FTC's EDI and Anti-Racism Work
Since FTC’s founding, we have been deeply invested in being an equitable, diverse and inclusive company. We are expanding that work to become actively Anti-Racist – inspired by a national moment of reckoning in our industry and the efforts of Black, Indigenous and other People of Color in the professional theater world who have shared their vision for a better future in multiple forums (most notably the We See You White American Theatre demands document).
We see this moment as one of tremendous opportunity – for Forward, and for the theater industry as a whole. The renewed attention to systemic inequity and racism in our field provides much-needed energy to fuel the work that has been attempted in the past, but has not always been successful.
Our commitment to this work stems from our founding statement of values (our “Bill of Rights”). Among the statements in that Bill of Rights are these:
• We will provide a positive, respectful, and nurturing work environment for all employees and guest artists that allows everyone to work to their full potential. We will conduct ourselves with integrity in all interactions representing Forward Theater Company.
• We acknowledge the systemic racism in our community and industry and commit to anti-racist policies, practices and learning in all areas of our work, and to create a safe, supported and empowered environment for all our colleagues who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color.
• We will be a community-wide leader in forging collaborative partnerships, with particular attention to building authentic relationships with communities underrepresented in theater audiences.
• We will strategically invest our time and resources in educational and complementary programming that enhances the experience of our current audiences and grows the pool of new audience members.
During the summer and fall of 2020, inspired by the calls for change from our colleagues across the country, we embarked on a rigorous process of internal assessment and planning. This involved:
• Completing an internal EDI Audit, which gathered data on our hiring history (staff, freelance artists, and technicians) since our founding and comparing those numbers to local and statewide demographic data. We compiled the same statistics for the membership of our board of directors and our Advisory Company of artists. This enabled us to look with clear eyes at where we need to make additional efforts to better reflect our community in our hiring.
• Compiling an exhaustive Outreach History of our efforts over the years. This helped us to analyze which projects were clearly impactful and which were less so.
• Reviewing the We See You White American Theatre demands document point by point with our full staff. We discussed each demand at length, and developed a list of proposed Action Items.
• Incorporating our full Board and Advisory Company into the work, by establishing small working groups that met multiple times during September and October 2020 to review the We See You document and the Audit, Outreach History, and Action Items list created by staff. These groups were tasked with two responsibilities: to challenge the assumptions in the staff’s work by providing new perspectives, and to prioritize the list of Action Items to help Forward allocate resources effectively.
• Synthesizing the input from those working groups to develop an actionable plan for staff. This plan includes:
o Steps that can be taken immediately;
o New projects that will be rolled out over the course of 2021; and
o Longer-term goals that we will build towards.
Highlights from FTC’s 2020-2021 EDI/Anti-Racism Plan
The plan below is a living document. It will be continually reexamined and adjusted, as being an inclusive and Anti-Racist company is a life-long effort, not a box to be checked off. We share our plan publicly because we know this work is as important to our community as it is to us. And we know this plan will be better and more successful if you help us to make it so. So we invite (and encourage!) you to share your feedback and ideas with us at any time.
• Continue to seek out opportunities to support, mentor, and nurture BIPOC artists and arts groups in our region, investing resources as needed to do so.
• Invest in building the cultural competency of our talkback leaders.
• Invest advertising dollars with local BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) media outlets.
• Continue our existing practice of transparent hiring processes, including clear communication of salary ranges.
• The Finance Committee will continue to conduct an annual audit of FTC’s vendors to encourage investment in BIPOC businesses.
• Maintain the presence of a specific line item in our budget for EDI/Anti-Racism work.
• Expand our current use of Land Acknowledgements.
• Include language in all job postings that past participation in Anti-Racism training is a plus.
• Look for opportunities to expand our audience’s understanding of different cultural traditions for audience response.
• Continue our practice of offering compensation to all artists who assist with development efforts.
• Continue our commitment to investing our financial reserves in Socially Conscious funds.
• Continue our ongoing efforts to diversify membership of our Board, AC and staff.
• Continue our 360-degree annual reviews of executive leadership.
• Create a succinct document (contract rider) for all freelance artists and crew that outlines our Anti-Racism and EDI policies, as well as protected pathways to report issues. We have proposed this as a joint project with Wisconsin’s Equity theater companies.
• Develop relationships with the technical theater training programs in the Milwaukee area to nurture emerging BIPOC theater technicians and designers.
• Add a line item for cultural consultants to each production’s budget worksheet. This will prompt an evaluation of any specific needs for each play.
• Reach out to local journalism schools and publications, offering to partner with them on training programs for BIPOC critics.
• Share FTC’s annual operating budget on our website (budgets are the most explicit statement of an organization’s values).
• Learning opportunities in EDI and Anti-Racism will be incorporated as a major component of each year’s full-day retreat with our staff, Board, and AC members.
• We will continue to organize small-group discussion sessions every fall/winter to collect input on our efforts and ideas for further work and education opportunities. All members of our staff, Board, and AC will be assigned to a group.
• Work with Overture Center and the other resident companies to develop intervention and disruption protocols for harmful audience interactions.
• Work with Overture Center and the other resident companies to research and develop changes that can be made to make lobbies and other theater spaces more welcoming to BIPOC communities.
• Create plan for new staff position focusing on community engagement.
• Expand our La Follette High School partnership within LHS or to other schools.