September 30, 2020
On May 31, 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, SF Shakes, like many other predominantly white organizations, published a statement in support of Black Lives Matter. Shortly thereafter, Black, Indiginous, and People of Color (BIPOC) theatre artists around the country created a statement in response, called “We See You, White American Theatre (WSYWAT)”. This was followed by a Living Document of Bay Area BIPOC artists (Living Doc) sharing their personal experiences of racism in our theatre community, and in legacy-white institutions like SF Shakes. Both groups then published action plans of demands for changes to our institutions.
We see the work of the communities that created WSYWAT and the Living Doc as generous and the resulting documents incredibly helpful. We have real changes to make in order for SF Shakes to become the genuinely inclusive, accessible, equitable organization that we strive to be - and that our mission promises. While this had begun to be addressed in the last several years, we understand that our incremental approach is not getting us to what we want to be - an anti-racist organization. We recognize that our organizational practices have caused harm, and we are eager to restore trust and work together to undo systemic racism in our organization and our community through our actions of accountability and change.
On August 6, 2020, we published our commitment to continued action and accountability around the demands of both WSYWAT and the Living Doc. A list of our current actions and immediate next steps is below. Our next update will be made on 1/31/2021. We have also added a page to our web site as a repository for these updates.
In August, we were midway through our virtual Free Shakespeare at Home production of King Lear. This provided an opportunity to immediately address the following:
A. LAND ACKNOWLEDGMENT
Generate an Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Statement with consultation and blessings from Indigenous stakeholders. (Living Doc)
- All Free Shakespeare at Home performances included a land acknowledgment of the Ramaytush Ohlone people, original stewards of the occupied land on which SF Shakes’ headquarters sits, as well as an acknowledgment that we are the beneficiaries of settler colonialism.
- All Free Shakespeare at Home performances included a posted link to the Sogorea-Te Land Trust to encourage our audience to pay their land tax.
This is a new practice for us and we are actively revisiting as our understanding grows, in a continued desire to make sure this is not performative but based in decolonizing principles. Here are some links we have found helpful for self-education:
Next Steps - by 1/31/2021:
- Add land acknowledgment to our website.
- Extend the practice of land acknowledgment to rehearsals and staff meetings.
- Continue attempts to connect directly with Ramaytush Ohlone representatives for consultation and blessings
- Revise curriculum to include information for students about Elizabethan and Jacobean colonization, and how Shakespeare has been used as a tool of colonization.
B. ANTI-RACISM TRAINING AND REGULAR PRACTICE
Provide anti-racist and anti-bias training to all departments annually. (Living Doc)
An Accountability Ambassador within the institution must be appointed to report back to the public quarterly to share the progress, growth, and changes with full transparency internally and externally. (Living Doc)
Steps taken so far:
- SF Shakes cannot become the anti-racist organization it wants to be without the board’s leadership. At a board level, in 2019, some anti-racism training was a part of each board meeting, and the subject of the full-day facilitated November retreat; thereafter, in Feb/March 2020, the board chair and a second board member took a 4-day antiracism training with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB); a third board member took a 3-day training with Dr. Robin DiAngelo; in June, these three board members formed the board’s Anti-Racism Committee, and led the board in a series of individual and board-wide (at the June board meeting) anti-racism and accountability (at the August board webinar) conversations. To further dialogue and education, eight of the 14 board members have formed an anti-racist reading group, whose first meeting was Sept 14. At the September board meeting, the board agreed to focus on policy regarding board anti-racism training as well as board recruitment, rededicating themselves to board diversification goals that have not been met to date.
- At a staff level, in the last year and a half, the Executive, Artistic, and Education Directors and other staff have participated in important trainings, including PISAB training and a program offered through Theatre Bay Area called Theaters Advancing Social Change, in partnership with ArtEquity. The Executive and Artistic Directors are also participating in the Bay Area Theatre Accountability Group, which is committed to meeting for the next year to address racism in the Bay Area Theatre community.
- For the past three years, the first day of rehearsal for Free Shakespeare in the Park/@Home has been devoted to company culture training, and additional anti-racism resources were shared throughout the project’s duration. We will continue this practice, and expand it so it serves each program.
- To hold ourselves accountable to our intent and plan to become a more anti-racist organization, an Accountability Committee of board, staff, and a resident artist alum was created. This committee will monitor commitments to ensure they are fulfilled and report back to the public quarterly to share the progress, growth, and changes with full transparency internally and externally.
- Two additional board members and one staff member are enrolled in PISAB’s Undoing Racism training this October 2020.
- In 2020-21, SF Shakes is planning to participate in an anti-racism workshop titled “Building Individual Capacity to Co-Imagine, Co-Create, and Co-Foster an Anti-Racist, Multicultural Organizational Culture, Structure and Model” in order to build on these trainings and translate them to actions.
- Company culture training will be held at the beginning of all programs, whenever onboarding new employees. We will begin this expanded practice in October, 2020, with a company culture training for fall education program staff.
C. REHEARSAL HOURS
Eliminate 10 out of 12s and eliminate the 6-day rehearsal week. These are long-standing practices that are steeped in capitalist and white supremacist culture. When these practices are in place, the growing and nurturing of the BIPOC family structure is imperiled. Many BIPOC artists have been forced to make a choice not to have families. For Indigenous artists and other peoples recovering from genocide, these practices are extremely detrimental. (WSYWAT)
- After partially implementing a 5-day/week rehearsal schedule in 2018, this was fully implemented in 2019. In 2020, we continued to honor a 5-day workweek, and further reduced weekly hours to address on-screen fatigue associated with virtual rehearsals; other than tech week, rehearsals were kept to 6 hours/day; short designer appointments sometimes added an additional 30-60 minutes. We will maintain either the 2019 or 2020 schedule in 2021, depending on whether rehearsals are virtual or in-person.
- We eliminated 10 out of 12s in 2020 (reduced to 8 out of 10). We plan to continue this practice whether or not rehearsal is in-person or virtual.
D. ARTISTS PAID FOR ALL HOURS WORKED
Compensate the Artist fairly based on the amount of time contributed to the production and with respect to the cost of living in your region. (Living Doc)
- We have rewritten non-equity actors’ contracts to include more explicit expectations, including what hours artists are expected to work and that they are paid for each of these hours. In 2020, all non-union actors/stage managers were paid $16.50/hour, as outlined by San Francisco’s minimum compensation ordinance. Unions actors/stage managers were paid at LORT-D scale.
- We have expanded payment to include hours worked in association with marketing/promotion and post-show discussions.
Next steps - by 1/31/2021:
- We will develop and share a transparent payment/compensation rate sheet for all seasonal positions.
E. COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND SUPPORT
Establish local partnership with Black and Brown businesses near the organization / company. (Living Doc)
Generate post-performance resources for patrons that include, but not limited to: information about the culture and history referenced in the play, ways to support Black and Brown businesses, and ways to engage as a responsible community member. (Living Doc)
- During the September run of King Lear, we worked with the offices of Supervisor Shamann Walter and the Bayview Economic Development on Third (EDOT) to promote local businesses in our home neighborhood of Bayview, a predominantly Black neighborhood in southeast San Francisco. Specifically, we compiled an updateable google doc of all restaurants open to the public for takeout during the pandemic, along with their contact information. We promoted these restaurants to our King Lear audience, and transferred the list to the supervisor’s office so it can be maintained going forward.
- Throughout the run, we worked with our civic partners to encourage our audience to donate to local nonprofits on the frontlines of the pandemic, addressing hunger, poverty, and homelessness. Specifically, we promoted West Valley Community Services and San Mateo Strong.
- During the September run of King Lear, we encouraged donations to our San Francisco-based community partner The Healing WELL, an organization serving our neighbors experiencing homelessness.
Next Steps - by 1/31/2021
- With our partners at The Healing WELL, we are piloting an online engagement program encouraging connection, wellness, and community storytelling on Oct 19, 2020, and are prepared to continue the program according to the needs and wishes of the program participants.
F. EDUCATION PROGRAMMING
This summer, we have also been engaged in a process of accountability and reparations with our Teaching Artists and Resident Artists regarding this summer’s virtual summer camp program. While neither the WSYWAT or Living Doc demands specifically names teaching artists and non-production programs, as an organization with a deep commitment to education, applying these principles to our education programming and teaching staff is essential.
- After 2020 summer virtual Shakespeare Camps, staff received requests from an organizing committee of Resident and Teaching Artists for more equitable and increased teaching rates, clearer expectations, and compensation for time spent on tasks associated with teaching camps and outside of teaching hours. The conversation is continuing, and to date we have agreed to the principles that camp teaching artists be compensated for all aspects of their work, that communication take place in a way that honors the teaching artists’ time, and that job responsibilities be clearly defined.
- We have made retroactive payments above contracted rates to apologize to our teaching artists, show appreciation for work they did in summer 2020 above and beyond stated expectations, restore trust.
Next steps - by 1/31/2021:
- We will have a transparent rate sheet for all education programs.
Publish a thorough plan of actions marked within a timeline with a commitment to creating an equitable, just, and anti-racist theater. (Living Doc)
Make public your annual fiscal report: 2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-20. (Living Doc)
Steps taken so far:
- SF Shakes held a virtual company meeting on Aug 26, 2020, open to all 2020 board, staff, resident artists, and seasonal employees of the organization. During this meeting, updates were shared regarding SF Shakes’ financial and programmatic pivots in response to the pandemic, and our anti-racism and equity actions and plans. Board and staff leadership responded to questions, including those submitted anonymously.
Next steps - by 1/31/2021:
- We polled all participants, including those who later watched a recording of the company meeting; based on the results of these polls, quarterly emails will be sent and biannual company meetings will be held going forward
- We will post our 2017 and 2018 Form 990s and audited financials, and add those for 2019 and 2020 upon their completion.
In addition to those next steps outlined above, we intend to address the following topics in our January 31, 2021 update:
- A plan to sunset the unpaid internship program.
- A commitment to include 60% BIPOC, queer, trans, womxn of color, and/or non-binary cast and production teams in 2021
- Some next steps on the enormous and essential work of problematizing, decolonizing, and decentering Shakespeare in our education system.
While additional topics likely will be addressed in our January 31, 2021 update, we commit to addressing these three topics.
We appreciate the opportunity to update the community on our actions. Please note that past and current statements and commitments are now on SF Shakes website.