Ten years ago, only two black stage directors – and no black choreographers – were hired on Broadway under the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society’s contract. During the last Broadway season, the union says, only one black director was hired under its Broadway contract, and no black choreographers.
The union, which represents some 4,300 professional stage directors and choreographers throughout the United States, said today that the time has come “to own our responsibility and use our influence to end racist policies and practices in our field.”
The SDC is the third entertainment union this week to own up to its role in the underemployment of members of color. On Monday, in the wake of nationwide protests over racism and police brutality, leaders of the WGA West urged its members – television showrunners – “to take their share of responsibility” for the lack of diversity in writers rooms. And on that same day, the president of the American Federation of Musicians pledged “to continue to confront the ways our union and the music industry have contributed to persistent systemic racism.”
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In a message to the theatrical community, SDC leaders said that “In keeping with our principles, we will work to ensure an anti-racist workplace for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) members and fellow theatre-makers. The anti-discrimination and harassment policies embedded within our collective bargaining agreements protect our members from harassment and discrimination based on race, as well as age, gender identity and sexual orientation. We will make certain all our members understand this and hold our employers to account. Similarly, SDC members are themselves accountable for upholding standards that create an inclusive and empowering environment. As we find ourselves in the midst of a health, economic, and racial justice crisis, we recommit today to unite, empower, and protect our members, working together to build a just and equitable future.”
The union noted that it began requiring employers to report hiring statistics ten years ago. “At that time, we chose to use this information to engage directly with individual theatres and producers believing it would lead to change. It has not.”
To draw attention to this continuing problem of underemployment, the union said that in July it will publish detailed hiring statistics for the 2019/20 season for each of its jurisdictions. “We will continue to do so annually going forward. Our research clearly demonstrates that SDC members’ employment and pay is inextricably tied to their race. Facts are levers for change. We pledge that we will make public this annual data on hiring trends and other markers of discrimination in our field, so that the truth is there for all to see, and to act upon. Knowledge is power.”
“As a union, we have not appreciated the depth of alienation that our Black members experience,” SDC leaders said. “For far too long – working in largely white-staffed theatres – they have endured isolation, marginalization, objectification, and worse. Our Black members are asked to engage in personal artistic work while their own humanity is constrained by structures of power and privilege. We pledge, first and foremost, to listen better and more deeply to our Black members, to educate our members and ourselves, and to engage with theatres and producers to create and sustain the safe spaces every BIPOC artist needs if they are to speak their truth to power and have the freedom to create their best work.
“The SDC Board – 40% of whom are artists of color – is elected by the membership-at-large. This representation exemplifies the inclusive aspirations of our Union members, offers invaluable perspective as we fight for the artists we serve, and will continue to spur the Board’s anti-racism efforts in a post-pandemic field where employment for directors and choreographers will be scarcer than before. We have heard the call of our Black members. We commit to standing shoulder to shoulder together to protect and further the rights and employment opportunities of our BIPOC members – to live up to the definition of union as an association that exists to further the cause of economic and social justice for all members.”
The message was signed by president Evan Yionoulis; executive vice president John Rando; first vice president Michael John Garcés; treasurer Michael Wilson; secretary Melia Bensussen; second vice president Seret Scott; third vice president Leigh Silverman, and the union’s entire executive committee, including:
Leah C. Gardiner
D. Lynn Meyers
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