The Road To Hell (Act 1) By Ezra Buzzington
The very things to which we should aspire. So they say.
When Howlround announced that it was sponsoring an event for the 2020/2021 theatrical season called The Jubilee, I was thrilled to join thousands of other Theatricians across the country who realize that for far too long far too many disenfranchised voices have been shouting into the deafened darkness of our country’s problematic cultural morass. My heart beat faster as even the earliest of my imaginative imaginings conjured up a tsunami of the voiceless roaring onto the boards of hundreds of stages across the land, bringing with them histories, perspectives and talents heretofore only moderately represented at best. Oh, the places we can go! Then I continued reading The Pledge the organizers are asking participants to sign onto.
One line in particular stopped me cold: “We plan to celebrate this vision with a Jubilee year in 2020, in which every theatre in the United States of America produces only works by women, people of color, artists of varied physical and cognitive ability, and/or LGBTQA artists”. In truth, it wasn’t the line itself that chilled my better conscience, it was that one word: “only”. I wrote an article on my concerns but, to save you the trouble of link-clicking, I’ll sum it up thusly: in an attempt to include all, one cannot exclude any. Seems simple enough. Apparently not.
I expressed my concerns via email to the Senior Creative Producer of Howlround. She wrote back saying she would “happily” give my piece a look and would be “happy to be my point person” on the issue. I sent her my number and she called the next day.
Charming but distant in our conversation, she comes across, true to her word, as a very happy person. After a slow start of long pauses intended, I can only assume, to give me plenty of time to present my opposing view of which, if she’d read my article, she should already be fully aware, I finally dove in basically repeating a few of the points I’d already made.
As expected, she offered that “no one on the committee had intended any offense”. I’d assumed as much. I pointed out, however, that their intent did not, in and of itself, make the committee blameless for having offended. In these days of accepted “trigger warnings” and so-called “microaggressions”, I felt unwarned and aggressed upon. And not because I was part of the specific group targeted for exclusion – white, cisgendered, able-bodied, heterosexual or closeted men – but, rather, because the approach the committee of The Jubilee was taking to combat disparity in the theatre was, in actuality, perpetuating the practice of blatant discrimination.
I felt it important to emphasize how supportive I was of the concept behind the Jubilee itself. I still am. But, it was and is equally important to clarify that the weapons we choose to use in combating the rampant disparity within our art form must be scrutinized with the most focused of attentions. Lest we become that which we are fighting against. And, further, that the inclusion of the word “only” in the jubilant call to arms must have been a simple oversight on the part of the committee.
It was not.
She stated that, since the committee was hoping for a “radical” change, they had “intentionally” included the word “only”. When I suggested other options: “a majority of”, “99%”, etc., I was met with a bit of a rubber wall. One which, when pushed would give slightly (“We don’t mean offense.”) then return to its unassailable height, achieving its goal of excluding only a very specific subset of artists while attempting to accept none of the bloody-handed mess. In short, rationalized discrimination.
Further topics, including the extent of Emerson College’s involvement with the Jubilee – “Howlround is pretty autonomous at Emerson” – were touched upon and eventually I was told that while normally the committee wouldn’t meet to discuss the Jubilee till around November 15th, she seemed sure that this topic would be “represented to the Committee” by the end of that next week. October 31st. Adding, at my request, that I would be contacted as to the result of the discussion. When word was not forthcoming, I reached out to her again and was told that a subcommittee had been formed to discuss the topic. An announcement from the powers that be at Howlround/Jubilee should be forthcoming by Thanksgiving or “maybe before. Depending on how it progresses!”
Watch this space.