Tag Archives: artistic mission

Diversity is a Noun, Not a Verb

by Carla Stillwell

Carla Stillwell headshot-thumb-166xauto-95

Carla Stillwell

Let me  get transparent with you.  I cannot stand the word “diversity.” It makes me uncomfortable because I know what it has become code for.

For the first thirty minutes or so of a plenary [at a TCG Conference in Chicago three years ago], there were several accomplished men and women of color sharing some of their experiences with diversity, or the lack thereof, in the theater community. The conversation from the panel quickly became a call to action to the executive and artistic directors in the room to make the American theater landscape match the general population in cultural and gender representations. Then it happened. A middle-aged white man from a theater company in Minnesota stood to speak. He said that he would love to put more “…blacks on stage” but he knows that that would mean that he would lose his audience base because they wouldn’t be able to “…identify with those types of stories.”  Hmmm…in that moment it became painfully clear to me that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to add cultural and gender specificity to America’s theatrical landscape. People are bandying about the word “diversity” without having a real understanding of what the word means. Without a true understanding of the word, we certainly cannot move to a place of honest dialogue, and without honest dialogue we will not achieve real change.

So let’s start with defining the word “diversity.” Dictionary.com offers the following:

di·ver·si·ty [dih-vur-si-tee, dahy-]  noun, plural di·ver·si·ties.

1. The state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness:diversity of opinion.

2. Variety; multiformity.

3. A point of difference.

I find a few things notable in this definition. The first is that diversity is defined as a noun and not a verb. This means that it is a state of being and not something you do. Hence one cannot perform diversity. This definition suggests that to simply do things that we think seem diverse (i.e., color blind casting) isn’t enough. The definition suggests that to achieve diversity, you have to accept difference as the rule and not the exception. Diversity has become code for throwing cultural and gender difference at a white wall and hoping that the differences stick, but being OK when some or all of them simply slide to the floor.

Per the aforementioned definition, diversity at its core means that there are a variety of things that make up a whole that have different shapes, forms, and kinds. So I think it is safe to say that a state of being diverse can only be achieved if there is variety. We have attempted to achieve diversity by keeping most things in American theater culturally homogenous and adding a dash of difference. But the definition of the word diversity lets us know that this type of thinking is topsy-turvy.

Then there is this third part of the definition, “a point of difference.” A “point” is defined in its second definition as, “a projecting part of anything.” From this one can infer that diversity is the center, the focal point, from which difference and variety project. We have attempted to introduce diversity into the American theater landscape without diversifying the centers of artistic decision-making (producers, artistic directors, board of directors, etc.) in our theatrical institutions. How can we project difference into the entire theatrical experience when the points are culturally homogenous?

I have been at the center of many of these conversations about diversity. But I believe that none of these conversations will bear the fruit of change until we all embrace the state of being diverse and stop acting out diversity.

Carla Stillwell is a theatre director, playwright and performer. She is the Managing Producer for MPAACT as well as a Playwright-In-Residence and Resident Director with the company. Additionally, Ms. Stillwell is a teaching artist for MPAACT and The Steppenwolf Theatre.

Jessica’s Journal: My First Grant

Jessica Broutt

by Jessica Broutt

As the development intern at the Fountain Theatre, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was asked to write a grant.  Sure, I had done research. Written a few letters of intent. But last week marked the first time I was really on my own.

With everyone else in the office getting ready for previews of our newest play, the US Premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris, I was spending my week looking at old grants,  a new project proposal, and a very tricky computer program I like to call Adobe.

Now, the first thing you have to understand about filling out a grant is that the most challenging part is figuring out how to use the required computer software.  After downloading the latest version of Adobe, I spent quite a few hours filling in tiny little boxes.  While this was annoying and terrifying, seeing as how I never trusted my hard work to be saved upon every return visit, it was nothing compared to writing the narratives.

In the narrative part of the grant, it gives the organization an opportunity to talk about its artistic mission, the history of its organization, what new project they propose to embark on if they do receive the grant.  This was the difficult part. As much as I love this theatre and feel at home here, I haven’t been around long enough to know a lot about its history.  However, my ten weeks here  has been enough time for me to see the type of patrons who come here, the kind of theatre we produce, and our artistic mission in practice.  I spent days not only trying to articulate how I saw our theatre, but reading up on how we had described our organization in previous grants.  And while there was a lot of regurgitating of previous data, there was also a lot of room for me to explain why I felt we deserved this grant and why this proposal was right for the organization to which we were applying.

I know the idea of sitting down and writing a grant may seem tedious and awful.  I assume that most creative types would rather do just about anything else than sit at a desk for hours on end, proving that your non-profit arts organization is worthy of funding.  But just like I love hearing the mundane details of other people’s lives or re-reading books, I can now add grant-writing to my list of strange fascinations.

It’s kind of wonderful to be a part of the creation of a grant at The Fountain. Think about it. I was able to have this amazing experience as an intern at the Fountain because someone else wrote a grant for it. Now I can pay it forward by writing a grant of my own and ensure that the Fountain gets more funding. Seems too good to be true.

I have spent 10 weeks learning about every part of this theatre. There is no better final exam than writing my own grant, showing what I have learned.

I felt so emotionally attached to this grant. In fact, when it was finally finished, I felt it necessary to hand deliver it despite the assurance from Stephen that it “just had to be postmarked by the 17th”. The idea of putting our possible grant money in the hands of the US Postal Service made me cringe. I have never been more happy to drive to Downtown L.A. in my life.

As I rode the elevator at the Department of Cultural Affairs and approached the desk to hand in my grant, I felt a little sad. But mostly wonderful.  I came out with a weight literally lifted out of my arms, and a new passion for grant-writing.  Filling in those little boxes may not be the most exciting thing in the world, but the prospect of doing something as wonderful for The Fountain as it has done for me made it well worth it.

Jessica Broutt is our summer intern from UC San Diego. Our thanks for the support of the Arts Internship Program at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission