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Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are integral to upholding our core value, People Matter. We want every member of our organization – from students and teachers to volunteers and event attendees – to feel important and respected by our organization and our Thespians.

Our commitment to building a diverse, inclusive, and equitable organization is an ongoing journey involving our staff, board of directors, members, and friends in the theatre and education fields. If you would like to get involved and help make a difference — through involvement in an initiative or simply sharing your experiences from a DEI perspective — please contact us.

December 2020: We All Have a Part to Play

“Having a Black man leading the space was important for me. Chris is the first director that I had who looked like me.”

The Scottsboro Boys play on stage at ITF 2019
The Scottsboro Boys onstage at the International Thespian Festival in 2019. Photo by Susan Doremus.

After Troupe 4982 at Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin, staged The Scottsboro Boys, Thespian cast member Nick Daly shared this impact of working with director Christopher Chase Carter.

Nick’s experience is an example why EdTA has prioritized improving racial diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) – both within our organization and in the wider theatre education field. EdTA’s vision is for every student to have access to theatre as an essential part of their education and preparation for success in life. We want students of every background, race, and ethnicity to see themselves as “theatre kids” and eventually theatre teachers.

Today we are primarily a white organization. That’s not because we’ve intentionally shut anyone out. But as we’ve assessed our association over the past year – through discussions with members, chapter directors, Board of Directors, and in particular, our BIPOC constituents – we’ve found three principles to be true:

  • We can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different result.
    We have great power through theatre to change hearts and minds in the work toward social justice.
  • If we are to achieve our goal of improving racial equity in this association, everyone has a part to play — from the board to the staff to the average member.
  • To help lead the change we want to see, the board and staff have adopted an ambitious three-year strategic DEI plan:
Focus on racial equity to address the ongoing underrepresentation of BIPOC across the field and EdTA.

Members, we invite you to view the EdTA DEI Strategy 2021-23 and consider how you can make a difference in the short- and long-term objectives outlined within. Ask yourself: What part can I play?

While laying out these long-term objectives, we’ve also continued our efforts toward progress in the present. In the past six months, EdTA has:

  • Built our network of BIPOC artists and keynote speakers: 30% of presenters at our 2020 National Conference were BIPOC; the Thespian Nation Live student event will feature 40% BIPOC presenters.
  • Launched DEI resources for teachers in the EdTA Learning Center, including an ongoing series of webinars on social justice and culturally inclusive teaching.
  • Updated application and selection criteria for the International Thespian Festival main stage to encourage productions and stories from a diverse set of schools and students.
  • Established race and ethnicity tracking in our member data for first time so we can measure our progress and gaps.
  • Proactively recruited a slate of EdTA Board of Director candidates that has more than 40% BIPOC representation.
  • Received a $50,000 National Endowment of the Arts grant to pilot technical theatre curriculum for low-income middle school students in Baltimore. The program will pair pre-service theatre and education students from Morgan State University, a historically black college (HBCU), with teaching artists of color to create and implement the curriculum.
  • Received a $10,000 grant from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) to enhance student leadership through DEI training and programming.
  • Received $50,000 in new donations to the Pathway program to advance racial equity, which will launch in the 2021-22 school year.

The EdTA board and staff are excited to champion this work. But we can’t do it alone.

Please contact us to get involved in any of the initiatives outlined in the strategic plan, and to share stories of how you’re impacting students like Nick.

Every member can make a difference through their words and actions. What role will you play?

Julie Cohen Theobald, executive director, on behalf of the EdTA staff
EdTA Board of Directors

June 2020: Standing With Our Black Theatre Family

All around the nation, people have reacted to the killing of George Floyd – and the many other Black Americans before him – with hurt, confusion, and a conviction to improve the systemic racism that led to his death. Hard conversations are happening in many homes and workplaces, including within EdTA.

We posted the following statement on social media in response to the protests:

In this moment, you might be thinking: OK, but what does that mean? What are you doing to make things better?

EdTAs Black Lives Matter statementWe’ll be first to admit we don’t have all the answers today, but we have been asking ourselves a similar question for some time now: How do we improve racial diversity and inclusion in our organization?

As an organization, we value diversity at all levels: age, disability, national origin, race, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation. After all, isn’t inclusion part of theatre people’s DNA?

But we have come to recognize that race is the biggest area of gap within the educational theatre community and within our own organization. According to EdTA’s Landscape Survey of Theatre in U.S. High Schools, theatre students don’t reflect the country’s demographics: 61% are white, 17% Latino, 16% Black, and 7% other races; whereas 51% percent of the general population under age 18 is white. More stark: 93% of theatre educators are white. EdTA’s makeup is similar.

Few Black theatre students are pursuing careers in theatre education – a situation we want to help change.

We also want to improve racial representation within EdTA’s most prominent student programs: Our student leaders, award and scholarship winners, and shows selected for the International Thespian Festival main stage don’t reflect the diversity of our student membership.

For these reasons, racial diversity has become a top priority for EdTA, a goal we’ve begun addressing through:

  • Focus groups with EdTA teachers and artists of color to better understand their perspectives and how we can improve
  • Unconscious bias training for the EdTA board of directors and in the coming months, staff and chapter leadership
  • JumpStart Theatre, a Foundation program that gives students in underserved middle schools access to theatre for the first time
  • Grants for students of color to participate in student leadership training at the International Thespian Festival, paving the way for greater diversity among our International Thespian Officers
  • A coming initiative to fund school theatre productions around racial issues, including hiring professional artists of color to work with the students

The key word here: begun. This is just the start. We recognize there is much more work to be done in theatre education, and we are committed to doing this work – for our Black theatre family today, and the future of our field.

Julie Cohen Theobald, executive director, on behalf of the EdTA staff
EdTA Board of Directors

EdTA complies with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and all other related federal, state, and local employment laws. EdTA does not discriminate based on age, disability, national origin, race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation in regard to any term, condition, employment, program, event, or service.

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