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How do we move forward?

That’s the question being asked in a three-night virtual town hall this week by two groups — the Coalition for Racial Equity in Atlanta Theater and Inclusion Diversity Equity in the Arts Atlanta. They call the event, largely for Atlanta theater artists, a reckoning.

“For too long, BIPOC artists have felt forced to stay silent due to fear of retaliation,” the groups — who use the acronyms CREAT and IDEA ATL — said in a statement. “But the survival of our industry now requires that we speak up. This is one small step toward creating a more equitable and just theater community, metro region and country.”

Town Hall for Racial Reckoning June 2020

Angela Farr Schiller will moderate the town hall.

The Town Hall for Racial Reckoning will happen at 6–9 tonight (June 29) and Tuesday. A third session, 6–9 p.m. July 1, is a Night of Healing for BIPOC Theater Makers Only. Theater artists and patrons can sign up to participate HERE. Anonymity is optional. Metro Atlanta professional and semiprofessional theater companies have been randomly assigned to one of the first two nights.

Invited to attend tonight are representatives from 7 Stages, the Academy Theatre, Actor’s Express, Aurora Theatre, Arís Theatre, Catalyst Arts Atlanta, the Center for Puppetry Arts, Essential Theatre, Legacy Theatre, Live Arts Theatre, Marietta Theatre Company, OnStage Atlanta, Out Front Theatre Company, Out of Box Theatre, PushPush, Serenbe Playhouse, Shakespeare on Draught, the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, Stage Door Players, Synchronicity Theatre, Theatrical Outfit, the Tiny Theatre Company, Vanguard Repertory, the Wallace Buice Theatre Company and Working Title Playwrights.

Invited to attend Tuesday are representatives from Act3 Productions, the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta Lyric Theatre, Atlanta Theatre Club, City Springs Theatre Company, Dad’s Garage Theatre Company, Dominion Entertainment, Elm Street Theatre, Found Stages, Georgia Ensemble Theatre, Havoc Movement Company, Horizon Theatre, Impact Theatre, Lionheart Theatre Company, Marietta New Theatre in the Square, New African Grove Theatre Company, Out of Hand Theater, Pinch ‘n’ Ouch, the Process Theatre, Theatre Buford, Théâtre du Rêve, Theatre Emory, True Colors Theatre Company and Vernal & Sere Theatre.

As of this writing, CREAT’s Lee Osorio, who’s helping organize the town hall, said he wasn’t sure exactly how the evenings would unfold. Conversations about that continued through the weekend, but he said that Angela Farr Schiller, a leader in arts and education and a dramaturg, director and scholar, will moderate the conversations.

The town hall idea began with Malesha Taylor, an opera singer, music professor, writer and speaker who suggested that CREAT survey BIPOC theater artists, asking them to talk about truth and reconciliation in light of renewed vigor in the Black Lives Matter movement and social-media complaints against racist practices at Serenbe Playhouse.

Lilliangina Quiñones and Terrence Smith — actors who’ve spoken out about their Serenbe experiences — are part of the team designing the town hall, which has been refocused as a safe space for truth-telling. “I don’t think we’re at the point of reconciliation yet,” says Osorio, an actor, playwright, teacher and Out of Hand’s associate artistic director.

Town Hall for Racial Reckoning June 2020

Lee Osorio is one of the organizers of the three-night event.

Seventy percent of the Atlanta BIPOC theater artists who received the survey favored a town hall, he says. More than 370 people have signed up for one of the two nights. Of those, 32 percent are theater representatives, 52 percent are witnesses willing to speak and the remaining 16 percent may speak or just listen.

The question, Osorio says, is, “What does true equity look like?”

IDEA ATL, founded in 2019, is a collective of Atlanta theaters and professionals committed to developing and managing education and training for themselves and their community in equity, diversity, inclusion and justice. Its goal is to “amplify common ground and celebrate uncommon ground.”

CREAT, founded this year, grew out of Out of Hand Theater’s Equitable Dinners program. Its mission is to foster a theater community that’s representative of the Atlanta region at all levels of engagement, from inception to reception.

That means not just hiring BIPOC actors and directors but putting BIPOC artists in positions that give them say in programming, strategic planning and mission.

“How do we move forward?” CREAT and IDEA ATL asked in their statement. “In the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, protesters across the country have taken to the streets to demand an end to the war on black and brown people and the devaluation of their lives. That war and devaluation have taken many forms, including inequitable opportunities and unsafe work environments within our own theater community. Before our community can move forward, it needs to reckon with the injustices perpetrated within our theaters.”

Osorio says organizers won’t know their next steps until they see what comes out of the town hall. “We’re hoping people leave with ideas about how to radically change how and what they do.”

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