We strive to work together with our community to build a better future for all of us.Explore our Video Series
Co-Authoring a Path Forward
In the face of the unprecedented challenges of the last 18 months we have taken the time as an organization to reflect on where we have been and where we want, or rather where we need to go as we build our way back. As thankful as we are to be moving forward with productions (no small task - but rather the result of countless hours of work and planning - and with more challenges sure to come) it is not enough to simply go back to where we were before. This time has afforded us a critical opportunity to reflect and prepare for the moments ahead. We, and our Board of Directors, are all thankful for the work of the First Stage Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice (EDIJ) committee as they have helped shape that reflection and foster the creation of a plan to address the question - what kind of future do we want to co-author with our community and our young people?
We are a part of an industry that has had, and continues to struggle with, systemic problems and despite our efforts to reflect our community across all levels of our programming - our eyes weren’t always fully open, we weren’t always listening closely enough, we didn’t always think through the consequences of our choices deeply enough, we didn’t examine our systems thoroughly enough. Too often we chose the path of least resistance, of the known, the comfortable - the "this is the way it has always been" mindset - over choosing the path that was difficult but necessary. To move forward in a meaningful way, we must reckon with our mis-steps of the past, look to the future, recognize that access is only the beginning, and ask ourselves what exactly we are seeking to give young people access to. Our relative silence over the past 18 months may have given the impression that nothing has been happening - but we want to assure you that we have been working to build the foundation for necessary change.
Our EDIJ committee has been meeting department by department to map out a full strategy to examine existing practices and policies and craft necessary change. This will continue to be a process - it will not happen fast enough for some and for others it may seem that we are moving too quickly. But 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;
For First Stage to be a gathering place for our community to come together for a shared theater experience that resonates for all;
And for First Stage 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.
We’ll get there through a commitment to: acceptance, accountability, transparency and patience.
This is the sort of future we want to co-author, and we acknowledge just how critical this commitment is because the past 18 months have shown us just how important First Stage is to our community – how deeply theater has been missed, how meaningful it has been for young people to come together to learn, rehearse, grow and perform. 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 watch the series of EDIJ videos that we will be sharing throughout the season to provide further insight into our EDIJ journey. Be 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.
Jeff Frank, Artistic Director
Betsy Corry, Managing Director
If you have questions, comments, feedback, our would like to lend your time, voice, and talents to our work, please contact us at EDIJ@firststage.org.
At First Stage, we believe in providing a platform for creating shared experiences that will uplift artists of all ages, experiences, and backgrounds. First Stage recognizes the history of systemic racism present in our industry, acknowledges that we have been party to these oppressive systems in the past, and is committed to continuing our journey in becoming an anti-racist and fully inclusive organization. Going forward, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice (EDIJ) work will hold a place of priority throughout the entire organization – supporting the following values:
- We believe in a lifetime commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, justice, and anti-racism 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 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 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.
Our EDIJ Journey
Beginning in 2019, we have engaged Alliance for Strong Families and Communities for guidance in our EDIJ work, as well as for trainings at committee, staff and board level.
We have formed a cross-departmental EDIJ 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 EDIJ Strategic Plan in November 2020. The plan currently lays out the EDIJ values First Stage holds as a company and sets goals for advancing these values. The committee is currently working through this draft with the staff and Board of Directors and will begin developing departmental action plans as a next step.
Statement from BIPOC artists in Milwaukee, August 2020
Statement from We See You, White American Theatre, June 2020
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 EDIJ 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.
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Amplify - First Stage's BIPOC Short Play Series
Understanding the power of connection that young people feel when they see themselves and their stories on stage, we are excited to begin this series featuring new commissioned work from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) playwrights and directors. Amplifying their voices offers us an opportunity to expand our artistic horizons and develop our audience’s perspective.
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Black Lives Matter Statement of Solidarity
June 1, 2020
We know that our choice of stories we tell and the teams we assemble to bring them to life play a critical role in providing opportunities for our audiences to gain insight to, and empathy for, other cultures and heritages while promoting awareness of, and progressive action on, issues of social responsibility and justice in our society. We acknowledge that we have not taken strong enough action and that we must do better.
This is a long term commitment from across our First Stage family and we will be held accountable to our commitment through our mission and vision. We will keep you updated on concrete action steps we will be taking to address the inequities within our organization and with our processes, but know that:
We pledge to listen more closely to people of color voices that for too long have been silenced and ignored, and to work to amplify those voices and their stories, their realities.
We strive to work together with our community to build a better future for all of us.
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