This is an open letter to our artists, patrons, and the all of the theatrical community.
We at Custom Made were horrified at the death of George Floyd last summer. We were also inspired by the immediate reaction from this tragic, but not isolated, event. One necessary response was that the theatre community in the Bay and nationally turned inward to examine the prevalence of white supremacy in our institutions and unhealthy business practices that are harmful to all people, but especially our BIPOC community of artists.
Custom Made has long had a practice of color-conscious casting and has attempted to have an equitable workplace, but both WE SEE YOU WHITE AMERICAN THEATRE and our local THE LIVING DOC has shown us we have failed our BIPOC community in many harmful ways. It is this spirit that we know we need to make change from the inside, work to become a genuinely anti-racist theatre, and support all artists from the many diverse backgrounds that make the San Francisco Bay Area theater scene the unique and beautiful place that it is.
What we have done so far:
First off, we want to say we know this is not enough. But we have to start somewhere, and the first action taken was to affect our immediate programming:
- Previously the titles chosen in our developmental reading series, UNDISCOVERED WORKS, were selected without considering diversity. For the 2020 selection (to be performed in 2021), we publicly dedicated that at least half of the plays would be from our BIPOC community. We landed up picking 75% BIPOC plays and will continue this policy in the future.
- We have changed our policy that plays written by BIPOC playwrights will all be helmed by directors and dramaturgs from our BIPOC community. While this was often the case with our “mainstage shows,” we have extended this policy to all developmental and workshop productions.
- We have met with our Board of Directors to discuss WSYWAT and THE LIVING DOC and chart a course of answering these demands.
- We have dedicated to beginning all first rehearsals and performances with a land acknowledgment that Custom Made performs on unceded land from the Ohlone tribe.
- We have been actively participating in the Peer Accountability Group, and our senior staff has been self-educating by reading anti-racist literature from authors such as Ibrim X. Kendi and Isabel Wilkenson.
What we are working on:
- Re-drafting our Board by-laws to require increased inclusivity from BIPOC leaders and clarifying that we have no give/get (an informal policy at this time.)
- We are reassessing our budget for all future productions to include cultural consulting for titles that require it.
- Beginning this season (2021), casting at least 50% BIPOC actors, and our design and directorial teams being at least 50% BIPOC.
- We are working towards programming an equal number of our titles to be written by BIPOC artists. This is a longer-term goal tied into developing local BIPOC work and producing these plays for our mainstage.
- Budgeting for HR resources. We acknowledge that working inside a small organization provides a few solutions for a harmed party to address their grievances safely. We are looking to find a way to share resources with other organizations to solve this problem.
- We are updating our employee handbook to include anti-racist policies and the HR resources stated above.
- Budgeting to participate in the Shuumi land tax starting in 2022.
- Budgeting to have staff attend anti-racist trainings.
- We are dedicated to future hires in leadership and administration to be at least 50% BIPOC.
- We are working to reassess our rehearsal and technical schedules to reduce workplace hours (especially what is known in the industry as 10 out of 12s.)
- We will listen to our BIPOC artists to create a safe and anti-racist space and take thoughtful actions to continue our growth in these areas.
This is the outline of our plan going forward; it certainly does not cover every area we are examining of our business practices. This plan will evolve based on feedback and effectiveness. However, our goal will not change: we need Custom Made to be a safe and anti-racist home for all our stakeholders and set an example of what a small theatre can do to improve our industry and the world.
Executive Artistic Director and Founding Artistic Director
Custom Made Theatre Co.