Question Everything: More Deeply Acknowledging Our White Privilege and Where We Go From Here

For the last several months, we have taken part in the growing number of conversations about race, equity, and inclusion led by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) theatre artists on Broadway and in academic institutions. We have listened as members from every corner of our industry selflessly shared their pain so we might learn from the tremendous harm they have endured. 

And then, we took action. We attempted to draw the circle wider in ways we hoped would be meaningful to our community. But our efforts, to this point, have fallen short. Why? Because we forgot to do one essential thing: question everything we do to ensure we are creating the most equitable space possible.  

Gathering Information

The act of questioning what meaningful change would look like and how to create it led us to an internal reflection of where we are as a white-led organization. This necessarily brought us to better understanding the “Invisibility of White Privilege,” as eloquently explained by Brian Lowery, PhD, a Senior Associate Dean at Stanford University School of Business:

“I think that it may be hard for white people to fully understand the benefits of being white in this society. It’s easier to see the pain that people of color experience. I think it’s harder to internalize and accept the degree of privileges that are enjoyed as a function of the system. And the question I think will be, when we really move towards trying to produce equity, are people going to be willing to give up those privileges?”

Brian Lowery, PhD

In order to dismantle inequitable systems, those of us who identify as white must be vigilant in checking our privilege. This is especially true given that we have historically been taught to overlook those exact privileges, which keep us in positions of power.

In order to better understand what this means for us individually and as a company, we took a closer look at how complicit and effective our industry has been in silencing voices that deserve to be heard. 

We are grateful for tremendous work of the Asian American Performers Action Coalition in creating The Visibility Report, which analyzed Broadway and New York non-profit theaters’ 2017 – 2018 Seasons. From the report, we clearly see the lack of representation of BIPOC writers and performers alike. While we have certainly been aware of the lack of representation, this data made it all the more urgent a concern to us. 

We attempted to look how writers of color were represented the following season (2018-2019). This is what we discovered.  

Information collected from www.ibdb.com

According to our research, BIPOC writers were represented in 27.2% of the Broadway musicals produced in the 2018-2019 Season. 

We looked at the same non-profit theatre companies noted in the AAPAC Visibility Report for the same period of time and discovered 30% of the musicals produced had BIPOC writers.

While representation has slightly increased from the data presented in the AAPAC Visibility Report, we believe this level of representation is not substantial enough. We want to take a more active role in our theatre community to support diverse voices, not only in an effort to achieve more equity, but to celebrate the richness of the unique and universal stories written by writers of color.

When we turned to ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com, however, we discovered that 96% of our writers identify as white – only 4% are writers of color. We continue to wrestle with this unsettling statistic. While we have attempted to reach out to BIPOC writers in order to correct this imbalance, it is not surprising that we have been unsuccessful. Why would someone join a community when they do not see themselves valued through representation? 

While our national conversation is leading us to rightfully lift up BIPOC artists at the moment, we recognize the many other intersections of diversity we have yet to consider, such as those artists who identify as disabled, neuro-diverse, transgender, non-binary or gender fluid… all those who deserve to have their voices heard.

Acknowledging Harm

Over the last several weeks, we have met those on our site who identify as writers of color in addition to those in our industry who have excelled in creating more equitable spaces for all theatre makers. Through these conversations, we more fully recognize that our inability to see our privilege has, at its best, hindered us from growing with diverse and vibrant theatre artists and, at its worst, harmed the community we love and want to serve.

We accept culpability and apologize for perpetuating any system of oppression.

For as long as we have run ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com, we have thought of our business as a “for-profit with heart” – one that is equitable by virtue of the fact we pay writers 100% of their profit when their songs sell. While our submission process also ensures writers are only judged on the craft of their work, we now see how the systems we currently have in place create unnecessary barriers between us and the writers, performers, and educators we seek to engage. 

It is time for change, for radical equity.

Moving Forward

Recognizing that it has taken us this long to see the changes we need to make, we have decided to hire an equity and inclusion specialist to guide us through the process of making our company a more equitable space for all. We are very grateful to have such skill and kindness in the hands of Nikko Kimzin (you can read about him here). In the coming weeks, we will collaborate to create key result areas for equitable change in our company culture and policies. We will remain transparent about our timeline and how we intend to create this change. You will find this information regularly updated on our website and this blog.

In the meantime, we want to share with you three main goals we have identified, which will begin to create necessary shifts in our company’s culture:

  • Reimagining Our Submission Process: As we mentioned above, it has become clear to us that our current submission process can easily be perceived as a means of gatekeeping, hindering writers of diverse backgrounds from feeling welcome to submit their work to us. We plan to reimagine our submission guidelines to remove any possible barriers for interested writers. We will also create and publicly announce a diverse panel of industry professionals who will review any submitted material, adding more transparency to the submission process. Through these actions, we hope to increase the amount of BIPOC writers on our site to 20% by the end of 2021.
  • Creating a More Inclusive Website for Writers: We want to create an environment where writers feel empowered to bring their full selves to the table. To this end, we will distribute voluntary Self Identification Surveys, which can be used to amplify how each writer is represented on their individual artist profile. We intend to measure the impact of this approach by interviewing artists (existing and new) on their sense of belonging and representation on our site.
  • Creating a More Inclusive Website for Subscribers: We want everyone who visits our website to know they belong. We will achieve this by reviewing all language on the site, developing a statement of allyship, and creating thoughtful visual cues. We will also work with transgender artists to help us rethink our voice classifications and add a means of sorting by a writer’s intersections of self-identification. We will survey our subscribers to quantitatively and qualitatively measure the success of these changes.

We are in the very beginning stages of this process. We ask for your patience as we swiftly move to create positive change, which we hope will radiate out into our community. It takes all of us moving toward greater equity to create change, and we invite you to join us on this journey.

We commit to checking back with you at the end of June with an update, if not sooner. If you have questions or comments, you are welcome to email us at david@contemporarymusicaltheatre.com (David Sisco) and laura@contemporarymusicaltheatre.com (Laura Josepher).

Thank you for being with us on this journey. We are ready to move forward.

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Visit www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com for more information on over 600+ songs by 180+ writers, all searchable by voice and song type. Annual, Monthly, 3-Day and institutional memberships are available.

We are proud to have our updated edition of “Mastering College Musical Theatre Auditions: Sound Advice for the Student, Teacher, and Parent” available for purchase at Bravo’s Book Nook! You can also find it on amazon.com.

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