The Road to Diversifying Theater Leadership

Photo Credit: Regional Theatre Young Director Program

Nearly a year ago, Joseph Haj, artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, wrote an opinion article for American Theatre, in which he called for succession planning that incorporated diversity as part of the process. At the time of Mr. Haj’s article, he noted that 20 major theaters were undergoing a change in leadership. And he expressed concern that many of those positions would be filled without looking at a broad and diverse range of candidates. He wrote:

“Systemic biases require systemic solutions. The demographics of our region, like every other in this country, are diversifying rapidly. So our institution, our board of directors, our administrators, and the art makers themselves need to reflect the diversity of our changing communities or we’re going to be left far behind.

Executive leadership remains the single-most, critical factor in facilitating change that creates a positive and lasting impact, especially in the arts community. As a follow-up to last week’s blog about cultivating diverse arts leadership in the museum industry (also see New York Times report), this week I’m highlighting programs in the theater community aimed at increasing the ranks of women and people of color in decision-making positions.

I first blogged about a new initiative launched by the National Theater Conference (NTC) earlier this year. As a member of the Board of Trustees, I continue to admire the vision and sense of purpose behind NTC’s efforts to diversify and expand the ranks of women and people of color in leadership positions throughout the theatre community. NTC has stepped up its efforts by creating an online repository of diverse candidates for artistic leadership positions. The repository consists of the names candidates, their relevant artistic and leadership experience, and materials providing additional information about the experience. As NTC becomes aware of openings, it is reaching out to those theater organizations. It is also making search firms aware of this resource.

The NTC is seeking on-going assistance in building and expanding its pool of qualified candidates. For more information, contact NTC.

I also am a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of The Broadway League, which is seeking to expand opportunities nationwide at its member-Broadway theaters and Performing Arts Centers. The programs created by The Broadway League target youth, and offer a wide-range of opportunities for high school and college students, as well as young professionals seeking to pursue careers in theater. These programs connect these youth with Broadway’s working professionals.. The programs include:

The High School Broadway Management Diversity Initiative: This initiative connects high school seniors with non-performance professionals working on Broadway. Over the course of 5 days, students learn the components of mounting and maintaining a Broadway production.

The League/ATPAM (Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers)Diversity Initiative: This program matches college students selected from university theatre programs with Touring Broadway and Broadway company managers for a week-long intensive.

The Broadway League’s Diversity & Inclusion Fellowship Program: This program matches young professionals that have theatre management backgrounds with Broadway producers, general managers, and marketing specialists in order to help them explore possible careers in the Broadway industry.

For more information about The Broadway League’s program, contact the Director of Professional Development.

The Theater Communications Group’s multi-year Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, which was launched in conjunction with artEquity, continues its efforts to transform the national theatre field into a more equitable, inclusive and diverse community. The initiative works with diverse theater groups to advance change at the personal, organizational, and fieldwide levels. In addition, artEquity is continuing to expand the scope and reach of equity in the artsthroughg its national facilitator training program. The ultimate goal of the artEquity training is to create a diverse, well-equipped cadre of facilitators who can support equity-based initiatives nation-wide. To receive information about the next training program, click here.

A few years ago in the TCG Circle Blog, Kevin Brown wrote: “Theatre is a cultural space where society examines itself in a mirror.” I totally agree. However, without equity, diversity and inclusion programs and initiatives, our mirror will have blind spots. As I have previously shared, whether artists and cultural organizations can lead our country out of its persistent quagmire will not be determined by good intentions, but rather by the proactive steps we actually take.