Our Commitment to Anti-racism
In 2020, Geva began to chart an anti-racist path forward for the theatre. While this process has often been difficult, it has also been invigorating. The work ahead of us is significant, and we know that it will lead to a stronger, more exciting and inclusive theatre. We are exhilarated by the prospect of the Geva Theatre Center we seek to create.
Our Ongoing Commitment: We, the staff and Board of Trustees at Geva Theatre Center, commit to becoming actively anti-racist and to building a transformative theatre that is intentionally inclusive and welcoming for all staff, theatre makers, and audiences alike. We define racism as a combination of policies, practices and ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities in opportunity and representation. Anti-racism is the practice of disrupting and dismantling those practices and structures in order to create equity and inclusion.
This new commitment provides Geva with a fresh sense of purpose and focus. We also recognize that anti-racism requires consistent and conscious action, and that this work is lifelong. As we continue this journey, we commit to providing transparent updates.
We commit to the following Action Areas:
- Disrupting Inaccurate Histories and Exclusions
- Revising Policies and Practices to Adhere to Anti-Racist Values
- Creating Greater Equity in our Artistic Process
- Building Inclusive Community Relationships
The current Action Plan is below.
We are proud of a 48-year history of theatre making here in Rochester and have innovated in many ways. At the same time, Geva’s staffing, leadership, and storytelling have always been predominantly white. To explore this, we recently completed a racial equity audit of our history.
- Over our 48-year history, 92.3% of all playwrights and composers on the Wilson Stage were white, and on the Fielding Stage, 83% of all playwrights and composers were white.
- 83% of plays developed through our new play programming have been written by white playwrights/composers.
- The overwhelming majority of creative teams (directors, designers, choreographers, dramaturgs) over the last 20 years have been white, including a three-year period where only white artists were hired to direct and design Geva productions. The last fully- produced season, in 2019-20, showed an increase to 25% of all creative team members being BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color).
- Until 2017, the principal actors in the cast of Geva’s celebrated A Christmas Carol were 100% white.
- In the past few years, we have made efforts to increase representation on our stages: since 2017, principal actors on our stages have been 52% white. That’s a large shift from our history, and yet we recognize that this work is ongoing.
- As of August 1, 2021, Geva’s Board of Trustees was 25% BIPOC.
- As of August 1, 2021, Geva’s full-time staff was 10% BIPOC.
- This data does not reflect the ways in which we have not proactively included or prioritized other marginalized communities – those that are not straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied and neurotypical – nor the way that we have left out certain BIPOC communities even more than others.
We want to acknowledge that significant effort and courage have been required of anyone, especially BIPOC staff, artists, and community members, who wanted to provide feedback to Geva. We acknowledge the consequences of our actions and inactions. We are grateful to everyone who has generously demanded that we do better, particularly our own Black and Iranian-American staff members and the We See You White American Theatre authors and signatories. We acknowledge our role in perpetuating these systems, and take responsibility for repairing the harm caused. This is the critical work that we must do, that we are ready and eager to do, and we acknowledge that we are late in beginning the work.
OUR ANTI-RACIST ACTION PLAN
1. Disrupting Inaccurate Histories and Exclusions
- We have investigated the history of the land on which Geva sits, and acknowledge that it is the ancestral and unceded territory of the Onöndowa’ga, known in English as the Seneca. We offer gratitude and respect to their elders past and present, and we pledge to disrupt our comfort in the colonizer’s story of how that land was taken from them. We have shared this story on our blog, on our website and in our playbills. We commit to offering land acknowledgements in our public and internal gatherings, and we are beginning a dialogue to identify the ways in which we can be of service to the Indigenous communities in and around Rochester, which is only a first step towards a right relationship with the people who have stewarded this land from time immemorial.
- We also acknowledge that the founding of the regional theatre movement mirrored social constructs of a time that afforded privilege to some and excluded others on the basis of factors including (but not limited to) race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, class and ability. We commit to actively disrupt the vestiges of those structures through our anti-racist policies and practices at our theatre.
2. Revising Policies and Practices to Adhere to Anti-Racist Values
- We have begun the process of articulating new institutional statements of our mission, vision and values to make sure they honor our anti-racist ethos. We commit to evaluating these statements on an ongoing basis.
- We have made a commitment to comprehensive anti-racism training for our staff, volunteers and board, with a budgetary and time commitment.
- We are creating new policies to enshrine anti-racist hiring practices. These include: reevaluating job descriptions/postings to eliminate any unnecessary requirements that could limit who may apply; including pay ranges in job postings; expanding our networks to promote opportunities; and, evaluating candidates’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and anti-racism work.
- We are developing a 360-degree feedback process for executive leadership that will include surveying staff, trustees and artists.
- We are evaluating partnerships, sponsorship arrangements, and advertising relationships with media outlets and will engage with organizations that are committed to becoming anti-racist. We are seeking out BIPOC vendors and those who share our anti-racist values.
- We are examining our policies around the scheduling and platforms for media appearances of guest artists to protect their time and avoid problematic media interactions.
- We are revising our formal paid holiday recognitions, which will now include Native American Heritage Day, Martin Luther King Jr. day, and Juneteenth. Also, in recognition that our staff comes from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds, we will add two additional floating holidays to our official holiday policy to allow for individuals to observe holidays that are not recognized within our current calendar.
3. Creating Greater Equity in our Artistic Process
- We will continue to compile our racial equity data annually and be transparent with the results.
- We created an Artistic Council to incorporate the invaluable perspectives of a broader range of underrepresented communities into the season planning process.
- We have committed to producing on our stages at least one play written by each of the four playwrights from the Recognition Radio festival celebrating Black stories over the coming years.
- We commit to assembling dynamic, inclusive and equitable creative teams addressing the cultural competency needed for each project. Our teams will include a range of artistic, cultural and identity perspectives with BIPOC artists and female artists in each team. To be transparent in our efforts we commit to annual reporting on our creative team demographics.
- Over the past 25 years, Geva has fully produced 29 world premieres on our stages, 17% of them authored by BIPOC writers. In order to build new relationships that might lead to future premiere productions, we commit to focusing on commissioning and developing the new plays of BIPOC writers. For the next five years Geva will dedicate funding of no less than three quarters of our commissioning and workshop budgets to developing the plays and musicals of BIPOC writers.
- We have created an anti-racist code of conduct for the rehearsal room and the theatre at large, which articulates a process for responding to acts of bias, thereby prioritizing the needs of people over product.
- We commit to examining and eliminating production practices that disproportionately impact BIPOC artists. These practices include the industry-wide standard of requiring overly long days during technical rehearsals.
4. Building Inclusive Community Relationships
- We are re-imagining our front of house and ushering policies and procedures, as well as our approach to audience engagement, to ensure that our space is a welcoming space for all.
- We have articulated Geva’s Invitations to Play, which recognizes the many and diverse ways that audiences experience theatre together, and makes clear the expectation that all will be welcomed and respected in our spaces. This will be shared with all audiences.
- As a non-profit organization incorporated for the public good, and with our center city location that has served as a gathering place for the region since 1868, we continue our longstanding commitment to supporting peaceful social justice demonstrations. For example, in 2020 we opened our lobby for respite and medical supplies, and we will remain responsive to local social justice organizers in the future whenever possible.
- We will establish a Board Working Group dedicated to our engagement activities, as part of prioritizing that work throughout our season, not on a show-by-show basis.
While these commitments represent a significant shift for Geva, we recognize that they are only the beginning of becoming an anti-racist organization. Our actions and policies will evolve as we work to prevent future harm and repair harms of the past. We will make mistakes, and we will actively listen and make corrections. Our staff and board are wholeheartedly committed to this anti-racist journey, through which Geva will contribute to a more just and equitable society. We humbly ask that you join us in this work and hold us accountable for fostering an anti-racist culture within Geva Theatre Center.