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Image contains a statement from the leadership regarding the Stratford Festival's committment to evolving our understanding of equity, inclusion and anti-racism.

AN UPDATE FROM THE ANTI-RACISM COMMITTEE

December 11, 2020

We know that many of you are curious about the work we have been doing on the Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) at the Stratford Festival. Here is an update on our work so far as we reach the end of the year.

We were engaged to begin this work in July, in response to the murder of George Floyd, and the many protests, uprisings, and shootings on Turtle Island, including the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. Once our initial engagement was extended, we broke out into the following subcommittees: Acting Company, Black Leaders, Director's Office, Education, Marketing & Publicity, Policies & HR, Production & Design, and Stage Management. These subcommittees discussed and identified issues and solutions for each of these specific areas. At the beginning of October, we compiled our final report of recommendations, all with the intention of identifying and dismantling the power structures at the Festival that create an unsafe and inequitable work environment for First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Black, and People of Colour staff and artists.

Through the month of October, whilst ARC was on hiatus, the Festival assembled a working group to go through our reports and react to them. From the beginning of November through to mid-December, ARC and the Festival's working group have been meeting several times a week to clarify some recommendations and provide the working group with further context. These meetings have allowed for a greater shared understanding, and we are just scratching the surface as we unpack the reports together. This work will continue into 2021, while we narrow in on a few immediate areas of focus.

This work is particularly challenging for those of us on ARC because it involves our lived experiences, often rooted in the trauma of being a racialized person, being used as a tool to help the organization, the very place where some of the trauma took place… and that's complicated. As a result, this work is incredibly personal to each of us. Our individual experiences are also varied, so what is challenging for one of us may not be challenging for another and negotiating this inside of a group is its own challenge. Navigating this in the context of unprecedented times in the world and in our industry has been a roller coaster, to say the least.

We are aware that the function of this committee has been a bit of a mystery to the Festival community, and we would like to clarify that we are strictly an Advisory Committee, not a decision-making body. Through research and consultation with past and present artists and staff, we have made broad recommendations and highlighted what we believe to be important priorities for creating an equitable and inclusive workplace.

So, what are we looking forward to? We are looking forward to continuing to help the Festival understand our recommendations and to see them implemented with integrity, while continuing to advocate for an equitable and inclusive workplace for anyone that has been racially marginalized at the Festival, for those who are returning, and those that will join the Festival in the future. We look forward to continuing to provide insight and provoke questions as the Festival endeavours to make (what will be) an exciting and massive cultural shift. What do we find hopeful? We are energized by the Festival's commitment to cultivate this work. Of note, the Festival has taken immediate action on creating the role of Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and that is a promising first step.

All this to say, it is a long road ahead, and we are very much in process - a difficult, and sometimes painful process. We are encouraged that the Festival is taking responsibility and willing to shoulder this pain with us as we move forward together.

Stay safe and see you in the new year,
The Anti-Racism Committee
stratfordfestival.arc@gmail.com

AN UPDATE FROM THE STRATFORD FESTIVAL

December 11, 2020

We would like to thank the members of the Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) for the work they have done over the past five months to create a report about issues relating to systemic racism at the Stratford Festival. They were tasked with an enormous and vitally important job, one that involves a good deal of ongoing emotional trauma.

We had planned to have the ARC wrap up in October with a report on their observations. However, as our understanding of the scope of work continues to unfold, we have decided to invite the members of the ARC to extend the period of engagement for several months into 2021, with continued compensation and support.

We are extremely grateful to this remarkable group of people. But our gratitude is not enough: we must rebuild the Festival's foundation to create the type of organization in which people of all identities feel a true sense of belonging, one which we can all be proud to be part of.

In October we undertook a collaborative, in-depth analysis of the ARC report with a small group working in tandem with the ARC and with members of the senior leadership team in order to work toward implementing the ARC's feedback. Meetings are held multiple times a week to give the report the attention it deserves and requires.

A first and important action we are taking is the hiring of a Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). This role will be fundamental; however, it is only the first step in the change we must manifest in the coming months and years. The search is underway and we look forward to announcing the appointment once the position has been filled.

Other early steps we are undertaking include the revision of our anti-racism policy; the development of new orientation processes for current, new and returning staff; the development of a company-wide code of conduct; and the introduction of regular inclusivity training for all staff and company members.

We thank everyone involved for their outstanding contributions. We promise that the essential work they are doing is just the beginning. With open eyes and hearts we are together creating a foundation that will help us build a better future.

All the best,
Antoni & Anita

A MESSAGE FROM STRATFORD FESTIVAL ARC

September 18, 2020


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

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. 

Antoni Cimolino
Artistic Director 

 

Immediate Anti-Racism Actions Taken (June-July 2020)

 

  • Published anti-racism statement.
  • Facilitated Black Like Me panel discussion on Stratford Festival YouTube Channel (28,000 views).
  • Handed social media channels over to Black artists and staff June 4 to 6.
  • Facilitated Ndo-Mshkawgaabwimi - We Are Standing Strong discussion on Stratford Festival YouTube Channel (7,000 views).
  • Handed social media channels over to Indigenous artists and staff June 19 to 21.
  • Opened up our Employee Assistance Program to provide counselling services to artists. 
  • Published anti-racism commitment.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Re-imagining future seasons to include more stories by BIPOC artists and artists from other marginalized communities. 

 

The Anti-racism task force, education programming and a Diversity & Inclusion Specialist is supported by the Government of Canada's Emergency Community Support Fund and Stratford Perth Community Foundation.

A MESSAGE FROM THE STRATFORD FESTIVAL

June 1, 2020

We are heartbroken and angry at the violent anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism we see across Turtle Island. We stand in solidarity with those demonstrating for justice. Without the talent, skill and artistry of the Black and Indigenous members of the Festival, onstage and behind the scenes, we couldn't bring you the stories that move you. Black Lives Matter. Indigenous Lives Matter. Today and every day.

As an organization, we continue to learn how to do the work, and understand our complicity in unjust systems. As a company we have upheld white supremacy in the past. It must be dismantled. We are committed to using this time to evolve our understanding of equity, inclusion, and anti-racism and to prepare to celebrate and give platform to a more diverse array of voices when we return.

For those in our audience community who share our grief but aren't sure how to do their part, we'll be sharing some resources from racial justice educators that we hope will help.

We ask our community to take action by making a donation to a charity supporting anti-racism initiatives. Four organizations suggested by artists here at the Festival are noted below.

"Action is eloquence." - Coriolanus

Antoni Cimolino                Anita Gaffney
Artistic Director                Executive Director

waterfirst.ngo                   blacklivesmatter.ca         raventrust.com                 blacklegalactioncentre.ca