At Cal Shakes, many of our performances take place not in the relative anonymity of a dark theater, but under the sun. Actors and audience alike, in full view of one another, relinquish the control we normally associate with the theater and instead must navigate the complexity of each other’s very real presence across the arc of a performance, cohabiting the shared light of our space.
March 27th marked the one-year anniversary of our 2020 season cancellation. Reflecting back on this past year, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the extraordinary disruption to our community, loss of livelihood, loss of lives, of relationship, of all the many stories on stage and off so suddenly… interrupted.
A year that began with pandemic was swiftly over-taken by a change movement sparked by yet another senseless murder—a movement further fueled by the anonymous challenge of We See You White American Theater (WSYWAT) and the accountability demanded by the BIPOC Living Document. After a year+ long journey in 2019 guided by Mia Mingus (disability rights advocate and co-founder of the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective), we responded first with a period of self-reflection embodied in our virtual DIRECT ADDRESS and RESISTING SHAKESPEARE programs. We shifted our long-running EDI Staff Workgroup to an Anti-Racism Workgroup initially tasked with examining the WSYWAT & Living Doc Demands and creating an Anti-Racism Action Plan built around values of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Justice and Belonging. We held a series of Listening Circles with artists and audience members, locating ourselves within the larger ecosystem to more effectively serve our communities. We’ve participated in and contributed to organizing efforts both locally and nationally in support of more accountability, more justice, more resilience, more grace.
The Anti-Racism Action Plan is still forthcoming, but we want now to share with you the initiative that has grown out of our labor this past year.
The components of Shared Light are meant to respond to systemic issues that we’ve identified over the last year as we evolve institutional priorities towards right relationship with our communities. It ranges from the historically inequitable distribution of resources privileging legacy white arts and culture institutions over organizations of color; to the years-long peripheralization of artists (and further disenfranchisement of BIPOC artists) from the heart of our institutions; to the impermanent nature of community partnerships that frequently value transaction over relationship; to philanthropy and fundraising practices often driven by a point of view that bigger is always better. We believe this effort cannot be contained to finite gestures or statements; but must reflect a fundamental transition of resources, privilege and power built upon deep-rooted collaborations with the communities we seek to serve.
This is our Shared Light.
Reframe the Artist / Organization / Community Relationship
Building off almost a decade of learnings from our work to advance Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Justice and Belonging in our organization and on our stage, we are revising/ refining/ evolving our practices to center artistic and community collaborations over the individualism so rampant in our industry. Seeking to share resources rather than hoard them, to nurture relationships rather than transact them, we offer a developing vision of organizational permeability and reciprocity–support and opportunities offered to artists and community collaborators in service of our collective vitality.
- THE ARTIST CIRCLE. Inspired by a notion of Universal Basic Income for Artists, the Artist Circle will initially offer five artists /activists whose work has had a meaningful impact on Cal Shakes a monthly stipend of $500 for the next year with no expectation of deliverables. This pilot program will explore not just the impact of sustained income for freelance artists at an organizational level, but also offer the invitation to participate in a more distributive vision of curation and visioning at Cal Shakes. Further, Cal Shakes commits to support these artists /activists as an artistic home–providing resources, space, and grant opportunities to support their continued work as cultural and social change agents.
- Our inaugural cohort is:
- Tatiana Chaterji (youth organizer, liberation arts educator, restorative justice practitioner; director of the Learning Lab, training artists personally impacted by the carceral system to present Arts in Prisons workshops)
- Shannon R. Davis (director, actor, teaching artist; co-founder of Bay Area Native Theatre Artists)
- Mia Mingus (writer, educator, organizer for disability justice & transformative justice; Ford Disability Futures Fellow and co-founder of Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective)
- Sarita Ocón (actor, producing artist, community activist; producing lead artist of Las Hociconxs Lab)
- Lauren Spencer (actor, director, writer, teaching artist)
- Our inaugural cohort is:
- THE COMMUNITY CIRCLE. A multi-year commitment to a focused cohort of organizational collaborations made up of a mix of educational, direct service, and cultural/ arts partners. At the center of these partnerships is a principle of “multi-point engagement practices” where relationships are no longer held by a single individual or department, but across the organization in a partner-first/ partner-led vision of collaboration. Efforts will focus on creating multiple points of meaningful engagement between our respective organizations; (think: trustee mixers, inter-organizational/shared staff positions, regular Community Circle events/ audits that lead with the questions “How do we want to be in relationship with each other?” “What do we have to offer each other?”
- A commitment of at least 10% of our resources to our Community Circle, offering staff hours, equipment, space, advocacy [etc] on an as-needed basis
- A commitment to prioritize grant opportunities in just and equitable partnership with our Community Circle, to transparent communication of opportunities, and to facilitating partnerships both with and without Cal Shakes
Reform the business model
The current year+ long disruption to our traditional business model offers an opportunity for substantial, systemic change:
- Re-think stewardship of our primary resource, the Bruns Amphitheater, by re-imagining the Bruns as a shared community resource, creating more access with fewer barriers, centering historically marginalized communities in these efforts. Especially in this time of pandemic when outdoor venues are so vital, we will expand who has access to our venue not just as audience, but as artist, presenter, curator. Cal Shakes is creating space for other cultural arts and direct service organizations to utilize the Bruns stage and grounds. We are reducing the number of productions we produce there and sharing venue access with organizations that more directly serve the diverse communities we have sought to engage through theater-making. Diversifying the types of programming offered in our space (including concerts, dances, classes, film screenings, pop-up restaurants) will introduce new revenue streams in service of organizational sustainability, while centering and subsidizing our Artist and Community Circles.
Practice Rigorous Accountability as a Legacy White Arts Institution
The growing vulnerabilities around our industry’s current business model (cost-disease and eroding relevance) and our outdoor venue (climate change) spur us to re-think who makes the theater, how we make the theater, who we make the theater for, and what the function of theater is. Acknowledging that the path to healing requires intentional and public acts of accountability, transparency and permeability in order to (re)build trust with communities, we commit to:
- A public interrogation of our assumptions about Cal Shakes’ past and an examination of our present through a critical lens; to tell our story of both complicity and resistance with candor so we might learn from both our failures and our successes (Cal Shakes Chronicle); to hold responsibility for the cultural monuments that we have historically centered (Resisting Shakespeare); and to amplify new narratives for a vision of a more plural tomorrow (New Classics).
- The continued commitment to 50%++ BIPOC representation in our programming. And building scaffolding to support increased BIPOC participation in the theater, onstage, in our audiences, and behind the scenes.
- Active participation in community- and field-wide organizing in support of anti-racism efforts around accountability and transformation (including the Bay Area Theater Accountability Workgroup).
- Continued interrogation of (and updating of) legacy practices in our field (i.e., rehearsal process, audition process, production process) in service of a more humane work environment; and working to sustain a safe space for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled artists, including:
- 5-day rehearsal weeks
- Elimination of 10 of 12s and replacing hours with an additional 8 of 10
- Additional preview performances
- Implementing more humane audition practices
- Regular and accessible communication pathways including our monthly Public Circle.
We live in an epoch of transformation. Many of us persist in unsustainable practices despite the many signals surrounding us that our planet is growing more uninhabitable by the moment. Our civic discourse is eroding under false pretense and disinformation. Despite the stark disparities revealed by the pandemic, we rush to return to a sense of normalcy. These are manifestations of the fear of loss of control. Cultural arts organizations must serve the community in this time not merely through our art but through a vision of mutuality—modeling humility and relinquishing control in service of the common good, in service of a more resilient community.
April 27, 2021