KTC'S RECOMMITMENT TO CREATING AN ANTI-RACIST ORGANIZATION:
Important conversations happen at the Kitchen.
So, let’s be frank, and talk about what’s been happening at the Kitchen.
The ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in May 2020 have awakened a seismic cultural shift in our personal lives and professional industries. In our own industry, we are grateful for the work led by our peers of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color theatre workers, demanding change within the theatrical systems through the document: We See You, White American Theatre. We are basing our change off of their lead.
In the summer of 2021, Kitchen Theatre Company took the opportunity of a shift in staff and board leadership to reevaluate, reassess, and actively recommit to creating an anti-racist organization.
The Kitchen Theatre Company exists as a space for our community to engage in important, often uncomfortable, conversations. As such, we have always been committed to telling bold and original stories, including some originating in historically marginalized and silenced communities. At the same time, our predominantly white institution is itself complicit in practices that harm these communities. To participate actively in dismantling systems of oppression, we are questioning thoroughly our history and practices at the Kitchen. We are taking concrete steps to interrupt patterns that reinforce many forms of oppression, hatred, and othering: racism, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, antisemitism, ableism, Islamophobia, body shaming, and many more. Theatre deals not in these abstractions but in concrete particularities. As theatremakers we have the responsibility to bring vivid detailed stories of oppression and also of resilience and resistance to life on our stage. And we theatremakers have the opportunity to help ourselves and others imagine alternative worlds, sometimes more just ones - and laugh and cry together as we travel to them.
Like every system in America, the non-profit theatre industry was built and has been sustained under a model that supports capitalist gains and sustains white supremacy. This industry excludes those who cannot afford the sacrifice it takes to manage a theatrical career alongside pursuing personal interests, building a family, or even simply having a healthy life/work balance. A common joke backstage is “we do it because we love it.” But low salaries, expensive credentialing, and other unrealistic job requirements as well as the overwhelming whiteness of current theatre professionals have continued to effectively exclude people from marginalized communities from joining our industry.
Unnecessary urgency often characterizes of white supremacist practices, so we decided to slow down. Since the transition of leadership in summer of 2021, we’ve taken the first half of our season to have conversations with staff, artists, and board about where we are coming from and where we hope to go. We have been focusing internally on the ways our processes and behaviors uphold a racist, classist, sexist, ableist, heteronormative system, and how we can move forward and away from these.
LEARNING & GROWTH
On June 7, 2020, a group of more than 300 Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) theatre professionals issued a detailed and illuminating critique of the racism, both explicit and implicit, in the ways professional theatres standardly operate: We See You, White American Theatre. We at the Kitchen Theatre Company are taking up the call to action in this document and have begun by critically examining our workplace practices with special attention to inequities noted in WSYWAT.
As a start, we have reassessed our hiring practices, salaries, and work hours, including putting an end to the exhaustive “10 out of 12” (working 10+ hours out of 12 in a work day during technical rehearsals) and making all rehearsal weeks 5-day weeks allowing every employee to have 2-days off. We have increased salaries for employees, specifically our lowest compensated, and set into motion a budgeting plan that highlights annual increases for all staff, including fellows. As a team we have weekly Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) meetings and our board has created a standing IDEA committee that meets monthly to support and challenge our work.
As we assess our internal intentionality and practices, we have been simultaneously considering our place in the Ithaca community. We have found that not everyone may feel welcome walking through our large glass entrance into our lobby, especially when the people working inside that entrance are predominantly white.
We want to abolish the myth that theatre is only for the elite, a luxury that is kept solely for those who can afford it. Theatre is for everyone. We want our community to feel this is a space for you, that walking into the Kitchen lobby is as comfortable as visiting a friend’s home. But we know that means gaining trust and that trust comes from putting our ideas to work even if that means making mistakes.
MOVING FORWARD AND ACTION STEPS
We are continuing to build an inclusive, equitable, and intersectional working environment where everyone has a voice. We are prioritizing leading from an anti-racist, anti-bigotry, anti-bias perspective both onstage and off. Our stories will continue to challenge the world we live in and engage our audiences in conversations that question, observe, and dismantle systems of oppression.
For our future audiences, we want to gain your trust. Everything changes when you know someone’s face. Instead of asking you to come to us, we are finding ways to go out to the community and meet you. We are brainstorming ways for our physical space to better support the community. We will continue to partner with local artists and organizations to create a mutually beneficial space.
IN OUR CONTINUING WORK TO CREATE AN ANTI-RACIST ORGANIZATION, KTC MAKES THE FOLLOWING COMMITMENTS:
We are working through the individual We See You, White American Theatre tenets to assess where practices are already in place to support the demands, where changes can be made, and the timeline or timeframe to accomplish those changes
We will hire an antiracism consultant for staff training with the intention that this will be, in an ongoing capacity, a minimum of two sessions per season
We are putting more marketing power to promote our “Pay What You Want” Ticketing, BIPOC Community Night performances, and Free Childcare performance options
We are seeking a transportation partnership with a local cab, rideshare, or bus service to alleviate the strain of getting to the theatre
We are investing in local visual artists by providing free exhibit space in our lobby during each production
We are reassessing our hiring practices to lift up a more inclusive pool of candidates
We will continue to challenge the sentiment of “the show must go on” against harmful workplace practices and schedules
We will follow a “people over profits” ideology, placing value on the mental health, life/work balance of our staff, artists, and board
This is a living, working document and we will update our community at the end of our season (July 2022) as to where we have expanded and succeeded, in addition to challenges we may have found along the way. We welcome conversation, feedback, ideas, and support since ultimately we are here to reflect the needs of the community’s place in the wider world.
We welcome community feedback - submit thoughts, questions, or ideas below.