This is our Summer 2021 update regarding EDI (equity, diversity, and inclusion) and antiracist work at People’s Light. Following our initial update in December of 2020, we continued to experience the profound impact of COVID-19 on personal, communal, organizational, and field-wide levels. In turn, the nature of our EDI work shifted in pace and scope, but not in urgency or intention.
In this report, we highlight our internal and external EDI and antiracist work over the past six months. What is classified here as “external” actions refers to more public-facing engagement, such as what we produce and how we interact with our community. “Internal” actions focus on organizational policy, the dynamics of how we work together, and areas of individual and collective reflection and analysis through an EDI lens. Although we make a distinction between these two categories, we maintain that our internal work affects and finds expression in our external work and vice versa. These actions in tandem create sustainable change.
- We opened all our live and digital offerings with a land acknowledgement. We adjusted the acknowledgement to reflect points of connection with each work of art, but all acknowledgements stated we are on the unceded land of the Lenni Lenape and offered thanks for their original stewardship and continued connection to our land, waters, and air. We also encouraged our audiences to learn more about the indigenous peoples of the places where they live and work.
- We commissioned Zonya Love to create and perform an original piece based on her forthcoming concept album of reimagined Negro Spirituals, a dream project that took on greater personal urgency following the murder of George Floyd. We filmed Spiritual Uprising at People’s Light over three days and streamed the film in April and May. We also recorded and posted a Digital Scoop conversation about the history and legacy of the genre, as well as artistic and personal connections and inspirations that informed the performance. We partnered with our PBS affiliate, WHYY, to broadcast a free encore of the film on Juneteenth and made the film available via their web platforms through July 17th.
Zonya Love and Helen White in Spiritual Uprising.
- This spring, we collaborated with a variety of our cross-sector community partners to bring two outdoor offerings into our surrounding communities. The first offering, People’s Playback, is an improvisational form that renders performances from personal stories that the audience shares. Different themes shaped stories gathered in each location.
- A bilingual event in partnership with Casa Guanajuato in Kennett Square centered “Migrant Mushroom Workers: Leaving Everything Behind for a Better Life.”
- In partnership with Coatesville Youth Initiative and Brandywine Valley Active Aging, the multi-generational event focused on “Legacy: How We Will Be (or Would Like To Be) Remembered.”
- In partnership with Main Line Mentoring in Wayne, the focus was on “White Supremacy, Racism & the Police.”
- In the town of Chester, we partnered with the Eternal Hope of Glory Church to share stories of “Adversities in Our Community and Coming Together to Address Them.”
- The other outdoor, community-based event this year was Illuminating Bayard. Each gathering consisted of a short play-with-music about the life and legacy of Bayard Rustin, written and directed by Steve H. Broadnax III*, followed by a community panel and town hall forum conversation. We partnered with:
*We will premiere Steve H. Broadnax III’s full length play-with-music Bayard Rustin Inside Ashland in Spring 2022.
Top, Illuminating Bayard performance at Cheyney University; Below, People's Playback performance at Eternal Hope of Glory Church.
- We continued our efforts to support and increase BIPOC representation among artistic and production teams, while providing sustained employment for as many of our staff (18% BIPOC) as possible amidst the pandemic. The following commissioned and curated projects involved a mix of staff and guest artists*. These projects spoke to this moment and connected with a wide range of audiences, local and national.
- For our online series America 2am, 21 artists were part of the Cast and Creative Team. 57% were BIPOC, including playwrights Candrice Jones and Guadalís Del Carmen, director David Mendizábal, Intimacy Director Teniece Divya Johnson, and Director of Photography & Digital Editor Omkar Girish Purandare.
- For our film of Zonya Love’s Spiritual Uprising, 17 artists were involved. 60% were African American or Black, including Creator/Musical Supervisor/Performer Zonya Love, People’s Light Resident Director Steve H. Broadnax III, Music Director Dionne McClain-Freeney, and Director of Photography Artina Michelle.
- For our live outdoor offering for families, Folk Tales in the Glen, 11 artists were involved. 18% were Asian American, including People’s Light’s Resident Dramaturg and EDI Coordinator Gina Pisasale (as co-writer and co-director), and performer Caitlin Alvarez.
- People’s Playback events in communities consisted of 9 artists. 22% were BIPOC, including People’s Light’s Resident Teaching Artist & New Voices Program Director Nadira Beard (as performer), and performer Angel Sigala.
- For our Illuminating Bayard events in communities, 7 artists were involved. 43% were African American or Black, including People’s Light’s Resident Director Steve H. Broadnax III (as playwright and director).
*We recognize quantifying diversity can be a tokenistic indicator of progress. We are mindful that the more vital and enduring work is to establish spaces (both virtual and physical) of trust and agency for all collaborators. We continue to experience various learnings on this front and adjusted rehearsal and backstage practices, processes around intimacy direction, the implementation of design elements, and project budgeting to better establish these spaces as well as provide systems of communication and recourse in cases where we fell short. As we continue to create spaces of trust, we are also committed to increasing our BIPOC staff through future hires.
- America 2am included captioning in English and Spanish, along with a Spanish translation of the America 2am webpage. We plan to offer more digital and web content in Spanish and are in development for a bilingual production for our 2022-23 Season.
- In May, we joined a coalition of regional theatres to stream the film of Lauren Gunderson’s new play, The Catastrophist, which starred William DeMeritt, an actor with Black and Jewish intersectional identities. Thanks to our previous accessibility work, we were able to both enhance our streaming of the film with ASL interpretation and audio description, and also offer these accessibility features for free to all the partner theatres who streamed the film after us. Our “Opening Night” celebration for The Catastrophist included a Q&A with the teams who lead our ASL and audio description work.
- We offered outdoor, socially-distanced performances on our new Glen Stage to care for the well-being of families with younger children ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines. People’s Light staff-members-turned-playwrights sought source material beyond familiar Western children’s stories and created two original interactive plays, inspired by folk tales traced to South Asia, Korea, and Lenapehoking. We invited staff and guest artists with identities that aligned with the source material to early in-house readings to offer feedback from their personal and cultural perspectives.
- For SummerBLAST, our outdoor summer theatre program for students ages 7 – 18, 67% of teaching artists hired were BIPOC.
- New Voices Ensemble, our longest running education program consisting primarily of Black students from the city of Chester in Delaware County, continued to meet on Zoom and eventually in person throughout the pandemic. The Ensemble created an online performance that was filmed, edited, and released in March 2021, and presented 2 live outdoor performances this summer at People's Light and in the City of Chester.
This update comes as we begin to bring increasing numbers of our staff, artists, students, and audiences together again on our campus and indoor spaces. As we re-emerge and reconnect, we commit to build upon the learnings, analysis, revelations, and growth acquired in the past 18 months that have compelled us to consider each other, the world, and the way we live and work differently. Since our last update, we took learnings from the expansive EDI Working Groups and centered our energies on what we could achieve over a 6-8 month period. We focused predominantly on hiring, staff trainings, and accessibility.
- We are in the process of hiring several positions, including an Associate Artistic Director. Recommendations from our EDI Hiring Working Group shaped the job description and approach to posting, especially with regard to how we heightened the transparency of the process, institutional expectations and needs, and compensation. The description specified that “We seek citizen-artists with critical cultural competency and experience who incorporate practices of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion within all facets of their work” even as it acknowledged People’s Light’s historic “complicity in white male supremacist systems and structures.” We have also begun to add “Commitment to Equity and Inclusion” as a qualification for all job postings.
- We made new efforts to establish sustainable onramps and access to our organization for early career artists and administrators. A number of our staff and recent guest artists are affiliated with local academic institutions. Through those connections, we were able to connect with an inspiring and diverse pool of undergraduate students for three summer internship positions. In our commitment to increase compensation for interns, we were able to shift resources to offer housing and a larger stipend.
- We gathered for a series of full-staff trainings:
- An introductory Zoom session that provided descriptions and opportunities for different kinds interrelated trainings and frameworks including de-escalation, bystander intervention, microaggression, implicit bias/anti-bias, anti-racism, decolonization, EDI terminology & social location, accessibility, culturally bound contexts and narratives, and restorative justice. In breakout rooms, each staff member expressed their interest and preferences for specific training(s) based on experiences within their respective department. This information shaped our focus for future sessions.
- “Building a Culture of High-trust, Joy, and Purpose (in extra difficult times)” led by Master Teacher and facilitator Jen Karsten, former Executive Director of Pendle Hill, a Quaker center in Wallingford, PA that works to create peace and justice through education and community building. Our goal was to increase our sense of readiness for re-opening over the coming months, to further understand and share our heightened anxieties and tensions during these extraordinary times and feel more prepared to respond with grace and integrity to the work ahead.
- A trauma-informed de-escalation training, led by a team from Broad Street Ministry. Located at 315 Broad Street in Philadelphia, they serve the local community through a wide variety of services led by their philosophy of radical hospitality. The training was a hybrid of in-person and virtual access for those still unable to come to People’s Light’s campus.
- A fully in-person follow up to Broad Street Ministry’s de-escalation training, where the staff began to come to consensus on non-negotiable behaviors and conduct. Staff members shared individual stress responses and boundaries, and practiced collaborative action plans to engage with individuals in an escalated situation.
- In addition to formal training sessions, we have begun a series of cultural fluency sessions that will offer vocabulary for new and changing language within EDI and antiracist discourses.
- We added language to our Standards of Conduct regarding our commitment to being an antiracist organization.
- In efforts to increase cultural competencies, Our EDI Resource Working Group curated an expansive list of films, podcasts, articles/writing, web series, and more that focus on a culturally specific history and narrative. Each department selected material to watch/read/listen to and discuss during work-day hours. Among those recommended during this period: the 2020 documentary Crip Camp, WHYY’s online Asian American History series, and Nikole Hannah-Jones' expansive The 1619 Project podcast.
- The EDI Vendor Working Group drafted a series of questions for our prospective and current vendors to assess their engagement and commitment towards equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and antiracism, and to underscore our interest in businesses that share our values.
- The EDI Writing Working Group continued to improve the Company Handbook with a particular focus on decolonizing language and identifying exclusive practices and content.
- We made significant efforts to make our spaces more welcoming and accessible. We renovated our Farmhouse restaurant, included the main entrance. We hired architects to design ways for our backstage spaces to be more accessible for those with diverse mobility needs and to adjust our building layouts to affirm gender identities beyond the binary. We widened the cross-through of our Steinbright Stage to be wheelchair accessible and we added railings to our Haas Stage seating.
As we continue to re-emerge and re-imagine what is possible, we also acknowledge the opportunities, responsibilities, and privileges that are part of our sustained presence. We will continue our commitment to invite, include, listen to, and value the wisdom, experiences, and artful resilience of populations historically and presently excluded and disenfranchised. We do this because we are a company of individuals compelled to create a more just and equitable society – but also because there is so much joy and connection to be experienced in discovering more about each other, our community, and our world.
This update contains key highlights of our work over the past six months. If you have further questions about People’s Light’s longer evolution towards building a culture of Inclusion, please contact Resident Dramaturg and EDI Coordinator Gina Pisasale at email@example.com.
As always: To be continued...