Equity Out Loud: Combating anti-Black Racism

Equity Out Loud: Combating anti-Black Racism

The Nursery’s Strategic Inclusion Goals to combat anti-Black racism – Velvet Wells

In 2020, a joint statement from the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre was published on improving diversity in the industry. In that statement, there was a recognition that theatre industry’s management teams are primarily dominated by white people. Before the pandemic, The Nursery Theatre was no exception — diverse in the students and performers present, but the leadership positions on the management team and board of trustees remained centred in whiteness.

The UK Black community is a still-unrepresented community within our theatre, so it is unsurprising that they distrust our intentions — we hadn’t made a positive impact in their community. They haven’t had a presence, let alone a voice, at the table.

We know the apology letter from the Board of Trustees wouldn’t be the end of the work we need to undertake. The Nursery Theatre has a mission to “offer diverse opportunities in improvisation”. With the work started with the education manager, and the creation of my role, we are reframing the mission to “offering diverse people opportunities to improvise.”

Like many other equity solutions, when you make things better for an under-served part of your community, everyone in the broader community shares the benefits. We’ve seen the evidence of that with the conversion of a couple of our workshops to audio-only

Here are three changes I’m implementing to directly invite the Black community to The Nursery:

  • Serve our Communities. Launching with a one-off event at the end of August, we will host jams for our Women’s and BIPOC affinity groups. We will slowly expand the opportunities to these groups to include socializing and performance opportunities. In October, all of our guest elective workshops will be run by Black facilitators — many you’ve seen throughout the year already. Once we have things running smoothly, we will extend the same complement of programming to other affinity groups that intersect within the Black community.
  • Speak with our Community. Launching mid-August, I will invite members from the UK and global Black diaspora into conversation. Not a panel, not a sales pitch. You talk and I listen. Individually or as a group. Have a compliment? Okay, probably not. Share your comments, concerns, Share your workshop or programming ideas.
  • Review and Update our Processes. This will be an ongoing activity. Revising process documents, like the Code of Conduct, to use plain language, to better define accountabilities (timelines, contacts and outcome management) and reporting mechanisms. We’ll model access to our living documents in a similar manner to Highwire Improv to make them more accessible for more people.

If we had all the funding (every theatre’s dream), these activities would start today:

  • Mandatory training. Specifically, Implicit Bias and Anti-Black Racism training, with Bystander Intervention training as strongly encouraged. The organization has not undergone mandatory training before so it will require a change to internal policies and receiving funding to achieve.
  • Hiring more Black arts administrators. Bring on Black board of trustee members. Honestly it feels lonely being the only Black voice in an organization. I’m happy I made the choice to join the organization, but I would enjoy having you join me.

My future Black community strategy for The Nursery:

  • Black theatre arts career development: The creation of paid mentorship programs to help Black creative voices (performers, facilitators, technicians, and arts administrators) achieve their dream careers. Perhaps managing their own theatres and productions, or performing in them. Beyond mentorship programs, we will give them the space and support they need to explore and examine their creative voices as well as leadership opportunities in those spaces. This will become the foundation for future iterations of the program for other diverse communities.
  • Cross-training Black creatives from other disciplines. Through our applied improvisational skills training, we seek to foster Black creative voices beyond theatre — in the artistry of their choice. Finding opportunities to collaborate will give us a deeper connection to the broader arts community and help us introduce Black creatives to their peers and other opportunities.
  • Change the engagement model with the Black community. We look to learn and adopt the Friendship Model as successfully implemented at tiata fahodz. We want to establish authentic connections with the people, prioritizing being present with the community as friends. Once they see themselves represented on our stages and the other programs we offer, they will support us as audience, students, and creative partners.

While this blog was focused on future endeavours, we are continuing our partnership with the Black Improv Alliance as well as our Bursary program.

With critical hope,

Velvet Wells, Outreach & Inclusion Manager

Postscript;

A few people cautioned “I hope they let you do the work” but that thinking is wrong on two levels. First, have you met me? I’m an equity passionate person. Second, I’ve had full support from the management team to build up a strategy and tactics to help diversify the voices within the company. The true barrier to success is financial — we cannot engage in new programs when we need funds to manage capital costs. PayPal.me/TheNurseryTheatre

Velvet Wells
velvet@thenurserytheatre.com

Outreach & Inclusion Manager at The Nursery Theatre

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