November 14, 2012

Statistics and power analysis for indie theatre

One of the most important tools when it comes to anti-racist organizing is a power analysis. In plain English, a power analysis help us figure out who's really calling the shots in an institution or system.

In Understanding and Dismantling Racism, Joseph Barndt explains that there are five levels of an institution.
  1. Personnel: people who work or volunteer for the institution; people who are authorized to speak, act, and implement programs in the institution's name; people who act as gatekeepers for the constituency and the general public
  2. Programs, products, and services: what an institution provides for its constituency (food, clothing, technical services, entertainment, worship services, etc.); designed to attract, nurture, and retain members or customers or clients
  3. Constituency and community: people served by an institution; people who belong to or patronize an institution; people for whom decisions and actions of the institution are taken
  4. Organizational structure: where the power of the institution is (board of directors, managers, etc.); where decisions are made, budgets are decided, people are hired and fired, programs are approved, boundaries are set, etc.; where structures of structures of accountability are designed and implemented
  5. Mission, purpose, and identity: what an institution is for and why it exists; defined by constitution, by-laws, mission statement, belief system, worldview, history, and tradition
*Note: If you can't go to an Undoing Racism workshop, you should really pick up this book and read every word.

Most of our efforts at inclusion and diversity focus on the top three layers while the bottom two rarely get any attention. The bottom two are also the hardest to change. This explains why, despite the reality of an increasingly diverse population of artists and audiences, we still see a theatrical landscape dominated by white people, men, and middle- to upper-class people. If we're serious about changing this reality, we have to take a look at what's going on at the deeper levels of an institution.

But the first step is getting a picture of what's going on.

Gwydion Suilebhan has a very interesting statistical breakdown of this year's DC playwrights demographics. I really like this sort of thing because it starkly reveals exactly what we're dealing with. Regardless of our intentions or our efforts, it doesn't change the fact that only 4% of playwrights getting produced in DC are women of color.

That post got me thinking about how to figure out where women and people of color fit into the organizational structure of the indie theatre scene. How many women and people of color are reflected in each level of an organization? My prediction is that there will be a very noticeable difference between representation in the top three layers and representation in the bottom two layers.

Whatever the results, I know that it has nothing to do with outright discrimination or deliberate attempts to exclude women and people of color. What I think those numbers would reflect our deeply ingrained (and thus harder to change) assumptions about how women and people of color fit into our notions about power and leadership.

Doing an industry-wide statistical analysis is sort of beyond my ability. However, it would be interesting to hear from people making theatre right now who is represented in each layer of their organizations. So, in concrete terms, I'd like to know:
  1. How many people are in your organization? How many of those people are women? People of color? Women of color?
  2. How many personnel does your organization have? How many of those people are women? People of color? Women of color?
  3. How many people provide your organization's products, programs, and services? How many are women? People of color? Women of color?
  4. How many people are in your organization's constituency (members, subscribers, etc.)? How many are women? People of color? Women of color?
  5. How many people make decisions at the organizational and structural level? How many are women? People of color? Women of color?
  6. How many people make decisions about your organization's mission, purpose, and identity? How many are women? People of color? Women of color?
I'd like to hear from you about that.

November 13, 2012

7 tips for future collaborators

If you're reading this, it's most likely because: a) you read this blog regularly, and/or b) we're teaming up to create something together--a video, a blog post, a play, whatever.

At this point, I probably already have a good feeling about you. Trust me, that's a big step. You've already proven that you're not an asshole, a flake, or full of shit. Treat yourself if you got this far.

Now that we've cleared the deal-breakers, let's talk more about the sort of working relationship I want to have with you. With that in mind, let me give you a few tips on how to work well with me.

1. Good fences make good neighbors.

I'm very particular about boundaries--my own and someone else's. I hate feeling forced or coerced into doing something I don't want to do, and I certainly don't want to make other people feel forced or coerced into something. That's one reason why I'm not too good at sales. I take, "No, thank you" at face value. It's not a challenge to my skills of persuasion. It's a clue to back off.

2. Getting what you want is as simple as asking, but once you make demands, forget it.

"Could you do me a favor?" is the best way to ask me to do something. If it's something that doesn't make me deeply uncomfortable or spreads me too thin, I'll more than likely do it. If it really helps you, I'll even go way out of my way. But as soon as you start barking orders at me, I'll suddenly have a lot that I need to do before I can get to whatever it is you're asking me to do.

3. Spare me your feelings.

This probably sounds cold and harsh, but I've found that it's necessary for my peace of mind. Whatever we're working on is hard enough without having to navigate moods and emotions along with it. That doesn't mean that I'm going to make like the Gregory House and ignore or stomp on your feelings every chance I get. It does mean that the words "I feel" are not going to be a primary factor in how I make decisions when it comes to the work I do.

4. Don't borrow trouble.

Chances are we have enough to do that worrying about things we have no control over is a waste of time and energy. Feel free to work yourself into a frenzy, bite your nails, and pull your hair out way out of sight and out of hearing from me.

5. Focus on essentials.

I tend to mentally prioritize every decision I make into 3 categories: need to do, want to do, and would be nice to get around to doing. Aside from the way my mind naturally works, being broke has solidified the difference between need, want, and nice to have. Differentiating between these and putting the bulk of our time and energy into essentials works better than just doing whatever comes up just because it's there to be done.

6. Be easy to reach.

If I call, pick up your phone, even if to tell me, "I'm sorry. I can't talk right now. Call me back at [time]." If I e-mail you, let me know you got it even if to say, "I'll get back to you on [date and time]." I don't expect anyone to be available 24/7, and I'd hate it if people expected that of me. That said, at least give me an idea of when I can consistently reach you if we need to communicate.

7. Don't do me no favors.

I don't believe in committing to projects or relationships out of obligation. If you're going to work with me, do it because there's something in it for you that makes it worth the time and energy you'll put into it. Chances are it won't be the money or the fame. Whatever it is, make sure it's for you. Don't do it for me. Because the moment you say, "I'm doing this for nothing/so little/not enough!" I'm through with you. People who are dishonest or unclear about their motives are people I can't deal with. I want no working relationship that is revealed to be based false pretenses--or worse, a lie.

Of course, this is not the end-all, be-all of working with me. But it's a lot like what someone said about voting for Obama versus voting for Romney. Obama's not perfect, but you can have a conversation with him. The same principle applies here. Doing these things won't guarantee a perfectly smooth working relationship, but it will be something I can work with.

And that's all I'm really asking for.

November 1, 2012

You don't need to know why

Why did you write this?

Why Anne Hathaway?

Why does this character say that thing on page whatever?

As a playwright, I get a lot of "why" questions from actors and directors. I usually answer them because I know people are curious and want to understand where my work is coming from. Sometimes, though, it puts me in the position of explaining or defending my artistic choices rather than exploring or illuminating what's going on in the play I actually wrote.

Yet, in the rush to psychoanalyze me through my play, I often wonder if what gets lost are the things that transcend the psychoanalysis. Rather than expanding and enriching my creation, it shrinks it and dries it up. It makes it easy to dismiss the story and the characters as mere symptoms of my own neuroses as opposed to being reflections of a greater truth.

Here is the irony: in this drive to answer all questions except the most essential ones, you can actually undermine the truth of my work.

This is why I'm such a big fan of Practical Aesthetics. It takes the focus off of what's going on in my head and puts it where it belongs: making choices about what's happening on the page. What's happening right here, right now? What this character trying to do in this scene? What does it mean if they do or don't?

Everything else is either something I can't say, something I refuse to say, or something that doesn't need to be said.

I would love to be part of a process that allows me a chance to sit with the director and actors and use Practical Aesthetics to do a scene analysis of every scene in the script. That would be amazing. That would go further in creating a rich, textured performance of my play than any number of questions aimed at excavating all my secrets or summoning all my demons.