Posted on August 21, 2020

At Theaters, Push for Racial Equity Leads to Resignations and Restructuring

Michael Paulson, New York Times, August 19, 2020

Fifteen years ago, Paul Kuhn co-founded Philadelphia’s Curio Theater Company. Now, having reached the conclusion that his leadership is part of a racist power structure, Kuhn says he is relinquishing all authority to choose plays, directors and designers to a new co-artistic director, Rich Bradford, who is Black.

Across the country in Berkeley, Calif., Jon Tracy, a white man who serves as the artistic facilitator at TheatreFirst, is demoting himself, and the company is creating a new, term-limited position of artistic director, hoping the opening will provide an opportunity to diversify its leadership.

And in New York City, William Carden is planning to leave Ensemble Studio Theater — a company he joined in 1978. All four people on its artistic staff are white, and Carden, who has been the artistic director since 2007, said he believes his departure is the way to prompt change.

“The key to antiracism is sharing power,” Carden said. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of humility, and it requires that white people step aside.”


The theaters are mostly small, and it remains unclear how calls for change in the industry will (or won’t) affect life at larger institutions, many of which have been programmatically and financially hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic.

But there are indications — on Broadway, Off Broadway, and at regional theaters — that the charges of systemic racism aired this summer, along with the advocacy of several organizations pressing for change, are having an initial impact.


Not all of the change taking place is voluntary. In Philadelphia, the nonprofit PlayPenn, which supports the development of new work, accepted the resignation of its artistic director and fired its associate artistic director after receiving allegations that it “was not meeting community members’ expectations for racial and cultural competence.” In Georgia, the Serenbe Playhouse laid off its entire staff following allegations of racism.

And at the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York, executive director Ginny Louloudes was placed on leave after a group of current and former employees wrote a letter saying “her presence is toxic, abusive and an obstacle to progress.” {snip}


The musical “Company” has pledged to hire 10 paid apprentices, all of them Black, when Broadway resumes. The musical “Wicked” is sponsoring the Broadway Advocacy Coalition’s “artivism” fellowship, which plans an inaugural class of Black women artist-activists focused on systemic racism and criminal justice reform.

And the Broadway League, the trade association of theater owners and producers, this month doubled the number of Black members of its board of governors, from two to four, by adding Brian Moreland, a producer, and Kendra Whitlock Ingram, the president and chief executive of Milwaukee’s Marcus Performing Arts Center.


The Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation said it would establish a new residency program pairing midcareer directors and choreographers of color with theaters seeking to make change.

And at a time when theaters are laying off employees, rather than hiring, a number of institutions and organizations are nonetheless announcing new Black leaders. In New York, the Public Theater is naming two artists of color — Saheem Ali and Shanta Thake — as associate artistic directors.

The Tank, a New York nonprofit that seeks to nurture emerging artists, named Johnny Lloyd, who is Black, as a new director of artistic development, as the theater examines “how white supremacy is limiting our mission,” according to Meghan Finn, the artistic director.

In Washington, Ford’s Theater this week named Sheldon Epps, who is Black, as a senior artistic adviser; in the announcement, the theater cited “the national reckoning for racial justice” as context. And Theater Philadelphia, an umbrella organization, named LaNeshe Miller-White as its executive director; she was the co-founder of Theater in the X, a company focused on African-American work.