Recently, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) asked me to write a regional spotlight on what I see happening in Michigan theatre. My short article is below. Enjoy!
Regional Spotlight: Midwest – Michigan
Spot Op: Amanda Grace Ewing
“I keep a variety of quotes from this year’s LMDA Conference on my phone, which I revisit when I’m feeling stuck or need some motivation. In the past couple of months, I’ve begun to look for a note as I scroll: “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Affliction: trouble, burden, distress, oppress. Comfort: console, solace, support, uplift. Both of these verbs suggest a physical act of resistance and remind me that bodies carry text. As the national conversation around equity and diversity becomes more robust, theatre companies in my region, Southeastern Michigan, are more purposefully considering the dramaturgy of bodies: who gets to tell what stories and how? Who is afflicted and who is comfortable?
My artistic home is BoxFest Detroit (BFD), an annual one-act theatre festival that showcases local female-identifying directors. BFD has, and continues to, function as a springboard for local women and their directing careers. This year, when the organizers met to plan the festival, we began with strategizing how to leverage our visibility as an organization in order to serve more directors. In response to this challenge, we launched a new mentorship program. In this inaugural year, there were two mentorship opportunities available: Assistant Directing for Frannie Shepherd-Bates and the Tipping Point Theatre Sandbox Directorship. The first award granted a director a stipend and the opportunity to shadow, learn, and collaborate with a regional, experienced, female-identifying director at an Equity theatre; and the later award granted a director a stipend and the opportunity to direct a one-act play at an Equity theatre house. Our goals for this program are to: connect BFD directors with the greater Metro Detroit professional theatrical community, support the education of female directors, connect BFD directors with other female directors working in the community, remove challenges for BFD directors and professional theaters associated with the cost of education, travel, and artist salaries. While we are still in our pilot year – we’re excited to see how this program will affect hiring and visibility of female-identifying directors in Michigan.
Another Southeastern Michigan theatre company looking to create opportunities for marginalized communities is Black and Brown Theatre (BandB). BandB was founded in the summer of 2016 to address the inequity of casting in Michigan theatre. Like many other regions, white artists dominate Michigan theatre, and when considering casting, white is synonymous with neutral. Despite the Detroit area’s diverse population, oftentimes actors of color are only considered in casting when the script breakdown specifically calls for a certain race. Since their founding, BandB has worked to interrupt this narrative by presenting staged readings, showcases, productions, outreach, and education for and with communities of color – each action driving BandB towards the goal of becoming extinct in the next five to ten years. One valuable act of BandB is a humble Google Drive of headshots and resumes of actors of color, that casting directors can ask for access to. Currently, the database is viewable by 64 directors and has the information for 84 actors of color. This simple task has completely negated any claim of, I don’t know any actors of color, I can’t find anyone for this role, etc., and generated access for actors and casting directors to each other.
I’m excited that BFD and BandB are challenging narratives around who is in the room doing the work, that there are more companies in our region asking questions about access and equity, and that theatres and artists are using the resources that companies like BoxFest Detroit and Black and Brown Theatre provide. I hope that as all of us connect with each other we can be a force to afflict those comfortable in the white narrative, and comfort those looking to see themselves in the texts we present.”