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.