We will do better.
The fact that director of diversity and inclusion John Gebretatose works tirelessly to make himself available. He does this both as a person that performers of color can reach out to at any time, and also to patiently sit down with the HUGE team and walk us through (some of) our blind spots. His dedication and endurance are such a gift to us all.
We recognize that there are communities that would have to put in years of work to reach the point where it would even be possible to make mistakes like these. We truly appreciate that people are willing to take risks and do the work, and we want to do whatever we can to make HUGE feel like home to everyone.
The fact that Party Riot is pushing forward and doing the work – before, during and after mistakes were made. These mistakes happened because the show producers are trying to make this art form more inclusive – we all are.
The process is not simple or easy or painless but absolutely necessary.
We are pleased to say that Party Riot is running Saturday nights at 8pm at HUGE and they’ve done hard work to rally around and expand their mission. Please support these courageous improvisors.
We encourage you – now or at any time you’d like – to please share your thoughts, concerns, feelings. You can email any or all of us or please feel free to use our anonymous feedback form (link below)
We are open and we are working to do better.
Thank you for your time and patience.
The Board of HUGE Theater
Link to our feedback form : https://goo.gl/LVCT9d