National Theatre Conference Expands Efforts to Diversify Leadership

The National Theatre Conference (NTC) is a not-for-profit organization made up of distinguished members of the American Theatre Community. Established in 1925, its mission includes:

  • Exploring the means to best serve the interests of the American Theatre, and to initiate, encourage, and support projects of value and significance with a view towards strengthening and broadening the influence of theatre in our country.
  • Bringing the membership together at least once a year in a spirit of mutual helpfulness for the interchange of aims and ideals, and for the discussion of common problems and interests.
  • Providing, at its annual meeting, opportunities for the membership to hear the views of outstanding personalities in the theatre and to observe demonstrations of various techniques in order that the membership may thereby profit.

 I am a proud member of the Board of Trustees of the NTC. I admire the vision and sense of purpose with which we have focused on diversifying and expanding the ranks of people of color and women in leadership positions. At our most recent gathering in December 2017, we decided to take a bold step—the Board of Trustees, along with an ad-hoc subcommittee, announced its decision to create a repository of potential candidates for artistic leadership positions for women and people of color.

This is a pro-active and positive effort to contribute to the ongoing diversification of leadership in the American Theatre. The NTC board was moved to action by the remarks of NTC Person of the Year, Molly Smith, in which she called for diversity in leadership and identified the challenge to significantly change the landscape given the more than two dozen current openings for artistic directors across the country.

The goal of the NTC repository is to provide theaters with openings with ready-access to a diverse pool of qualified candidates, consequently removing the age-old barrier, “We didn’t know where to look. We couldn’t find anybody.” The board stressed that NTC is not advocating organizationally for any individual, or for any specific position.

The NTC Board of Trustees are seeking to act in a timely manner, focusing on those institutions currently involved in searches. Michael Hood, president of NTC, in a letter on behalf of the Board of Trustees, recently wrote: “As we know better than most: timing is everything. No matter how well-intentioned or well-conceived, our offer of assistance will be meaningless if it arrives too late.”

NTC and the Board of Trustees has distributed the following letter, signed by Michael Hood, to institutions with openings:

On behalf of the 144 professional and academic theatre leaders who comprise the membership of the National Theatre Conference, we write to you because it is our understanding you represent an institution that is among the more than two dozen theatres with leadership openings. We are aware that many individuals and institutions are increasingly interested in the opportunity to diversify their leadership ranks and that some have a mandate to do so. Among the roadblocks often articulated by those with such interests is the difficulty in identifying a viable and diverse candidate pool. It is our goal to help eliminate that problem.

To that end, NTC has identified a diverse group of experienced leaders interested in exploring new opportunities, and we believe we have made it easy for organizations to access these materials to see who among this exciting group of artists might be a good fit. We offer this in line with our service mission at no cost to you and with no strings attached.

The women and people of color in this cohort bring with them a vast array of experience and sensibilities. It is not our intention to advocate for them individually for a specific position; we simply want to make it easy for search committees and institutional representatives of organizations such as yours to visit the profiles of these artists and make those determinations for yourselves.

Like many, we happily embrace the continuing evolution of our art form and celebrate the inclusion of artistic voices reflecting our ever-evolving American demographic and culture. Like you, we are interested in doing all we can to ensure the health of the American theatre for future generations. We see the diversification of artistic leadership as fundamental to that cause.

We hope you accept this offer in the spirit it is intended and that you find our efforts helpful as you search for your new leader. We look forward to providing whatever assistance may be helpful and appropriate to that person once she or he has been identified.

This is a bold move and positive effort to break through barriers that have limited access to leadership positions in the nation’s theater community. Now is the time for us to change the existing model to refresh leadership.  I am hopeful that we will see a positive response that changes the game. But as always, let’s remain vigilant!