A MESSAGE FROM ANTONI CIMOLINO

June 11, 2020

The past several days at the Stratford Festival have been important ones in which our Black colleagues have told us painful truths. They have pointed out how a traditional power structure that largely excludes the young and marginalized has made honest discussion – the honest exchange of ideas – very difficult, if not impossible. I have been a part of this. And it must change. We must change.

This time of acute, painful revelation of the inhumanity of our society provokes us to go beyond the tradition of revering classical theatre as “high art.” We’ve got to go back to the origins of storytelling. To do so will require that honesty and humanity permeate not just our rehearsal halls but every area of our organization: behind the scenes, front of house, administrative offices – and our audiences. What hope do we have to change the world for the better through art if we cannot change ourselves?

Anita Gaffney and I want to say a heartfelt thank you to all our Black colleagues who spoke up with courage and at great emotional cost to help us over the last few days. We deeply appreciate their trust, and they have our commitment that their actions will lead to positive change.

We will use this time of pandemic shutdown to look more deeply at the actions we need to take. This work will be an ongoing process of reflection and improvement.

As an immediate concrete measure, we have increased support and funding for Black and Indigenous artists as part of our Lab.

We are further committed to raising the voices of marginalized artists through commissions from playwrights and creators from the BIPOC community. Some works currently in progress include Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman; Reneltta Arluk’s Pawâkan Macbeth; Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan’s 1939; Corey Payette’s Monarch; Rosa Laborde’s Trouble; and Marcus Youssef and Veda Hille’s Brave New World. The commissioning of more works will be a priority.

We also are committed to changing the As Cast contract, but note that until respect, listening and cooperative creation are made central to our work the legal specifics of any contract will be made meaningless.

More general work to embed anti-racism at the Stratford Festival is underway, including working with Hamlin Grange of DiversiPro on a major revision to our anti-racism and inclusion plan, including the updating of policies and protocols. As part of this process, we are re-launching the internal research that we had begun in January, as we believe staff and artists may now be more comfortable identifying racist behaviour. We are also compiling and integrating feedback and ideas garnered during the social media takeover and Black Like Me discussion.

We will be supporting the amplification of the voices of our Indigenous artists by giving them our social channels later this month. They will host a live-streamed panel discussion on June 20, the day before National Indigenous Peoples Day.

We are implementing sensitivity training for staff, and will roll this out more widely when the Festival opens operations again.

We are committed to actively working to diversify our Board, staff, company and audience

The Stratford Festival aspires to be a source of joy, understanding and beauty for our world. While talent and hard work will always be critical to achieving that goal, they will not succeed if they share space with racism. We must acknowledge racist behaviours within ourselves and unlearn them.

This is work that must take place in the hearts and minds of everyone in the Festival community but also in our policies and systems. Together we must envision a better way forward. And then, as one, we must put it into action. 

This work is essential. It is about art. But it is also about justice. It is about honouring, valuing and celebrating Black artists, Indigenous artists, and all other artists who experience marginalization, who come to the Stratford Festival to share their talents and stories. 

Anti-Racism Actions Taken since June 1

  1. Published anti-racism statement.
  2. Facilitated Black Like Me panel discussion on Stratford Festival YouTube Channel (28,000 views).
  3. Handed social media channels over to Black artists and staff June 4 to 6.
  4. Facilitated Ndo-Mshkawgaabwimi – We Are Standing Strong discussion on Stratford Festival YouTube Channel (7,000 views).
  5. Handed social media channels over to Indigenous artists and staff June 19 to 21.
  6. Hired a wellness coach to provide some care and support to the participants following the panel discussions and social media conversations.
  7. Published anti-racism commitment.
  8. Created an Anti-racism Advisory Committee to put together a series of recommendations aimed at interrupting and eliminating systemic racism. First meeting held July 15. All members of the committee are being paid for their work.
  9. Initiated roundtable discussions with artists, representatives of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association, artistic leaders and the Festival producing team to discuss reforms to “As Cast” practices.  The first meeting was held on July 10, and will be followed with another meeting in late August.
  10. Re-booted the development of our anti-racism and inclusivity plan with the help of DiversiPro. This work had started earlier in the year but was paused in mid-March with the onset of the pandemic.
  11. Offered anti-racism training for 100 staff through facilitator Robin Lacambra. This training experience will inform the mandatory training that will be given to all staff in the future.
  12. Elevated the recruitment of diverse candidates for the Festival’s board with the nominating committee and modified Board recruitment material to include a statement about anti-racism.
  13. Engaged a third-party reviewer to gather more information about past harms experienced at the Festival. The findings from this review will help to prioritize initiatives in the anti-racism plan and to underpin the development of a new code of conduct for the Festival.
  14. Re-imaging future seasons to include more stories by BIPOC artists and artists from other marginalized communities. 


A MESSAGE FROM THE STRATFORD FESTIVAL ARC

Dear Festival Community,

 

We are the members of the Anti-Racism Committee (ARC). We are here at the invitation of the leadership of the Stratford Festival to address issues of systemic racism that are endemic to the institution. Our differences are as binding as our similarities, and it is these qualities that allow us to gather as a collective of IBPOC artists, artisans, and administrators from a wide range of racial and cultural backgrounds. We represent ourselves, our lived experiences within the Stratford Festival, and our collective experiences elsewhere as theatre practitioners.

 

Our mandate is to identify the institutional practices & systems which produce damaging or oppressive effects towards First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Black, and People of Colour within and outside the organization. Identifying these problems will be used to develop recommendations for the Festival to combat such practices. We have been presented with the opportunity to be critical of the Festival's current standards of practice, in order to provide opportunities for our IBPOC communities to practice and share their chosen craft with safety, care, and agency. We first met as a collective on July 15, 2020 and have been given an initial seven weeks to offer recommendations and guidance. Since then, we determined more time was necessary, and we will be presenting our findings in October. We are being compensated for our time, skill set, and experience .

 

 We take this responsibility seriously. The Stratford Festival has been in consultation with the IBPOC community for a very long time, and previous recommendations have not been implemented, or have hit many roadblocks. In the wake of the many protests, uprisings, and shootings on Turtle Island, including the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, the Stratford Festival has issued statements of solidarity, and we intend to be insistent in demanding that resolute action be taken past their words. The difference NOW is that in the Stratford Festival's acknowledgement regarding some of their history, we intend to make this productive by holding them accountable.

 

 We have dedicated ourselves to this committee and know we are not alone. We know that there have been many before us pleading for change. Their voices were not heard or honoured. The issues are painful. The issues are not new. The issues have been dismissed. Today, this changes. We recognize that this work is messy. This work is not easy. This work is emotionally and mentally exhausting. We recognize that we are doing this work in isolation (as a collective) during a pandemic of epic proportions. We are trying to stay forward moving despite the challenges that have come up, including the departure of committee member Erica Croft, who resigned her position in the face of continuing harm. Despite these challenges, we are dedicated to this work and hope to be positive agents of change.

 

 As we proceed, we will be working in concert and consultation with other initiatives currently underway at the Festival. Our strength and efficacy is rooted in our experience within the company. We will apply both personal anecdotal experiences, as well as elements of critical race theory and cross-cultural collaborative frameworks to our analysis and recommendations. We bring the following values to our work: Creative Collaboration, Transparency and Accountability, Thoughtful Questioning, Integrity and Respect, Impatience and Patience.

 

 Our theatre community is made up of diverse cultures with varied backgrounds and experiences. It is our intention that our recommendations not only service IBPOC artists, artisans, and administrators, but the entire theatre community and its audiences, to ensure fair and equitable treatment for all. This has never been the case, and we are here to begin to cultivate a culture that nourishes a new perspective.

 

 Today, we change.

 

 Signed,

 

 The Stratford Festival ARC

 

 stratfordfestival.arc@gmail.com

 

 C.J. Astronomo, Associate Technical Director & Lighting Designer

  Sadie Berlin, Metcalf Foundation Dramaturgy Intern, The Lab

  Miali Buscemi, Actor

  Jessica Carmichael, Director, Dramaturg, Actor, Creator, Educator

  Alice Ferreyra, Stage Manager

  Esther Jun, Director

  Qasim Khan, Actor

  Samantha McCue, Designer

  Jani Lauzon, Actor, Director, Artist Educator, MD of Paper Canoe Projects

  Thomas Olajide, Actor

  Nitasha Rajoo, Interim Director of Education

  E.B. Smith, Actor

  Joanna Yu, Designer