September 30, 2020
We, the Wilma Theater’s Cohort of Artistic Directors, Managing Director, and Board Chair and Vice Chair (the Wilma’s Leadership Team), wish to thank you for and respond to the demands made by your coalition on June 8, 2020. The tremendous work you have done to amplify the voices of BIPOC artists in our industry is immeasurable. As a predominantly white institution, we join you in your deep desire to eradicate racism, oppression, and inequity in American theatre and we owe a debt of gratitude to you all for creating a document that puts into detailed language the many ways this work can be accomplished. We wish to honor your effort with a thoughtful, action-oriented response, followed by our long-lasting commitment to change.
The Wilma has taken the last few months to use the document to engage in an expansive self-assessment in order to recognize where our policies and practices align with the demands and where to seek better alignment. We chose to reflect on the ways in which the demands relate to the specifics of our organization, and respond with what we can commit to now, with an additional commitment to keep investigating and evolving.
We recognize that we have a lot of deep work to do. As an organization, we do not yet have a shared vocabulary when it comes to White Supremacy and anti-racist work. We do not have a collective understanding of the way White Supremacy has embedded into our organization over the years. We need to do a deeper self assessment than we have done thus far, and we need the help of a facilitator from outside the organization to do so. We have reallocated budgetary funds for this purpose and are in the process of hiring a facilitator to take us through significant EDI training together and help us understand where we are and how best to move forward. We commit to working with this facilitator, our staff, the HotHouse Acting Company, and our board to develop specific procedures and mechanisms towards becoming an anti-racist organization.
This is a first attempt at stating where we are and where we want to go. We expect our plans to evolve, especially as we begin a facilitated process. We are excited to share our observations and commitments as they stand, and look forward to sharing updates as we continue the work of becoming an anti-racist organization, furthering the good work begun by the We See You White American Theatre Coalition.
We acknowledge that our theatre is located on land that is not ours. We acknowledge that the Lenni Lenape people are the original people of this land and that they continue to be a vibrant community.
We acknowledge that we benefit from systems that are rooted in capital created and expanded by the free labor of Black people, in the form of chattel slavery and legal and cultural segregation. We stand in solidarity with Black people in fierce advocacy for equality and justice.
We commit to sharing these acknowledgements at the beginning of rehearsals, board, and staff meetings; as well as on our website and in our production programs.
How do we continue to invest in our existing relationships with BIPOC artists, while also exploring ways to build new ones?
We are in the first months of implementing a new structure comprised of working groups at the Wilma, including:
We will also develop the practice of presenting our anti-racist policies at our rehearsals, board, and staff meetings. In productions, we will appoint an EDI deputy to hold us accountable on these policies, as well an implement an expanded anti-racist grievance policy and practice within the organization.
We are currently working on making our job listings more transparent, and our recruiting practices more equitable by removing barriers and language that discourage BIPOC candidates from applying. We will review all employment policies and procedures with a commitment to equity, in part by including the IDEA committee in job postings and candidate evaluation as well as establishing performance metrics that reflect our commitment to anti-racism.
For years now, Wilma has been investing in long-term partnerships with the BIPOC artists in our HotHouse Company of Actors, which was intentionally formed to be racially diverse and is currently 50% white and 50% BIPOC. We curate our seasons with these actors in mind. We commit to maintaining at least 50% BIPOC representation in the HotHouse Company moving forward.
This September, we launched a program to more formally engage with HotHouse company members in areas outside of training and performance. We are adjusting the compensation structure to offer consistent weekly payment for work in Literary, Marketing, Education, and Development departments. This both formally acknowledges the substantial ways these artists shape our work at every level, and helps to inform the organization with multiple perspectives in all areas of production.
We want our company to prioritize physical well-being without compromising fiscal stability. To that end, we’ve created a new weekly payment model, which we hope will help HotHouse company members balance their commitments to the Wilma and other organizations in a healthier, more sustainable way.
We acknowledge that historically directors at the Wilma have been predominantly white. We commit to building and deepening relationships with BIPOC directors, both locally and nationally, towards significantly diversifying the pool of directors who work at the Wilma.
We recognize that historically many of our design teams have been all white. We are working towards having no all white design teams beginning in 2021 and beyond. In making this commitment, we acknowledge that tokenism is a real risk, and strive to avoid tokenism in our efforts to diversify our design teams. In addition to continuing deep and longstanding relationships with predominantly white designers and directors, we specifically commit to building relationships and working with BIPOC designers and directors we haven’t worked with before.
We commit to a vendor assessment to better understand the ownership of the businesses we financially support, to developing a list of procurement standards which new vendors will have to meet before we engage with them (comparable to certified B Corporations); and to prioritize purchasing from local BIPOC-owned businesses. We have intentionally built a partnership with Good Karma Cafe, a local Black-owned company that operates in the Wilma lobby, and seek to build more relationships like this.
What does a safe working environment look like at the Wilma for BIPOC Artists?
We acknowledge that a safe working environment in an institution begins with the institution’s leaders. We commit to actively working to foster a safe work environment, and to apply what we learn from future EDI training to all aspects of the Wilma’s culture, structures, and practices.
We recognize the great value of Affinity Spaces for BIPOC people, as a space where BIPOC members of an organization can come together, feel safe speaking candidly, and find allies. We commit to creating a BIPOC Affinity Space for all BIPOC staff, board, and HotHouse members. We further commit to collecting feedback from BIPOC staff, artists, and board members about what resources would be useful for a successful Affinity Space and supplying these resources to the best of our ability.
Together with the authors of the WE SEE YOU document, we dream about shorter work weeks and more reasonable tech hours, and we will continue our fundraising initiatives to underwrite those changes. We will also work to ensure this practice becomes standard, and not just for individual productions that suit funding priorities.
For our upcoming production of FAT HAM by James Ijames, directed by Morgan Green, we will experiment with a five-day work-week for actors, and extending tech week to eliminate 10 out of 12s. We will assess this trial run and adjust for future productions with the goal of leading safe, thoughtful, people-first production processes.
We commit to hiring an EDI Officer on an as needed basis per production beginning with our upcoming production of FAT HAM.
We acknowledge that the Wilma produces work that directly engages with BIPOC trauma. We commit to providing resources for BIPOC artists, crew, and staff members when working on such productions so that they are able to engage with and process this material in a healthy way.
How can we make our work more accessible?
We commit to investing in building relationships with members of the Lenni Lenape tribe in the Philadelphia area through programs and partnerships such as Portable Studio, and specifically commit to offering complimentary tickets to these members in recognition of the fact that our theater sits on their homeland.
Through our Portable Studio and Education programs, the Wilma currently invests energy and resources into establishing and stewarding long-term relationships with local BIPOC audiences through inclusive programming and partnerships in schools and community organizations. We commit to continuing to do the following:
Continuing our work on creating a safe and welcoming environment for BIPOC audiences, we commit to providing mandatory EDI training to our front of house staff.
How can our governing and executive bodies be more equitable?
The Wilma has recently radically changed its leadership structure. Founding Artistic Director Blanka Zizka has invited three additional artists from a variety of histories and experiences to share leadership in a cohort structure, which will last from now until spring of 2023. Each year, one cohort member acts as lead Artistic Director, with input and support from other cohort members. It is an experiment in shared leadership, with term limits. The Wilma looks forward to sharing its lessons from the experiment and allowing it to continue to evolve as we do.
The Wilma’s board is currently evolving under new leadership and is in the midst of a self-assessment process. Our goal is to make board membership opportunities more equitable. This season we are exploring inviting HotHouse Company members to join the board.
We, the leadership, continue to work together on deepening relationships between Board, Leadership, Staff, HotHouse, and our audiences and supporters. We will continue to examine and consider opportunities to create greater transparency between all constituencies.
We recognize we have a great deal of work to do. We are committed to continuing to engage in this work, and we acknowledge that the work is never done. We look forward to working with an EDI facilitator to establish a timeline to implement all of our stated commitments, to articulate additional commitment, and to establish accountability measures moving forward. Thank you again to the writers of the We See You White American Theater demands for engaging in this difficult work, and for helping us envision a way forward as we endeavor to become a truly anti-racist organization.
Leigh Goldenberg, Managing Director
Yury Urnov, Lead Artistic Director, 2020-2021 Season
James Ijames, Co-Artistic Director
Morgan Green, Co-Artistic Director
Blanka Zizka, Co-Artistic Director
Wray Broughton, Board Chair
Katherine Kelton, Board Vice-Chair