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Co-Productions and Rethinking Leadership

With Maurice Parent of the Front Porch Arts Collective

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Yura Sapi: Imanalla mashikuna. Imanallatak kanki. Hello, friends. How are you? Welcome back to season two of the Building Our Own Tables podcast. I’m your host, Yura Sapi, recording from Embera native lands on the Afro-Indigenous Pacific coast of Colombia in Nuqui Choco in the Gulf of Tribuga. The Building Our Own Tables podcast is produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide, and by Advancing Arts Forward, a movement to advance equity, inclusion and justice through the arts by creating liberated spaces that uplift, heal and encourage us to change the world.

I’m interviewing Black, Native, Asian, and other founders of color to find transformative solutions and ways of working together that are not replicating the same white supremacy culture we wanted to get away from in predominantly white institutions. With the blessing that we all have a role in the revolution, this podcast checks in and learns from Black, Native, Asian, and other people of the global majority who have created arts organizations, movements, initiatives, practices, and beyond that are changing the game, making new things happen within, and building their own tables instead of focusing on getting a seat at existing white and Eurocentric ones. We’re learning from incredible arts organizing visionaries on their processes, pathways to success, and challenges they’ve overcome.

The Front Porch Arts Collective is a Black theatre company committed to advancing racial equity in Boston through theatre. The Porch is a communal gathering place. Boston’s reputation as an unwelcoming and racist city, featured prominently in a seven-part spotlight series in the Boston Globe, highlighted issues of structural racism, including the visible cultural segregation in the arts. As a Black theatre company committed to rewriting those narratives, the Front Porch Arts Collective’s namesake signifies a communal spirit, inspiring us to serve communities of color and produce art that is inclusive of all communities and welcoming to all audiences to inspire a more tolerant and inclusive Boston.

Maurice Emmanuel Parent is an award-winning actor, director, educator, and mentor with twenty years of professional experience. He has over forty acting credits at theatres across the nation and abroad, having performed at some of Boston’s oldest and most respected companies. Parent’s history as an educator extends back nearly a decade. He’s taught for Northeastern University, MIT, the Boston Conservatory at Berkeley, and spent nearly six years as a performing arts specialist in the Boston public school system. Currently, Parent is visiting faculty at the Boston University School of Theatre and a full-time professor of the practice in the Tufts Department of Theatre Dance and Performance Studies.

Before we get into hearing more about the Front Porch Arts Collective and your journey as a co-founder, I’d love to hear more about who you are. Tell us more about you.

Maurice Emmanuel Parent: Sure. Thank you. Thank you for having me. I’m glad to be here. Again, my name is Maurice Emmanuel Parent, professional name. I really picked that just because I know it makes my mom happy, but that’s maybe another story for another day. Pronouns are he/him/his and I’m calling from Arlington, Massachusetts, the ancestral home of the Massachusetts people. I guess a little bit about me is I’m a kid who was fortunate to find his purpose. And I think that’s a real gift from the universe, God, whomever folks think about when they think about such a thing.

I want to say my purpose is I feel at home in the theatremaking space or making space in the community with other theatre and art makers. And that’s just a blessing. There’s so many people who don’t get to find that. So I’m just honored and humbled to have found that and be able to work just about every day towards building this theatre company, building my own artistry, and being an advocate and an enthusiast, a mentor when it’s appropriate, and an advocate when it’s appropriate for the next generation of art makers.

Yura Sapi: Incredible. Yeah, tell us more about the organization the Front Porch Arts Collective, specifically would love to know more about the origin story, how the idea came about and the first steps you kind of took to launch the organization.

Maurice Emmanuel: Absolutely, I love telling the story. It’s kind of twofold. So the first, like the chrysalis of the idea for the Front Porch, came when I was in a play at a theatre here in the Boston area, and it was a play… I had just about an entirely Black cast and it was dealing with a story of this part of the African American experience, a historical event. And I looked down on the stage, and I shouldn’t be admitting this, but I had an out-of-body, out-of-character moment when I looked down the audience and I didn’t see anyone who looked like me or anyone else in the stage.

And I had two thoughts. I said, “Why isn’t this theatre doing more work to get more Black folks into the audience?” And the second thought is like, “Why am I waiting for them to do the work? I should be doing it. I should be trying to get folks from my community here.” And so it just kind of sat with me for maybe even a year. And then fast forward, I was seeing a show, at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston directed by Dawn Meredith Simmons, who is now my co-founder and co-leader of the Front Porch. She directed this play, and this show is an all-Black cast and mostly Black female-identifying folks. So at the bar… I mean so many theatre ideas happen at the bar—not that I’m advertising and promoting alcoholism—but it was at the bar, we had Manhattans in hand and she and I and someone else who’s no longer with the organization, we were just talking. And I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a company that created this community and had these experiences onstage and offstage all year long?” And then someone else said, “Well, maybe that’s the idea for a theatre company.”

So I was doing a show at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the time, and we sort of snuck in before rehearsal or before my shows and we would, like, hang out in the lobby before anyone else got there and sort of brainstorm and write down ideas and go back and forth. And when the leadership of Central Square Theater heard that we were in there talking, they were like, “Why are you all sneaking? Here’s some keys.” So they literally gave us keys to their theatre and became our fiscal sponsors and advanced our idea. And like I said, originally it was three folks and it went down to Dawn and myself, and we’ve been growing the organization since.

So now we are— we just received nonprofit status. So at the end of this fiscal year, which ends June 30, we’ll be taking control of our own financial structures and becoming legitimate in the eyes of the government organization. So, I mean, that’s kind of sort of a brief overhead of our journey, but certain priorities became clear early on. We wanted to be not only focusing on stories and people of the African diaspora onstage, we’re making sure that we’re always telling them from a place of Black agency, so making sure that culture is in the leadership of the organization, from the board to the staff, to when we’re making art designers, having as many Black or BIPOC folks involved in the making of the art, as well as being on the stage and also making sure the communities of color are represented in the audience and how are we advancing our mission, not only onstage, but offstage and into community programs.

So our mission is to advance racial equity in Boston, in the Boston area, through theatre. And we have sort of a twofold approach to working towards our mission. And number one is like I said: have a theatre that centers and focus on stories and people of African diaspora from a place of Black cultural agency with Black leadership, but then also working with other organizations in the area, be them artistic or non-artistic, to make programs that advance equity, diversity, inclusion, belonging, anti-racism across the entire theatrical ecosystem of the Boston area for all people of color. So not just Black folks, but other BIPOC folks. Yeah, so that manifests in education programs and mentorship, and a few other programs we’re piloting.

Yura Sapi: Yeah, it sounds really connected to being in the city, with the city, with the people there, and kind of serving a higher purpose beyond yourselves.

Maurice Emmanuel: Absolutely. This sounds weird, but this is what we say. So I’m just going to be honest. I feel that we’re in a safe space here. Dawn Simmons and I, my co-founder and co-leader, and Pascale Florestal is also a part of our team. We are fortunate to work relatively often. This community has been good to us. So we didn’t create a company to think of ways that we can make more work for ourselves or advance our careers or what have you. It literally is, “How do we build community and how do we advance our people, people of color, in this art form that we love, that we’ve worked so hard in.” And so we have a lot of just internal rules that wouldn’t make it on maybe a grant application or on a value statement. But, for instance, if there’s a show— And I’ll get into a co-production model, all of our onstage productions have been co-productions with established theatre companies, so I can get into that in a moment. But when we look at a title for our co-productions, as we build towards self-sustainability, we look at and think, Who would be the right artists, who would be the right artist to make this show happen. It might be those of us in leadership. It might not be.

So I am an actor primarily. So I will audition for any director who is doing a show for the Front Porch. I’m not going to just assume that I should be cast in anything. And also, those of us that are directors first, being in community with, in conversation with, the folks that are producing the show, if they are the right fit to lead it. If not, we will look for the person who’s the right fit. So how do we always make sure that we are not centering ourselves on the work, but centering the work and the community around the work.

Yura Sapi: And would you say that’s a shift from what you’ve seen or experienced happening in the Boston theatre scene and other organizations, or in general thinking about predominantly white organizations and kind of what happens there that ends up feeling super oppressive or not consider it?

Maurice Emmanuel: I can only speak for the processes I’ve been a part of. And I would say our partners do think pretty— I think they try to think holistically about who should lead a project. Certainly more recently, they’ve been thinking outside the box. I think what happens is people default to artists they know or directors they know, whereas I think there’s been a lot more calls for folks to think more creatively about who should lead and what they bring to the table outside of what previously has been valued. Do they bring experience to the table? Do they bring certain knowledge to the table outside of theatremaking that the piece needs in order to happen fully? So yeah, I think that people are starting to think more creatively and outside the box and realizing that shows, especially shows that deal with stories in communities of color, need more things brought to the table than just the traditional things that are needed to make theatre happen, be it a long history of directing or what have you.

Yura Sapi: You were talking about how the Front Porch now has become a nonprofit kind of on your own, having your own status and own recognition via the United States government. And I’d love to know more about this transition stage and what you’re doing to build this foundation of this next step, maybe next era of the organization, and specifically thinking about nonprofits, although they can be said to be service organizations and created with a mission—you need a mission to incorporate—they historically can be also damaging and can cause trauma.

I do workshops for strategic planning and we talk about mission, vision, and values. And it has come up in workshops that many people are kind of traumatized by this understanding of mission because so many nonprofits have a mission. And then the actions that they take are directly in contrast with that mission. So just thinking about the different ways in which other nonprofits can be and have been damaging and harmful to communities of color, to Black, Indigenous, people of color and artists. And so what are you thinking about as you’re setting up this foundation for your own organization and in not wanting to replicate that same harm in your own community?

Maurice Emmanuel: That’s a great question. And I think it’s something that’s still evolving. And by that, I mean the nonprofit model, on the one hand, it is like you’re saying: misaligned. So it sort of allows people to donate to the organization so you don’t have to live and die in the marketplace, which is so indicative of American capitalism. So that’s why the nonprofit structure was created so that if ticket prices were truly in a nonprofit theatre, truly reflected of all the costs of the organization, they’d be exorbitant and they’re already really high as they are right now.

But what that means is you have a board that can be problematic, to say the least, with certain organizations, particularly talking about predominantly white institutions. And particularly when talking about predominantly white institutions that do work, that center folks of color—or the global majority actually is now the term I’m trying to reeducate myself to use. So what we’re doing, [when we] look at that is to say, how can we sort of do both? Because honestly, something that we also valued early on in the making of our organization was how do we, just to be blunt, how do we get dollars in the pockets of our people? How do we pay them? How do we pay them professionally? How do we provide a pathway to union membership? That means healthcare, 401(k), pension, all that stuff, because usually work that centers people of color tends to be non-union and tends to be worth— not has any type of pay-scale demands.

So we didn’t want to do that and no shade to people that are in that place that know that it’s a journey. And it’s difficult to go beyond that, especially in the nonprofit model, but that’s something that we really want to focus on. So that’s why we did do the co-production model. So we were able to produce at a higher level earlier on in our organization’s history. So through the partnerships with predominantly white institutions, the larger organizations, we were able to pay folks “professional scales” for the area. But as we are now using that as a springboard to being self-sustainable, we’re also looking at how we can look at that structure, the nonprofit structure, and do something that’s more aligned with our values and our mission.

And I find… Two things: I find issue with other organizations when they think about being aligned with mission or not aligned with mission, it’s problematic because the mission might be a little more nebulous. It might just be something that’s kind of purposefully general so you can do kind of whatever work you want. That’s cool, no shade to that. But for us, our mission is clear. We are doing work, advance racial equity in Boston through theatre, by making a Black theatre company. So we know that the shows on our stage will have Black folks and Black culture and Black story centered. Great. So we, from jump, can be, if you are not aligned with seeing this centered around the organization, seeing this work on stage all year, and seeing programs that advance the work on stage across the ecosystem for Black people and other people of the global majority, then you don’t want be part of this organization. You don’t want to be on the board. You don’t want to be on staff. Having that as a requirement for people joining the organization at any level is great for us.

Then we think about the control that the board has. So the nonprofit structure, the board are the bosses. So how do we think creatively about that? We don’t want a board of people… the problems happen in nonprofits where the boards are made up of people who maybe have experience in law or communications or something, but have no idea what theatremaking is, and then also have no idea how to be equitable or even the desire to grow and the knowledge of how to be more equitable in the practices of the organization. So knowing that that’s what we’re requiring as we’re building the board, those are the values we’re centering, as well as knowledge in marketing, as well as knowledge in law. And how do we keep the board small to check the boxes of what is required for the government and then think more creatively.

So maybe we have a board of advisors who maybe are not part of the board in terms of reporting to the government, but are there to support the organization with their expertise. But then also if they prove to be problematic, it’s easier to remove them to be frank. So this is the evolving conversation. We know the nonprofit structure is necessary for the moment. However, it’s very problematic. So we’re taking that knowledge into our infrastructure-building practices. And as we’re now a nonprofit, we do have a board. We’re at that stage where myself and Dawn are the leaders of our organization and are on the board right now, as well as two other trusted colleagues. We make up the board. We are checking all the boxes for the government. And as we grow, bringing people onto the board, we are able to do that really slow and very carefully to make sure that we are building an organizational structure that still centers our values.

Yura Sapi: I want to know more about your advice for co-production. So one, thinking about the process of starting and being able to produce a co-production, what that looks like. And then yeah, if there’s any advice you have in general, in going into this type of partnership with another group.

A headshot of Maurice Parent against a galaxy background. The Building Our Own Tables logo is left of Parent.

Maurice Parent, a Boston-based actor, educator, and co-producer of the Front Porch Arts Collective.

Maurice Emmanuel: Sure. Number one for me, and I’ll speak from my own experience here, centering relationship, community, and the artist in all the work is where you begin. So by that, I’m saying, yes we’re co-producing on a product. We’re making a show. However, the relationship between the producing partners, the relationship between producers and artistic leaders, between artistic leaders and cast, designers, all that, if that’s centered, that’s a great place to start from. And then also realizing that if you think in relationship… We call ourselves a Porch family actually. We don’t call us staff. We call ourselves the Porch fam.

And as a family, there’s going to be some frictions, there’s going to be some issues, and we realize that that will happen and be put out with as much grace, listening, try not to be reactionary as much as you can is a place for me to start from. So these organizations approached us and said, “We want to co-produce with you. We will take the bulk of financial responsibility. We believe this organization needs to grow and lead towards self-sustainability.” That’s great. But then also everybody brings the cultures that they’re a part of, their organizational cultures into everything we’re doing. So just valuing, even if you’re a new organization, valuing the culture you want to create and also lead with that. And then also I find, we as people of the global majority, oftentimes through messages we’ve heard, we’ve internalized that have been placed on top of our necks, devalued ourselves and devalued our work and devalued our presence at the table—I love this, creating tables—at the tables that we have not created, and also devalue our power, creating our own tables, or like you were saying, going beyond the table.

So center that, know your worth, know that even if you are not taking the bulk of financial responsibility, your presence is just as valuable. We can’t be beholden to the almighty dollar as being the most important thing in the space, even though every system that we are fighting against and working through values the dollar. At least in the art space, let’s also value the community and the relationship. So yeah, I’ll start with that. For me, I went back to the love that we created this organization. We created this organization out of love. I created this organization out of the love of theatremaking, out of love and feeling really blessed that we found our purpose.

What we’re supposed to do on this planet, our community, the Boston theatre scene that we do love—it has its problems, but we love it… We chose to be here. I’ll have to say no one forced us to be artists. We were invited, and we took that invitation just on the sort of spiritual level. And I think about the love of the community that we want to advance and the art that we make in this opportunity, we want to create for that community.

So I think about this example: We were doing this play and one of our, we had, I believe, eight interns. They were college seniors and they were interns, but they were also being paid. They were interns in that they were getting much more support, but we believe in paying our interns of course, and this one brother, he— It was Three Musketeers, very physical. There’s a lot of stage combat. He twisted his knee in the middle of the show doing a fight sequence. And we didn’t know so he kind of hobbled through the rest of the show. Afterwards, he told us what happened. So Dawn and I went into action. I held court. There was a leader of the foundation there. It was a co-production with Greater Boston Stage. They were there of course supporting, but we took the lead… Was what we asked, because another thing I will say is in these co-productions, make sure that you are just as visible and at the table with the folks who are giving you money to make the show happen, as your producing partners are, because those relationships, centering relationship again, will go with you as you lead towards being self-sustainable. They need to know that both of y’all are in the space and making this theatre, this show, happen.

So we were there. I was holding court with the head of the foundation and there’s a group of high school students who come to the show and they were having a topic afterwards. So I have to do them. I think I love that part, holding court with the folks in the lobby and these young people and Dawn took this young man to the hospital, called his mom. His mom met her there. They were dealing with the doctors and she was texting. We texted each other the whole time. So he ended up going home, needing to get a cast. And the next day, the doctor said he wouldn’t be able to continue with the show. So I called another young person who had worked with us earlier that season. I was like, “So what are you doing today?” Because it was like, opening and he was like, “Nothing.”

I was like, “So if I paid for an Uber to take you to Stoneham, could you be in a show?”

So he said yeah. So I paid for an Uber. He gets there, we meet them. And I’m like, “So have you eaten?” He was like, “No.” I was like, “Okay, so you’re going to do this, I’m going to go get you some food, I have some gumbo in the fridge. You want that?” And he goes, “Yeah.” So we heated up the gumbo, brought that, and then he did the show. Then we figured out the contract and he took over for us in the run. And I’m just keeping the relationship centered. I don’t ever want to lose that. We’re going to keep growing, expanding. We want to be a sustainable Black theatre company, this part of a long legacy of Black theatremaking in this area.

Boston has a really cherished history of Black theatremaking that goes back to the Federal Project. So honoring the legacy we were part of, but then also keeping relationships and stuff like that center to what we do. “Did you eat?” “Have you had lunch?” “I will go get you some food. You should not be up here hungry.” And taking those values into whatever partnership/co-production you’re doing and making sure that those are just as valuable as, “I talked to this foundation and got us $25,000 to cover X, Y, Z.” All of that is equally important.

Yura Sapi: Absolutely, yes. Yeah, are there any challenges you are finding yourself facing as a founder, as a co-founder?

Maurice Emmanuel: Sure. I want to answer this honestly. I think I’m not going to sit up here and say that I am not continuing to learn, to grow, dismantle the systems I’ve internalized, I’ve been a part of, all that stuff. So I appreciate surrounding myself by people who challenge kind of our default and sometimes my default. So there’s some things that I know that I’ve internalized from white supremacy culture, like the sense of urgency is something I really struggle with. Hustling as an actor in New York, you’re taught if you get a chance, take it, you might not get another one. Work as hard as you can today. The sense of urgency and understanding that that is not a great energy to bring into the room you’re leading, especially when you’re in spaces that are of the global majority. So ways that I can unpack and continue to grow because it’s four hundred years of oppression in this country. It’s not going to be unpacked and dismantled in a year or summer.

It’s a lifetime journey to continue to grow and see what else we can do to improve, be better. So I put myself squarely in that category. There have been ways that I think if I, in retrospect, I could have maybe handled differently and I just love myself through it and continue to grow and require that spirit of growth and community and grace and understanding with those that I choose to work with. And that’s the energy that we are leading this organization with. How can we always ask, “How can we do this better? How can we be more inclusive? How can we be more equitable? How can we honor the fact that Blackness, for instance, Blackness is not a monolith?” So we know this personally, but our collaborators don’t so, okay, let’s do a Black play and they’ll default to like a Black urban narrative, African American narrative, and pushing back, there’s so many more stories and cultures that fall under the umbrella of the African diaspora.

How do we advance those? There’s so many intersections between many groups that also fall under the umbrella of the African diaspora. So how are we advancing those narratives? And you can’t do everything at once, but just as long as the drive is to continue to push to be better and do more, I’m happy and, again, I’m proud to be able to do the work to surround myself with people that also do the work and want to push in those ways.

Yura Sapi: Absolutely. Yeah, I think that’s definitely one of the reasons why I wanted to have this podcast and cultivate the space because I was finding myself kind of replicating some of the harmful practices that I was inflicted upon in predominantly white organizations, specifically theatre, and also in general in the United States, growing up in the United States and kind of re-replicating and living in some of the harmful practices that I wanted to get away from.

And so the question is, if we’re not going to do the same thing, what is it that we are going to do? Applying urgency, a sense of urgency, is applying the urgency of racial and social justice to our everyday lives in ways that perpetuate power imbalance and disregard for our need to breathe and pause and reflect. And I think, absolutely, in this role as founder and a leader, oftentimes in a hierarchical model or a super colonization white supremacist model, oftentimes I’ve found myself being put into a space that encourages me to think that things have to be done quickly and focusing on the bottom line, the dollar sign, and yeah, giving up my own care and rest, and then in turn encouraging that for others. So ultimately even just taking a moment to breathe and pause and reflect can be an antidote.

Antidotes to a sense of urgency include:

  • Realistic workplans based on the lived experience of the people and the organization involved
  • Leadership who understands that everything takes longer than anyone expects
  • A commitment to equity, including a commitment to discuss and plan for what it means to embed equity practices into the work plan
  • A commitment to learn from past experience how long things take
  • Collaborative development of realistic funding proposals with realistic timeframes
  • Clarity ahead of time about how you will make good decisions in an atmosphere of urgency (including clarity about what constitutes a “good decision”)
  • An understanding that rushing decisions takes more time in the long run because inevitably people who didn’t get a chance to voice their thoughts and feelings will at best resent and at worst undermine a decision where they were left unheard
  • Developing a personal and collective practice of noticing when urgency arises and taking a pause to deliberate with thoughtfulness and intention about the nature of the urgency and the range of options available to you

Antidotes to a sense of urgency from whitesupremacyculture.info/urgency offered by Tema Okun, 2021.

Maurice Emmanuel: Absolutely, and I would say the folks you’re in community with that encourage that moment to pause and breathe is so crucial. We actually, one thing we are working with is as much of a non-hierarchical structure as possible. So, the way we structure our leadership… We’re still a very small organization and actually still mostly volunteer. We aren’t in a position where we’re giving people full- or part-time salaries right now, but soon hopefully that will change. How can we— we’re kind of restructured like the layers of a cake, a layer cake. So Dawn and I may be at the top layer, but it’s less about hierarchy in terms of authority and dictating any type of anything. It’s more who has the most responsibilities on their shoulders, is taking on the most work, given that everybody has to maintain full- and part-time jobs in addition to the work of the Porch.

And then the folks that are maybe in the middle layer of the cake have only certain areas of focus, but still making sure there’s transparency and making sure people know what we are doing is difficult and takes a lot of time. And like I said, people are very busy, but we’re imperfect creatures. And I think I like to embrace the fact to know that we all can just do the best we can, support each other. And there’s going to be times when we fall, but then there’s going to be times where we’re going to soar, but that’s sort of how we focus, how we operate and always in conversation and with big decisions, make sure bring it to the group and everyone sort of gets to chime in on it.

Yura Sapi: I really appreciate that cake visualization. I’ve been working on developing various different examples of organizational structure with arts organizations, arts and culture organizations specifically, that aren’t the same board of directors, artistic director, executive director hierarchy, managers, staff, interns kind of levels, thinking about also things like biomimicry and how in nature we can see some of the examples in how our organizations can be structured, a different visualization than what at least was taught to me in my training of being an arts administrator or its leader.

And so things like, for me, I’ve seen a spider-web thinking about how it can be the group of people are kind of all connected, but also independent and kind of working on our own processes that come together. Claudia Alick of Calling Up Justice talks about being different stars in a constellation. And many, many other ideas that have come up. So even the solar system, the way that it revolves around each other. Or fractals and thinking about like Romanesco broccoli and how it repeats and kind of expands outward and outward and grows. So yeah, and then the ways in which this nature is teaching us ways in which we can be that actually is more empowering and coming from potentially even more ancestral wisdom, especially as people of the global majority really connected to nature in a different way.

Maurice Emmanuel: Absolutely. That was beautiful.

Yura Sapi: Yeah. So before I let you go, I’d love to ask you if you have any final tips you would give to any listeners or folks who are reading the transcript on starting your own theatre company, potentially in a predominantly white space or a space that has been dominated mainly by white organizations.

Maurice Emmanuel: Absolutely. And again, thanks for having me here. I found peace and joy and always remind myself of why I’m even bothering. Why am I working so hard? Why am I meeting so many people? Why am I trying to strategize so much? And it’s love. And it’s like, find the love and find the gifts. It is a gift to have found where I feel, like I said earlier, where I feel at home, the community I’m glad to be a part of.

It’s the simple things. It’s just seeing some— like the moment after COVID, when I saw two folks I had collaborated with in the theatre, two Black female-identifying folks, and just a moment of joy. And I mean, there was a little tear shared in just being able to hug and touch and I mean, it’s post-COVID, but it’s also, that’s why. I and my co-founders had the idea to create this company for this. So we have as many opportunities to hug and hold each other and make a space that celebrates us, celebrates Blackness. And I don’t even really even spend much time thinking about what I’m opposing or what energies are trying to be the antithesis of the energy in the space I want to create because that is energy and mental energy that I’m wasting that could be focusing on the spaces I do want to create, the people I do want to, the opportunities I do want to create.

I have to, you have to… We’re living in a world where you can escape certain conversations and certain ways that you have to engage. But as much as I can, I try to think about that as healthy as I can to try to keep the joy and the peace and love centered in what I do as much as possible on the folks I want to advance. And then the young people I want to advance.

And sitting, having a coffee with a member of one of our first intern cohorts, and she’s applying to graduate schools in theatre and knowing that we were able to—certainly not claiming her talents, she’s an amazing, wonderful artist in and of herself—but knowing that we had the gift to give her an opportunity. We were blessed to have her be part of our organization for a summer as a paid intern performing, and just be from that space because there’s so much awful stuff in the world and it’s kind of naive of statement to say, but there’s… We all know firsthand.

You were certainly going through it right now, firsthand, the horrors that this world has to offer. And we have the opportunity for the time we are given on this planet to make joy and peace and safety and love in our work, in the art-making process. So that’s my advice. I find that because if that’s not central in what you do, you’re going to burn out and you’re going to want to, I don’t know, become an accountant or something, something that’s a little bit more cut and dry.

Yura Sapi: The keys to sustainability in this work, in this lucha, in this fight. And then also, yeah, it definitely… I always think wanting to make my ancestors proud and thrive for all of what they did to survive.

Maurice Emmanuel: Absolutely.

Yura Sapi: Constantly thinking about how, if everybody’s fighting for, all activists are fighting for, someone else or another community, nobody’s receiving it. And so I need to receive that joy as well. And like you said, it’s also about decentering whiteness and decentering all of the awful things that we kind of want to get away from and giving less energy to them as well, and investing in what we do want and the future that we do envision as opposed to focusing on only the apocalyptic version, giving more energy to that.

Maurice Emmanuel: So true. So true. I like the phrase, like, “I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams”—proud descendant of African American enslaved folks, proud descendant knowing that that strength, resiliency runs through my veins. I actually have a tattoo that is a symbol of the legacy that I’m a part of and the shoulders that I stand on, the strength that I have resiliency in this country and I’m proud to be a part of.

Yura Sapi: This has been another episode of the Building Our Own Tables podcast. I’m your host and producer, Yura Sapi. Our editor is Daniel Umali. Original music by Blackos the Producer and Julian Var. This podcast is produced as a contribution to HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of the series and other HowlRound podcasts in our feed on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you find podcasts. Be sure to search “HowlRound Theatre Commons podcasts” and subscribe to receive new episodes.

If you love this podcast, donate to support future episodes at AdvancingArtsForward.org. You can also post a rating and/or write a review on those platforms to help other people find us. There is a transcript for this episode, along with a lot of other progressive and disruptive content available on HowlRound.com.

Have an idea for an exciting podcast, essay, or TV event the theatre community needs to hear? Visit HowlRound.com and submit your ideas to the commons.

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Thoughts from the curator

I hear talk about wanting for racially diverse populations to “get a seat at the table” or “bringing chairs to the table for POC,” meaning that we want our people to have a position at existing organizations and institutions with decision making power. For me, a few years ago, I decided to not focus on infiltrating existing organizations, but rather start my own. I know I’m not alone. With the blessing that we all have a role in the revolution, this podcast checks in and learns from BIPOC founders of various organizations in and related to the theatre industry changing the game, making new things happen within, and expanding beyond white and euro-centric experiences. We will learn from these incredible visionaries who have created their own tables of arts institutions, movements, collectives, initiatives, and more. We learn about their processes, pathways to success, and challenges they've overcome. This is an outside-the-classroom leadership learning from folks who are doing the things.

Building Our Own Tables

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