The quest for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at People’s Light takes many different forms — from the grand, global efforts to rethink our physical spaces to considerations about whether to capitalize terms such as “Black” or “white.”
The biggest change – for me, at least – is that I am now the Director of Accessibility and EDI Programming. With this shift, I work full-time to increase access to our theatre and to help create the inclusive, socially just community we want here at People’s Light. My work is primarily internal. I offer workshops and promote conversations among People’s Light staff and artists to increase our cultural consciousness. This is work I love: digging deeper into these issues and learning alongside my colleagues how to navigate our fabulously diverse world with kindness and the broadest possible welcome.
Here is a summary of the Accessibility and EDI work that People’s Light has accomplished in the last year:
- Katie Samson, Director of Education at Art-Reach, an arts advocacy organization for people with disabilities and people with low incomes, spoke to People’s Light staff in December 2021, about ways in which we could make our spaces more accessible.
- Inspired by our production of Bayard Rustin Inside Ashland, we invited facilitator Matthew Armstead to lead a conversation in May with staff about Black male bodies in the predominantly white space of People’s Light. We also reflected on what People's Light can do generally to create more safety and welcome for our BIPOC actors.
- General Manager Erin Sheffield and Sound Engineer Brent Hoyer hosted an EDI training in May for all employees hired after December 2018. This training was a re-cap of training offered by artEquity in 2017. Among the important exercises were opportunities to ask what each person brings to the discussion of equity, diversity and inclusion. What are the experiences or beliefs that might shape our attitudes towards others?
- In June, Arla Patch, a co-founding member of the Coalition of Natives and Allies, spoke with our staff about the history of Indigenous people in this area, the significance of Land Acknowledgements, and what steps People’s Light can take to advocate locally and nationally for Indigenous people.
- Prompted by the multiracial family of Grand Horizons, People’s Light held a Zoom interview in July with Isaac Etter, a transcultural adoptee and consultant on transcultural adoption; and Liana Irvine, the production’s dramaturg and a transcultural adoptee.
- In September, Charito Calvachi-Mateyko led a Restorative Justice Circle for staff. This is a description of restorative justice circles in schools, but the principles are universal, as patrons discover in Mushroom, our much-lauded production about LatinE workers in the mushroom industry near Kennett Square.
- In response to concerns raised by trans patrons, we expanded our definition of acceptable ID to include two identifying documents such as a w-2 form, pay stub, or utility bill. We made this change as we learned how difficult it is for trans members of our community to acquire government issued photo ID’s. To learn more about the issue of ID documents for trans people, read this article or this one. The only exception to this change is for liquor purchases. Proof of ID for those purchases is still limited to government-issued ID.
- Applicants for Front of House positions no longer need high school or college degrees. Interest in learning customer skills and working in the theatre is much more relevant to success in these positions.
- In May, our affinity space for BIPOC staff, a small but growing membership, was restarted. The group meets monthly to find mutual support; address questions or raise concerns about EDI; and broaden the welcome at People’s Light — onstage, in the audience, and behind the scenes.
- With the production of Grand Horizons, the BIPOC Affinity space extended its welcome to include BIPOC guest artists. Early in the rehearsal process of Mushroom, we welcomed the BIPOC cast and gave a big “Happy Birthday” to Associate Producer Nikko Kimzin. People’s Light will continue to hold affinity spaces for BIPOC, LGBTQ and other guest artists.
- In May, we began a monthly EDI resource newsletter for staff that offers windows into our gorgeously diverse world, poses important questions, and points towards possible solutions to the challenges we face in our quest for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- People’s Light established an Accessibility Advisory Council to consider improvements to our accessibility offerings and how best to deploy support such as pre-performance guides, Open Captioning, and Smart Caption glasses.
- In September, we held a workshop on hiring and working with people with neurodiversities, led by Jaclyn Abrams, assistant project director at the A. J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University.
- In November, People’s Light aired “Fighting Indians,” a documentary about an effort to remove a racist mascot from a Maine High School. Afterwards, we spoke with Donna Fann-Boyle, a founder of the Coalition of Natives and Allies and a leader in a similar fight at Neshaminy High School in Bucks County.
While external work is done by all departments, Mieke D., who joined People’s Light in February as our mononymous Director of Community Programs, and Kathryn Moroney, our Director of Education and Civic Practice, steered much of the work described below.
- Relaxed Performances returned to People’s Light with the production of A Christmas Carol. People’s Light has expanded its commitment to Relaxed Performances by offering an RP for each of its seasonal productions. Read here about the RP schedule for the 22/23 Fall season.
- During this year the Education department continued and deepened work with predominantly Latin/Hispanic student communities in Kennett Square and surrounding areas, and added a bilingual, Mexican-American Teaching Artist-in-Residence for Spring/Summer 2022. People’s Light provided 16 hour-long workshops to The Garage (Kennett Square and Avondale), as well as two extended workshops for summer programs at The Garage (Avondale) and Mighty Writers – El Futuro (Toughkenomon). The new teaching artist positions served both Theatre School and SummerBLAST as well.
- The New Voices program serving students from the city of Chester, PA continued, though in reduced numbers due primarily to the pandemic. 13 total New Voices students met in various combinations: virtually in the Fall, in-person for Winter and Spring Theatre School classes, Ensemble rehearsals, and SummerBLAST. The Ensemble gave a free performance in Chester in June, attended by approximately 50 family members and supporters. With reduced scope of production, we did not attempt to hire additional BIPOC production staff to support the program as initially hoped.
- In addition to the Spring/Summer Teaching Artist-in-Residence and Resident Teaching Artist who is permanent staff, five Freelance Teaching Artist hires for 2021-22 identify as follows: one non-POC (two programs), one BIPOC (2 programs), three non-BIPOC (one program each), one non-binary (one program). While BIPOC staff composed 38% of our teaching artist roster, they led or co-taught 60% of the year’s education programs.
- For the first time in People’s Light history, ASL interpreters reflected the diversity in our productions. Working with longtime ASL interpreters HandsUP Productions, People's Light featured BIPOC interpreters for both Hold These Truths in May and Bayard Rustin Inside Ashland in June.
- Smart Caption Glasses returned to People’s Light with Hold These Truths. People's Light was the first theatre in the United States to offer this new technology. The glasses allow patrons to read dialogue in real time. They are offered during the last two weeks of most productions.
- Education hosted Hold These Truths artists (Steven Eng and Jeanne Sakata) to speak with student groups who had attended student matinees or streamed the performance.
- Between April and May 2022, People’s Light conducted 24 theatre workshops with the student and adult communities at Royer Greaves School for the Blind, in addition to dedicated observation and planning time with the school staff in preparation for a longer residency in Winter 2022/23. A small group attended the Relaxed Performance (with Audio Description) of Personality, in preparation for larger attendance at Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Panto.
- In April, People’s Light held a discussion after a performance of Hold These Truths on Surviving Internment with Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) members who are also survivors of Japanese Internment, moderated by journalist Loraine Ballard Morrill.
- People’s Light also hosted a reception for members of the Philadelphia Chapter of the JACL. Steven Eng, who starred in Hold These Truths, was a featured guest.
- Rob Buscher contributed to the lobby display in Hold These Truths with artwork from his extensive collection of anti-Japanese propaganda. Longtime JACL members also contributed Ikebana display and maintenance to the lobby setting.
- With the closing performance of Hold These Truths, People’s Light hosted a post-show panel discussion on present day connections and challenging detention (with organizational representatives from the Coalition to Shut Down Berks, moderated by journalist Loraine Ballard Morrill).
- In partnership with the Malvern and West Chester Public Libraries, People’s Light hosted a teaching artist-led Juneteenth workshop incorporating elements of movement/dance, music, poetry, and voice for parents of young children.
- Miss Penny Washington, West Chester historian and inspiration for our previous production of Mud Row, led a tour for cast members in preparation for Bayard Rustin Inside Ashland of the individuals and institutions that influenced and shaped the work of the Civil Rights organizer. People’s Light produced a video of the tour that became part of the lobby display and messaging through multiple channels.
- We conducted a Zoom conversation on Bayard Rustin’s work and legacy with Renee Washington of the Charles A. Melton Center; Matthew Simons, sociology professor at Cheyney University; and Stephen Broadnax, author of Bayard Rustin Inside Ashland and People’s Light Associate Artistic Director.
- People's Light hosted a reception and fundraiser for the West Chester NAACP following a performance of Bayard Rustin Inside Ashland.
- In July, People’s Light partnered with Alianzas de Phoenixville for their 12th Annual Cultural Diversity Festival, filled with music, great food, and kiosks. Alianzas strives for equity and the dignity of diverse communities, regardless of their country of origin, by providing services to the under-resourced and by promoting intercultural exchanges to connect all individuals in the broader community.
- People’s Light held a Backyard BBQ featuring multiple artists and vendors from the neighboring LatinX/LatinE communities to celebrate the launching of Mushroom, our first ever bilingual production. Mushroom is a product of New Play Frontiers, our play development program, rooted in the stories, issues, and hopes of neighboring communities. This celebration furthered our strategy of investing economically, socially and artistically in LatinE communities.
- Mushroom cast had a tour of PM Mushrooms LLC, a local mushroom farm owned and operated by Juan Rodriguez and Elva Renteria. They also toured LCH, a health-care organization that serves the primarily LatinE communities in Oxford, West Grove, and Kennett Square.
- Santi Castro provided the lobby display for Mushroom, which also included a sound installation of interviews with mushroom farmers Juan Rodriguez and Elva Renteria. Concessions came from LatinE-owned Paletaria y Nevaria Manantial.
- Opening Night of Mushroom featured music by Magdaliz and her Latin Ensemble Crisol.
- On September 27, a group of patrons took a tour of PM Mushrooms LLC. Afterwards, they were treated to a delicious lunch and goodie-boxes of mushrooms.
- A free, one-act community performance of Mushroom was held at the Garage in Avondale on September 30, followed by a robust conversation with community members about the mushroom industry and life in the Kennett Square area. The Garage offers after-school programs and career guidance for teens in the Avondale and Kennett Square communities. On October 7, another community performance was held at The Colonial in Phoenixville.
- Leigh Jackson moderated a Zoom conversation between Mushroom playwright Eisa Davis and Anel Medina, longtime Kennett Square resident, nurse, activist, and inspiration for the character of Edit in Mushroom. The conversation was shared with People’s Light patrons and community.
- People’s Light hosted important community partners LCH, Casa Guanajuato, the Garage, and Alianzas at events celebrating Mushroom.
- In September, Leigh Jackson testified about Relaxed Performances at People’s Light before the U.S. Access Board, a federal agency that promotes access and equity through design and leadership for people with disabilities.
EDI work is never done; nor should it be. The world changes, we learn more. In this light, we are constantly reviewing and revising our work so that we can do better. This includes:
- A review of our writing style. We capitalize the “B” in Black, as in “Black person” and keep the “w” lower-case in white, as in “white person.”
- “LatinX” or “LatinE”? Along with other people and institutions, we are considering the implications of each.
- A review of our Land Acknowledgment. We are working with local Indigenous groups to review our Land Acknowledgment in ways that we hope will result in a deeper understanding of the forces and history that led to their decimation and current struggles – and in active support for their cause. We want our Land Acknowledgment to acknowledge both the history and the possibility.
- Adding inclusive language in Spanish. We learned from our wonderful live translator Elena Reyes at the Backyard BBQ that there is no equivalent to the they/them pronoun in Spanish and instead people use “ello.” This is not universally accepted as an alternative, but we will use it when needed.
If you have ideas for EDI programming or for improving accessibility at People’s Light, please let me know at email@example.com.