Statement on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility at Midsommer Fight
As the Duke notes in As You Like It, “sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.” In the face of a pandemic that limited our ability to produce, we have been given this precious jewel of time to engage deeply in ongoing, challenging, necessary discussions about equity.
Largely inspired by the surge of #BlackLivesMatter protests in 2020, this awareness and action—not only at Midsommer Flight but across the entire theatre community—is sorely needed and long overdue. There is exciting and vital work to do.
At Midsommer Flight, this means that we have renewed our commitment to anti-racism work with more self-awareness, intentionality, and humility. We know that becoming an anti-racist theatre organization is not a project with an end date, but rather an ongoing practice.
We must interrogate our relationship with the white, male playwright at the center of our work.
The twin ideas of Shared Joy and Flights of Fancy have underpinned Midsommer Flight’s mission to present high quality, accessible Shakespeare in Chicago communities since the company’s inception.
But what does “joy” actually mean at Midsommer Flight? Why is it important? How do we achieve it? What does Shakespeare have to do with it?
Joy at Midsommer Flight cannot be separated from its precursor in the phrase, “Shared.” It is the shared experience of a laugh, a gasp, or a cathartic cry; of an event that brings people together in community. This connection is the Joy. It has the power to remind us of our shared humanity. Our ordinary, extraordinary humanity. Our belonging.
What is the mechanism through which we achieve this Shared Joy? It is through Flights of Fancy: journeys through the imagination. At Midsommer Flight, we have chosen to take these journeys through the plays of William Shakespeare.
But why? Shakespeare’s work is troublesome, to say the least. It is full of “-isms,” rife with sexism, racism, misogyny, and more. The centuries-old culture surrounding it has stigmatized BIPOC, LGBTQ, disabled, gender-diverse, and body-diverse artists. Shakespeare’s work has been used as a tool of colonialism, as colonizers have supplanted native stories with Shakespeare’s so-called “superior” (or even worse, “highbrow”) art. Shakespeare’s work has perpetuated white supremacy through its teaching in American schools to the exclusion of female and BIPOC playwrights, and through decades of professional productions at the most prominent and prestigious predominantly white institutions (PWIs). [Links in this paragraph are representative selections only and by no means intended to be exhaustive.]
White Western civilization likes to maintain that Shakespeare is Universal. But declaring something does not make it so. Stories told by one white, male, Elizabethan playwright may not resonate with everyone in the same way, or at all—nor should we expect them to.
Yet, the work still offers sweeping journeys, fiery emotions, flawed and relatable characters. If not universal, these plays do have the potential to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to a broad spectrum of nature. It may not be for everyone, but Midsommer Flight believes this work can be for anyone.
Formation of the IDEA Committee
In 2020, in response to Black Lives Matter protests and an outcry for more equity in theatres, the company formed an Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) Committee, which actively affects policies and practices. The 6-member, 50% BIPOC committee meets regularly to address how to bridge the remaining gaps between Midsommer Flight’s belief that Shakespeare can be for anyone, and its actions in producing plays.
Since August 2020, the company has:
- Facilitated multiple vulnerable discussions with artistic ensemble about: IDEA priorities, experience with Shakespeare here and elsewhere, and the focus on this one white, male playwright;
- Clarified the company’s mission and vision statement to reflect those conversations;
- Convened the Board and IDEA Committee together to discuss IDEA priorities;
- Studied We See You White American Theatre demands, inspiring discussion and viable goals;
- Developed a list of issues, challenges, projects, and action items for the committee to continue to address, which is open to review and input from the full Board and Ensemble, and will continue to grow and evolve;
- Drafted a land acknowledgement for use in writing and verbally at both in-person and virtual events;
- Used social media to boost awareness on voter education (Oct 2020) and BIPOC-focused charities (Feb 2021);
- Hosted Director Dialogues events relevant to IDEA goals and topics.
Current IDEA goals and plans for 2021-2022 are to:
- Evaluate and update existing harassment/anti-racism policies presented in contracts and at first rehearsals;
- Codify a police communication policy with an emphasis on artist safety, as well as working with precincts in the neighborhoods in which we perform (as has been necessary before when, for example, a passerby misconstrued the context of a staged fight and called police);
- Engage in anti-racism training with an outside consultant for staff and ensemble.
Ongoing and future IDEA goals include:
- Diversify guest directors, stage managers, and designers;
- Partner with community organizations, e.g., host a food/coat drive at the winter production;
- Expand programming to other geographic areas of Chicago.
The ultimate long-term goal of the IDEA Committee is to become, in a way, obsolete—that is, IDEA work should be so integrated in every aspect of the company that a separate committee becomes redundant.
This web page will be a space for public accountability, both for the IDEA committee and the company at large. We will update this space at least quarterly with the committee’s ongoing work and resulting policy and practice changes at Midsommer Flight.
If you wish to offer feedback, questions, criticism, or suggestions, please email info (at) midsommerflight (dot) com.