Response to TBA’s Diversity Symposium

When I think of the word “diversity,” the picture I get in my head is of a disorganized garden plot. It is as if the planter of this garden threw all of the seeds out in handfuls, and carrots, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, and all kinds of other vegetables are growing up everywhere. It’s challenging to make sense of this garden in its entirety.

The broadness of the word diversity is difficult to negotiate—ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, political viewpoint, class and many other facets are all grouped together under the diversity umbrella.

Diversity is a state, a way of being or thinking, something that we recognize when we see it or experience it. It has no inherent goal, making it hard to strategize and take action.

If the point of discussion is to move toward meaningful change, I feel that the variety of experience encompassed in the word diversity is no longer helpful. Instead, I think it’s time to zero in on the specific, and use new words. I’d like to see the Bay Area theatre community discuss gender equity.

If I’m still imagining a garden, but now a “gender equity” one, I see two crops growing in equal numbers, each getting the same amount of space, and each receiving the same amount of sunlight and water.

The inherent goal in the word equity is clear and reasonable. 50/50. It’s countable and measurable.

We as a community can look at where we are right now in our staff and board, our artists, our production teams. We can think about new and creative ways to incorporate women into the work we do and make, whether that’s cross-gender casting, nurturing a newer artist, or doing some vigorous dramaturgy and unearthing a rarely produced author from an earlier time. We can share our gender equity commitment with our audiences and find new ways to involve them in the conversation.

We can come back next year, in five years, in 10 years, and easily and efficiently check in on how we are doing.

This doesn’t mean setting aside other types of diversity. Increasing the number of women in theatre can also increase and give voice to diverse ethnicities, ages, types of physical ability, sexual orientations, religious affiliations, political viewpoints, classes, etc.

I hope that shifting the conversation in this way provides a clearer path forward and allows us to move from discussion to action and ultimately diversify the work in the region, keeping live theatre vital and relevant for generations to come.

ValerieWeakheadshotwebsite-1Valerie Weak is an actor, educator and founder of the Counting Actors project. This blog post is cross-posted on TBA’s Chatterbox blog. Please visit both sites to learn more.

Author image courtesy Valerie Weak; post image courtesy Theatre Bay Area Diversity Symposium – EventBrite.

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2 responses to “Response to TBA’s Diversity Symposium

  1. Yes, we should all strive for gender equity. Yet I would assert that the bigger issue in bay area theatre is about ideological diversity. There are several artistic and managing directors in the bay area who are women ( I’ve had the good fortune of working for most of them.) but when was the last time you saw a play that challenged our liberal politics?

  2. Jamie – thanks for this comment. To answer your question, the projects that spring to mind are ACT’s Clybourne Park and the entire oeuvre of the SF Mime Troupe – while both these examples may not come from a conservative viewpoint, I do think they serve to challenge liberal complacency. I would love to hear more from you (and other readers of this piece) about why (or perhaps why not) ideological diversity is a bigger issue than gender equity in our community.

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