Diversity Statement
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Diversity Statement

 Diversity Statement

 

    I have been a professional Actor/Director and a member of Actor’s Equity for over 20 years. I was also the Artistic Director of a Professional Equity SPT Tier 8 theatre company. Diversity and all its empathic intention have been the hallmark of my profession. The professional theatre community in this country has, since the turn of the twentieth century, promoted and exercised diversity both onstage and off. From the great Paul Robeson to George C Wolf. From the public rejection of blackface performers on stage to the codification of color-blind casting and the embrace of gender-neutral casting.

From Larry Kramer to Tony Kushner to David Henry Hwang; the professional theatre has been a home of broad inclusivity. This grand home also invites the opportunity for disenfranchised youth as reflected in the work ‘Runaways” conceived by Elizabeth Swados, as well the physically disabled as reflected in Deaf West’s reimagining of ‘Spring Awakening.” In the professional theatre, we understand that, with diversity, there is great storytelling. With diversity, comes a pool of talent that provides unique perspectives on all the processes exercised when creating a piece of theatre. With diversity, comes great learning and the knowledge that no matter what culture we claim, what sex we may be, if we are with a physical disability or without a common language we are inherently the same when it comes to that journey of becoming, as Maslow put forth, self-actualized. So how does one define diversity? The most useful and actionable definition of diversity can be found in Preamble of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” 

 

    That preamble is the intellectual platform and moral direction I use to guide my efforts of diversity in leadership in the non-profit sector and also in my teaching when I entered higher education, as Director of Theatre at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina Kansas. I believe higher education affords a great opportunity to step away from what we believe to be true so that we can see a different conception of truth through someone else’s eyes. The academic community can and should be a microcosm of experiences and ideas that exists in the sunshine of discussion, debate, bold experimentation and intense creativity. Plain and simple, embracing and promoting diversity makes sense. 

 

    In the classroom, I work to create open and safe learning environments in which students feel free to express ideas, opinions, and worldviews. I encourage students to explore difference, to find strength and inspiration in our unique qualities. I believe that in order achieve any effective climate of diversity students must be taught and practice critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence. Faculty and administrators must practice the same skills as well: for a culturally diverse environment exists on the foundation of sound reasoned thinking. I feel that an open dialogue between divergent groups that informs and teaches can allow understanding of how much we do have in common. Dialogue is a powerful tool, which, according to William Issacs in his book Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together published in 1999 “…is a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling it toward something that has never been created before. It lifts us out of polarization and into a greater common sense…” (p.19). 

 

    In leadership positions as Artistic Director and Director of Theatre, I felt it a moral imperative to use my position to highlight the advantages and strengths of working to achieve a positive balance of diversity in the workforce. In 1995, I developed an employee manual, for the theatre company I founded, that moved beyond the basic EEOC requirements at the time and spelled out specific workplace rules to ensure rights for our LGBT employees, physically challenged and ensure same pay rights for non-union female workers. In season after season, I made efforts at gender neutral and color-blind casting as well as reaching out to the growing multi-cultural population surrounding our community finding opportunities of inclusion in all phases and levels of our company. As an Assistant Professor and Director of the Theatre Program at Kansas Wesleyan University, I continually searched for opportunities that reflected a belief that we are part of a world community and that our output, as a learning community, should reflect that same belief. I created an environment in which the theatre department was a safe port of expression. Where the art form of live theatrical performances could encourage awareness, debates and unpack perceived differences. I assembled diverse panels for post-show discussions following a production of, “Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” At Kansas Wesleyan University. The panels consisted of clergy, mothers of Gay and Transgender children, politicians, academics and the LGBT student community. This exercise was a transformative event for many on campus. In another example in 2007 Kansas Wesleyan University had a year long cross-campus discussion on human dignity. We engaged in that dialogue, as a theatre department, by producing Eve Ensler’s, “Necessary Targets.” I surrounded that production with speakers and discussions about violence against women. We raised money for rape crises centers and women's shelters. These are just a few examples out of many where I used the totality of a theatre production for enlightenment; stories that show the ties that bind us and stories of the transgressions of humankind.

 

    I have used, in my professional and academic careers, the unique qualities of a live theatre production to shine a light on our shared humanity. Using the tools of gender-neutral casting, color-blind casting, working to encourage those who are physically challenged to participate on or off stage, experimenting with combining languages, dialects and regional vernacular speak all to push a narrative of the importance, the brilliance and the beauty of our shared coexistence. I am committed, as an academic and as a freelance professional, to continue to swim in the wake of cultural diversity.  It is the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, and opening the door of compassion and empathy allows the theatre to travel in an infinite space of possibilities.