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Anti-Racism Progress Update

Anti-Racism Progress Update - December 17, 2020.

Since our last update, we’ve continued working hard to transform The Public Theater, while navigating the very real challenges of a difficult year - dark theaters, staff furloughs, uncertainty about when we will be able to return.

In our last update, we had contracted with a consulting firm to support our cultural transformation work. We are sobered to report that we have now completed an in-depth, organization-wide equity assessment of our systems, structures, policies, and procedures. In late October, the staff, artists, our freelancer and production community, our Board, stakeholders, and community members we work with all engaged in confidential focus groups, surveys, and individual interviews. The findings reflected a culture that is far less healthy, supportive, and progressive than The Public Theater we aspire to be. Both the staff and the Board spent time understanding, reviewing, and discussing the findings.

We established two important internal groups to support the work coming out of the findings. Our Board created an anti-racism committee built out of the existing Diversity Committee to specifically develop and lead the Board through the development of a Board-specific action plan. And we established a Cultural Transformation Team - made up of racially and ethnically diverse staff from every department and representing a diverse cross-section of the team that makes up The Public. 

Both of those groups have been tirelessly working over many weeks to develop a comprehensive plan that addresses the issues the assessment raised. We were aiming to share that plan by now, but as we moved through this process, we quickly realized that we needed much more time to carefully craft a plan we could all own, commit to, and endeavor towards together. 

We have made great progress with our first draft plan, which is now being thoughtfully discussed and vetted across staff groups, departments, and our Board.  Our hope is that in the first quarter of 2021, we will be able to share our ideas and commitments with the broader community.

As we were building those plans, we immediately recognized there were some opportunities and ways in which we could begin our cultural transformation work. We are proud to report that:

  •  We continue to host speakers and facilitators, curated by staff, to educate us on anti-racist practices, including sessions around the issues of race and gender.
  • At the recommendation of our Parent & Caregiver staff, who are experiencing increased stress levels as a result of working from home combined with remote learning and other household responsibilities, we’ve implemented additional self-care days each month.
  • Our newly formed senior artistic leadership group (Artistic Director Oskar Eustis and Associate Artistic Directors Saheem Ali, Mandy Hackett, and Shanta Thake) continues to reshape decision-making, improve transparency, and redistribute and share authority across the organization.
  • We developed and have implemented an inclusive season planning process, in which all artistic staff weigh in on every project we are considering. It continues to evolve, especially as we look toward the time when we can return to the theater in-person.
  • We continue expanding inclusion and transparency around how decisions are made for all staff. We’ve recently added:
    • a Daily Planning Meeting that’s open to all and allows cross-departmental staff to meet, collaborate, and discuss questions around process, decisions, or other issues.
    • regular open forum discussions to share updates and brainstorm around institutional policies, practices, and milestones, like facility re-openings, The Delacorte and Free Shakespeare in the Park planning, the use of hate speech in rehearsal and performance settings, specific HR policies, and more.
  • Each department across the organization is examining their practices and developing goals related to their work, including policies and practices, vendor analysis, relationship management systems, translations, audience development, media outreach, and other key organizational issues.

The Public Theater culture reflected in the equity assessment findings and in what we’ve heard from our BIPOC colleagues was built over time, and it will take time to undo it. But we do believe that the work we’ve been doing over the past few months can begin to transform this organization and make the culture of The Public one that our community is proud of and one that truly reflects our mission and our values. 
We remain committed to making sure we achieve our goals of becoming an anti-racist organization. Despite these difficult times, we are proud to report that our team has continued to show up, participate, and bring depth of experience and knowledge to The Public’s cultural transformation work. We look forward to sharing more with you in the new year.

Patrick Willingham
Executive Director

Anti-Racism Progress Update - September 16, 2020.

We are living through difficult times. The pandemic and the resulting economic fallout are causing enormous pain, loss and stress for so many of us, and the burden falls with particular severity on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. In the midst of this, a call for racial justice and reckoning has arisen, in our country and across the world, that challenges us to reflect on and reform all of our practices, from the governmental level to the most individual.

The American theater community has been deeply damaged by the pandemic. Unemployment among our freelancers and staff members is catastrophically high, and the institutions which produce work and hire theater workers are under punishing pressure, as well. In this moment, we must mobilize and fight to ensure the survival of the field, and of the individuals who make up the theater.

But we have a unique opportunity, as well: inspired by a world-wide mass movement, educated by thinkers and activists pushing us to a deeper understanding of systemic racism and our role in it, we have a chance to not just come back, but to come back better-- more just, more anti-racist, more equitable. In the wake of George Floyd's tragic murder, and that of countless other Black men and women, it is time to understand the powerful and destructive role that anti-Blackness plays in American life, and in our field. This is the moment to make the invisible forces of systemic racism visible, and to center anti-racism in our practice.  It is vital for all of us in the American Theater to accept this challenge. History is demanding it of us.  

At The Public, we are examining our systems, habits, structures, and behavior, and what we have found so far requires change. We have not been courageous or consistent enough in challenging the structures that support inequity and white supremacy, and we have allowed too many problems to fester without taking bold enough action to resolve them. We have to change.

We are involved in an in-depth, organization-wide assessment of our practices and ways of working. This assessment involves our entire staff and Board, and is facilitated by outside experts. We anticipate releasing a comprehensive plan in November. Until then, we would like to share some of the changes we are making in our work.

  • Before the virus shut us down, we had already planned for the end of 10 out of 12's-- the longstanding practice during a production’s technical week that requires 10+ hour work days for cast and crew-- in our mainstage seasons. We have also eliminated unpaid internships, as of last fall, and expanded our family leave policy from four weeks to ten weeks, as of this January.
  • We have added two Associate Artistic Directors to our staff, ensuring that of the top four artistic positions at the theater, two leaders are BIPOC. This group of four (Artistic Director Oskar Eustis and Associate Artistic Directors Saheem Ali, Mandy Hackett, and Shanta Thake) will be central to the final decision-making process on programs and productions.
  • We have begun experimenting with a much more inclusive season planning process, one in which all 42 members of the artistic staff have a chance to weigh in on every project we are considering, and where a selection committee of 10 people (6 of whom are BIPOC) will make the final selections for the season. This is a new program, and still very much an experiment, but our commitment to diversifying dialogue and bringing more voices and decision makers to the table will continue to be firm.
  • The Board has created a special committee to spearhead anti-racist action.
  • The Code of Conduct, which was heavily weighted against harassment, discrimination, and oppressive behaviors, has been revised by our BIPOC affinity group to fully reflect the anti-racist stance of The Public. We are actively creating policies addressing the use of racial slurs and hate speech in our productions.
  • We are creating an externally facing Code of Conduct for our vendors and audience.
  • We have set aside a dedicated budget line for anti-racist activity, and funded it generously.
  • We have set aside dedicated hours, every day, for the entire staff to engage in anti-racist education and discussion.
  • We have weekly speakers, curated by our BIPOC affinity group, to speak to us about anti-racist practices and theory.
  • We have created a Cultural Transformation Steering Committee, drawn from a diverse cross section of the staff, who will work with outside consultants to lead us through a process of anti-racism training and cultural change.
  • We have had affinity groups for our BIPOC staff, our LGBTQ+ staff, our Parents and Caregivers Staff, as well as a Deconstructing Whiteness affinity group since 2016; these groups are now taking new prominence and importance in our deliberations.

This is an interim report, and there remains much more work to do. As we said above, by November we anticipate being able to roll out our comprehensive plan for transformation. The Public must become more anti-racist, more democratic, more equitable. Our mission, our history and our hopes all demand this from us.