Belonging, Equity, Access, Diversity (BEAD)
This season, First Stage’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice (EDIJ) Committee changed its name to the Belonging, Equity, Accessibility, and Diversity (BEAD) Committee. This name change clarified the committee’s direction by highlighting the welcoming environment First Stage aims to create for all people.
Ensuring a sense of Belonging throughout our program experiences will be the focus of our work in the short-term moving forward. Although the letter “J” for social justice is no longer part of the committee’s acronym, social justice will always be a part of our ongoing process.
The most significant achievement behind this name change is our committee’s commitment to ensuring that First Stage’s systems/support network are equipped to create belonging for all people we serve.
Read more: Co-Authoring a Path Forward | Our BEAD Journey | We Believe | Community Opportunities and Events
First Stage continues to reflect and work towards addressing the question: what kind of future do we want to co-author with our community and our young people? We are aware that we are a part of an industry that continues to struggle with, systemic problems and are committed to:
- Examining our choices and our systems thoroughly.
- Acceptance, accountability, transparency, and patience.
- Keeping our eyes fully open.
- Listening closely to our community and young people.
- Choosing the path that is necessary to move forward in a meaningful way.
- Acknowledging our missteps of the past and recognizing that access is only the beginning.
- Assessing what we are giving young people access to as we work to build the foundation for necessary change.
- Meeting department by department to examine existing practices and policies and craft necessary changes that will move First Stage forward in its BEAD Journey. The movement forward is necessary to live up to our mission - our heart:
- To create theater experiences for young people and their families that entertains, enlightens, provokes thought and connects deeply with our rich and complex community.
- To be a gathering place for our community to come together for a shared theater experience that resonates for all.
- To be recognized by our peers, our community, and artists around the nation as a welcoming, invigorating, and vital place for the creation of theater that speaks to our global community.
- To serve young people and their families we pledge to listen more deeply than ever because you must truly be the co-authors of our future.
This is a journey. Not the end of the story. We invite you to a part of the ongoing growth at First Stage, forming a stronger story. Without the collective, there is no community. Help us collectively embrace a brighter future and with your help we’ll write a new story for First Stage and for our community.
Beginning in 2019-2020:
- We engaged Social Current (formerly known as Alliance for Strong Families and Communities) for guidance in our BEAD work, as well as for trainings at committee, staff and board level.
- We formed a cross-departmental BEAD committee to develop and advance a strategic plan as well as help guide individual work and education. The committee is comprised of staff members from all levels of the company, including upper management, and is working with the support of the Board of Directors.
- In response to statements made both locally and nationally by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) theatre artists, the committee completed the initial draft of First Stage’s BEAD Strategic Plan in November 2020. The plan currently lays out the BEAD values First Stage holds as a company and sets goals for advancing these values. The committee continued to work through their strategic plan draft with the staff and Board of Directors and began to develop departmental action plans as a next step.
- In February 2021, BIPOC in TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences)released Anti-Racist and Anti-Oppressive Futures for Theatre for Young Audiences: An Interactive Guide. This guide has been shared with the company, and First Stage has made the pledge to work through the document as an organization.
- In July 2021, First Stage appointed Samantha D. Montgomery as its Artistic Inclusion and Community Engagement Director. Read First Stage's announcement on this newly created position. Samantha leads First Stage’s cross-departmental BEAD team while acting as a resource, guide and strategic planner. She also helps First Stage continue its journey to become a fully inclusive, equitable and just community, one that values a diversity of perspectives, traditions, ideas, and contributions.
- Incorporated BEAD into our onboarding process. The BEAD committee in collaboration with the artistic and production teams worked on making changes to the onboarding process by evaluating and assessing the effectiveness of our onboarding procedure.
- The information obtained from our onboarding process review resulted in First Stage omitting language that can be viewed as insensitive in on-boarding paperwork and other on-boarding practices.
- The BEAD committee, in collaboration with department directors and department managers, led First Stage individual departments in writing their BEAD vision and mission statements to bring their BEAD journey into view.
- The BEAD committee, in collaboration with department directors and department mangers led First Stage individual departments in identifying and writing their strategic action that can help their individual departments actualize their BEAD vision and mission statements.
- Updated and edited our strategic plan to include necessary changes needed to implement First Stage’s BEAD journey.
- We decided to change our name from EDIJ (Equity Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice) to BEAD (Belonging, Equity, Accessibility, and Diversity). The BEAD committee exists to ensure equity, belonging, and inclusion are present throughout First Stage’s organizational culture. As we continue to reflect on our process, we are learning more about how to ensure that inclusion is happening at the First Stage. This has resulted in us making the adjustment to add belonging and accessibility. We are committed to creating a welcoming environment and ensuring all people have access to our programming and productions. Although the letter “J” for social justice is no longer part of our acronym, social justice is always part of our ongoing process.
- Implemented a BEAD Representative to be a resource to address any questions and/ or inclusion concerns that may arise during the rehearsal and performance process.
- Adjustments were made in our weekly BEAD meeting process to ensure that BEAD concerns connected to individual and/or department responsibility were addressed in a timely manner. The purpose was to ensure that we do not lose sight of our BEAD mission of inclusion throughout First Stage’s organization.
- We are in continuous exploration of working through ensuring our organizational culture is welcoming and promotes belonging and accessibility for all.
- By intentionally reflecting our community in the stories we tell, voices we uplift, and the teams we assemble to tell those stories, First Stage believes that we have the greatest impact on the young people and families we serve. For our six 2022/23 season's mainstage productions, 46% of our Creative Teams identified as BIPOC, 57% of our professional adult actors identified as BIPOC, and 48% of our young performers identified as BIPOC.
- We are moving forward in our journey of shared leadership by expanding our artistic team to include members from the various pillars of the organization to ensure that more voices from different backgrounds and experiences are part of our artistic process.
2023-2024 (Looking Ahead)
- Identify and develop relationships with two new community partners to support programming participation and theater production attendance.
- Examine the impact of current partnerships. To encourage greater effectiveness and mutual benefit, we aim to create new ways to invest in our community partnerships—with incentives that can support our community partners’ goals for greater productivity, profitability, and community engagement.
- Design and implement a postmortem process for our guest stage directors. While First Stage has implemented a postmortem process for our Theater Productions, we have often missed hearing from our guest directors. Getting their perspective on their experience is vital to helping us enhance and improve the welcoming atmosphere of equity and inclusion at First Stage.
- Participate in a national study to explore our audience’s feelings about inclusion, diversity and equity and their perceptions of First Stage specifically.
- Our goal this season is to strengthen the role of the BEAD representative. Collaboration and belonging are important during the rehearsal process at First Stage. Everyone is a valuable resource regardless of their assigned role for the rehearsal process. The BEAD representative is an advocate for all those in the room (director, stage manager, designer, artist, sound technician, and more. The purpose is to ensure equity, inclusion, and diversity is always present.
- Incorporating Shared leadership through our young voices. It is vital that Young Performer’s voices are present to support the equity and inclusion discussion.
- Devise an incentive plan for young performers and community involvement at First Stage for equity and inclusion in participation.
- We believe in a lifetime commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, justice, and antiracism and in making space for and prioritizing all marginalized voices.
- We believe in shifting our current practices to deeply diversify our board, staff, artists, partnerships, productions, programs, and teams. We believe that collaboration of diverse voices in our organizational discussions creates more successful, meaningful work and that diverse voices across First Stage’s community should carry equal weight in all levels of decision making:
- We believe in being good stewards of First Stage’s resources and in using our funding to further our equitable practices.
- We believe that continually investing in an authentic, healthy and lasting relationship with Milwaukee’s diverse community will spark collaborative action towards creating a socially just society in Milwaukee and beyond.
Community Opportunities and Events
Amplify Reading Series
In support of First Stage's ongoing commitment to the development of new work, with an intentional focus on lifting voices of diverse playwrights and artists, this season's Amplify Series will be presented as readings of three new plays, held at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. A talkback will follow each reading, allowing audiences opportunities to share their voices with the playwrights and artists — helping shape the development of the plays and potential future productions at First Stage.
Community Opportunities and Events
Metcalfe Community Event
First Stage presents a staged reading of RALPH METCALFE: THE WORLD'S FASTEST HUMAN by Sheri Williams Pannell, on Saturday, September 16 at 2PM in Milwaukee's Metcalfe Park. This play is inspired by the curiosity of young residents in the Metcalfe neighborhood. To learn more about their namesake the children ask questions of elders in their community who tell them about Olympian and political icon Ralph Metcalfe. Come and see Metcalfe residents share their namesakes’ history.
This event is free for any community members to attend.
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Community Opportunities and Events
Dream, Quickie! Dream!
Performances October 6-29 at the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater
A story for all ages inspired by the Life of Donald “Quickie” Driver
By Gloria Bond Clunie
Co-Commissioned by First Stage and the Marcus Performing Arts Center
Directed by Dimonte Henning