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Public Access Archives: The End of the Theatre Industry

Welcome to the Public Access Archive’s celebration of theatremakers’ and cultural workers’ contributions to the downfall of the capitalist state that occupied this land, formerly known as the United States of America.

The hundreds of artifacts contained in this collection represent the period of profound change in the theatre industry beginning in 2021. Included are emails, letters, social media posts, and more that trace the many impulses and actions that led to collective liberation from the oppressive and exploitative structures that defined the theatre field in “America” for many years.

Just like history, this archive is collectively constructed and ever-evolving. The following selections are not exhaustive but represent the many pockets of organizing from people within and outside the industry that led us to today.

Item 1: A text thread between employees of the McDonald Performing Arts Center, June 2021
Item 12: A press release from Streetlight Repertory Theatre, September 2021
Item 14: A post from Micah Palmer in the Theater Folx of Color Facebook group, January 2022
Item 24: A flyer for Liberation Coalition’s first community-park storytelling circle, May 2022
Item 46: The trending Twitter hashtag #ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause, August 2023
Item 51: A flyer advertising a training led by Transformation Virginia Beach, November 2023
Item 57: A Chicago Times headline, February 2024
Item 62: A Baltimore Sun headline, April 2024
Item 80: A Seattle Post headline, September 2024
Item 118: Blog post from playwright Yara Awuah, May 2025
Item 137: Flyer from Costume Workers of Richmond, April 2027
Item 151: Post on Portland Public Theatre’s Facebook page, March 2028
Item 177: Email written by Sara Chester, November 2029
Item 242: Manifesto from the Coalition of Cultural Workers for Liberation, November 2032

Item 1: A text thread between employees of the McDonald Performing Arts Center, June 2021

CL: Y’all
HT: Y’ALL
RR: Oh no, not that!
HT: *yikes face emojis*
CL: I quit
BT: Oh absolutely same
CL: See and this is why representation wont save us
AM: The Non-Profit Industrial Complex TM
EP: I cannot believe that after this year and a whole pandemic and a whole uprising, we are doing who’s fucking afraid of Virginia fucking Woolf
RR: bitch I’M afraid of Virginia Woolf
BT: and that director? A DOCUMENTED racist
CL: our boy literally stormed the capital
HT: !!!!!
RR: But at least we got The Mountaintop
(in the black box)
(for a limited engagement)
BT: [link to social media post about racist director]
AM: biiiiiitch
TT: Hey at least they’re hiring BIPOC consultants to do a real EDI audit and trainings too
Progress! technically!
HT: mayyyybe but on THEIR timeline!
CL: Can you imagine if we spent a *portion* of what we spend on teaching white people and institutions to be less racist on actually addressing the material conditions of Black people in our community?
AM: actually no…. Can’t even imagine it
RR: But we all read How to Be an Antiracist!
HT: racism is over!
AM: The Antiracism Industrial Complex TM
HT: I’m for real about to quit
CL: you always say that lol
EP: *cry laughing emojis*
HT: this time I mean it tho!!
This shit cannot be reformed
Clearly
We did what we could
AM: let’s stage a walkout!
BT: a zoom walkout lol
CL: alright all together! 3..2..1.. Leave Meeting
EP: tell me why not one of y’all asses left lol
TT: I see y’all laughing, you better turn your cameras off before they start getting suspicious
RR: ok ok - let’s stage a quit-out
BT: what’s that?
RR: a quit-a-thon
HT: wait are y’all serious? Because I’m serious
RR: I mean actually? If their whole antiracism committee quit? What would even happen
CL: I’ll write the press release lol
AM: an open letter
BT: Not a Medium article….
EP: loooook
HT: what would this institution even do.....

***

Item 12: A press release from Streetlight Repertory Theatre, September 2021

STREETLIGHT REPERTORY THEATRE TO CEASE OPERATIONS AS LORT THEATRE

September 2021, Sacramento -- Streetlight Repertory Theatre announced today that they are ceasing operations as a LORT theatre company. They will be shifting their capacity to support local movements for social justice.

Beginning in 2022, Streetlight Repertory Theatre will no longer be producing a six-play season. All operations will be used to support local movements within the city, including but not limited to the movement to defund the local police department, #CopFreeSchools, climate justice, and affordable housing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, the harrowing on-camera death of George Floyd, and the subsequent uprisings forced theatre and other industries all across the country to assess the work being done and how it aligned with companies’ missions and impacts,” said artistic director Arianna Mitchell. “After extensive research and listening sessions with our staff and neighbors in our community, it became clear that the model of the regional theatre was not having the impact that many of us desired and was causing harm. We’re very excited to move forward as a cultural organization that serves our local communities first and foremost.”

Although Streetlight Repertory Theatre is not producing a six-show season, they will still produce theatre. They will be creating art in support of local organizers to amplify their movements. Rather than charge people to enter their building and see a show, they will be meeting people where they are, featuring those most impacted by the issues, and all shows will be free of charge.

Additionally, their building will serve as a community center. The Education Department will be offering free childcare for the families who are most impacted by the issues they are seeking to address. Further, local organizations will be able to use the building for political education sessions, public health events, and more.

The Communications Office will not be taking any interview requests at this time.

###

As more time passed when we were back in the building and removed from Covid-19, it became clear that all the talk about change was just that- talk. We were still being treated poorly.

***

Item 14: A post from Micah Palmer in the Theater Folx of Color Facebook group, January 2022

Micah Palmer → Theater Folx of Color

Hey y’all. So yesterday, me and nineteen other employees of Starwood Theatre Company quit our jobs simultaneously. We discussed this in our staff-organized Liberation Coalition (formerly known as the EDI committee) for a while and decided it was time. As more time passed when we were back in the building and removed from Covid-19, it became clear that all the talk about change was just that- talk. We were still being treated poorly. We were still being expected to overwork for little pay, meeting ridiculous deadlines. Sure, we were programming more BIPOC artists, but they were not being treated well. And it was very clear that nothing that was happening in this theatre was moving us closer to liberation. It may have been moving us even farther away.

We don’t know what’s next. But we know “The Industry” is not it. Some of us are staying in the city, some of us are taking this as an opportunity to move back home, but we’re staying in contact so that we can support each other as we move forward. And hopefully we’ll be able to create something better.

Does any of this resonate with you? Maybe it’s time to quit your job too.

265 reactions

333 comments

***

Item 24: A flyer for Liberation Coalition’s first community-park storytelling circle, May 2022

MLK Drive Park

May 5, 2022 at 2 pm

tell a story, eat a meal, and be in community

Featuring interludes of poetry and music, this storytelling circle will center YOUR voices. If you call this neighborhood and this park home, we want to hear from you. Roll through and kiki with us!

Anyone is welcome. We ask that if you can bring a dish to share, you do so. We’ll be providing some of our favorite snacks and our partners at the community garden will be providing berries and veggies.

***

Item 46: The trending Twitter hashtag #ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause, August 2023

Workers who have left the theatre industry share what drove them away

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause the climate crisis is HERE but we weren’t even willing to pledge to ONE DAY give up our fossil-fuel sponsorships [upside down smiley face emoji] #DivestToInvest

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause there was soooooo much talk about all the things we’d do when we got back post pandemic. and it was all a lie.

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause the way I was treated during the pandemic made me realize that they actually didn’t care about me at all. I had to leave to find people who did.

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause regional theatre is where radical art goes to die!!!!!

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause they kicked me out [zany face emoji] they laid me off three weeks into the pandemic. i guess our ED couldn’t FATHOM taking a cut from his $300k salary. [upside down smiley face emoji]

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause junior staff would spend so much time coming up with these amazing things to move us forward just for the board to dismiss it w/o even giving us a chance. like what was the point?

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause my family was falling on tough times and the barely living wage I made in theatre was not enough to help them out.

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause radical change can’t happen inside these institutions and we’re running out of time.

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause the ocean!!!!! Is!!!! On fire!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause these anti-racist theatres have zero class analysis and it SHOWS. if you have no understanding of racial capitalism, you’re not gonna end racism in the industry......

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause they treated me like shit

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause i was so proud of the high standards i had in my romantic relationships, only to realize i was in a whole-ass abusive relationship at work everyday [woozy face emoji]

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause i wasn’t comfortable working for an “anti-racist” theatre that wasn’t willing to say Free Palestine

#ILeftTheTheatreIndustryBecause there was soooooo much talk about all the things we’d do when we got back post pandemic. and it was all a lie.

***

Three people sitting onstage, one of them holding a globe, and five spirits above them, one in the middle connecting two blocks with a spark in between them.

An illustration by Wriply M. Bennet inspired by the essay.

Item 51: A flyer advertising a training led by Transformation Virginia Beach, November 2023

TRANSFORMATIVE JUSTICE TRAINING SERIES: INFO SESSION

November 24, 2023

Transformation Virginia Beach

Training dates: Every Friday in January 2024

No more police. No more prisons. The answers to transforming and healing harm lie right in our own communities.

Join Transformation Virginia Beach on November 24 for an info session about our Transformative Justice Training Series.

Training is completely FREE. Food and childcare will be available at the info session and each training session.

This training will include a pool of actors who will demonstrate scenarios for you as well as work with you so you can practice what you learn. Real, hands-on experience!

Questions? Text 757-555-0136.

***

Item 57: A Chicago Times headline, February 2024

Five Small Chicago Theatres Shut Down to “Pivot Towards Serving the Community”

***

Item 62: A Baltimore Sun headline, April 2024

The Show Will Not Go On! Spring Productions Canceled Due to Striking Workers

***

Item 80: A Seattle Post headline, September 2024

Seattle Center Stage is now Seattle Center for Community Healing, a worker-owned cooperative

***

Item 118: Blog post from playwright Yara Awuah, May 2025

My play all blk girls go to heaven will be premiering on Broadway in the fall. I have been working towards this for so long. I’m the youngest Black woman to ever have a play on Broadway and it means so much to me to have something so beautiful, so joyful, so BLACK on these stages as my debut. It definitely feels like a shift.

And yet many of my collaborators who started out with me on the journey of this play are not by my side, seeing it through to Broadway. Many of the friends whose opinion matters the most to me will not be seeing it in the fall. They have decided to divest from Broadway, from the theatre industry at large, because they think it can’t serve us, and it is their duty to devote their skills and talents to something better. They want to make something new.

It would be an understatement to say I’m disappointed. I’m devastated, really. Heartbroken that many of the people who I wrote this play for and alongside don’t think this is an important moment to be a part of.

Listen y’all, I get it! You know I do! I’ve led the equity meetings, I’ve fought with executive leadership, I’ve signed my name on the petitions. The theatre industry is broken, forreal. We all know it. But I think we can fix it. And I think all blk girls go to heaven is a start.

Doesn’t moving the needle towards progress count for something? Isn’t that something to celebrate? I’m not so conceited to think the inclusion of my play alone is enough #progress, but it’s more than just the script. We have an all-Black creative team! Our producers are Black! Everybody is getting paid more than they normally would, from the actors to the stage managers to the box office staff. We’re providing therapy, we’re providing intimacy coordinators, we’re doing so much to make this show a safe, joyful, healing space for everyone involved. Doesn’t that count for anything?

At the end of the day, we all have our different tactics to get us to the same goal. I think we have the same goal. I respect their tactics. I hope my friends can respect mine.

***

Item 137: Flyer from Costume Workers of Richmond, April 2027

FREE MASKS! FREE MASKS!

As the air gets thicker, we need masks to protect ourselves. Costume Workers of Richmond has what you need.

Distribution at 100 N Chester St. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3 pm.

If you can’t make it and need delivery, text 804-555-0124.

***

Item 151: Post on Portland Public Theatre’s Facebook page, March 2028

Announcing: Portland Public Theatre’s Housing for the People Project

In spring of 2028, we will be cutting the tape on our newest community-responsive initiative: Housing for the People Project, in partnership with the Portland Mutual Aid Network. Our company housing, previously reserved only for artists, will now be repurposed to provide temporary living facilities to our unhoused neighbors. Please contact us or the Portland Mutual Aid Network to learn more and get involved.

Many of us were hesitant to break from the comfort and stability of the institutions and models we had known our whole lives. We wondered how we would survive without them. But the truth is we were not surviving within them.

***

Item 177: Email written by Sara Chester, November 2029

From: sara.chester33@gmail.com

To: jklmartin46@gmail.com

Bruh! Omg! You missed the wildest thing today!

I was on my way to get some clean water and saw MASSES of people outside of city hall. sooooo many. It looked like a protest, but didn’t sound like a protest so I went over… it was a whole theatrical production! There were a bunch of people performing some play they had written about that prosecutor, Caroline Castelar? It was like… a dramatization of her cases and shit she had done. BRUH. It was so wild. She’s really fucked up???? I thought she was progressive!! But the people at the protest were like “how progressive can you be when your whole job is locking people up?” which… true.

it was crazy bc it started out with just a small group of people but they were passing out papers with lines and inviting people to do call and response, and it got so much bigger! like 30 people performing this production. It was cool af tbh. They sang, they danced, they rapped. I joined in! Check out the video :)

I wrote my email and number on some list!! So you can come with me to whatever the next thing is.

***

Item 242: Manifesto from the Coalition of Cultural Workers for Liberation, November 2032

We are a coalition of collectives and cultural workers across Turtle Island who have divested our labor from institutions in order to instead pour our energy into our beloved communities.

In 2021, workers started quitting their jobs at arts institutions en masse following an attempt to return to “normalcy” after the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of us in the coalition were among them. After leaving these institutions, we did what we do best: we created art. But this time it was not beholden to the white capitalists who control the nonprofit industrial complex. Instead, we started making art that was accountable to our local communities, to the land, to ourselves.

At first, many of us were hesitant to break from the comfort and stability of the institutions and models we had known our whole lives. We wondered how we would survive without them. But the truth is we were not surviving within them. We decided to listen to what our ancestors had been telling us for years: “We are the ones we have been waiting for” (June Jordan).

We began working within our own local communities on a variety of different projects, including art therapy, harm reduction, childcare, mutual aid projects and resource distribution, transformative justice training, and more. Many of us were in communication due to past productions or common social media groups, and we began to take notice of the different projects we were all doing across the country. We began to support each other. We released our fear of asking for help and started sharing resources and learnings with a spirit of abundance and possibility. We noticed alignment and named our shared values. While the work of liberation must be rooted in hyperlocal needs and context, we are leaning into our inherent interconnectedness through deep networks of support.

We’ve known for many years that our models of being are not sustainable. The interconnected forces of white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, and extraction have again and again put us in dire positions. In just our lifetimes, we have survived through ongoing global pandemics, economic recessions, mass incarceration, extreme weather conditions, raging forest fires, and so much more. We have long been living in the apocalypse, and it is up to each of us to change our course. We are committed to building new ways of being.

We are the Coalition of Cultural Workers for Liberation.

Principles

  1. We believe in the necessity of art and storytelling and imagination in the movement for liberation.
  2. We believe that it is not effective to participate in structures that don’t serve us in order to “move the needle.” The most effective thing is to build something else entirely.
  3. We work towards the abolition of the prison industrial complex and refuse to participate or work with police, prisons, tools of surveillance, and other colonial tools of violence.
  4. We reject the idea of a “single, knowledgeable leader” and know we all have valuable ideas to share. In the words of Combahee River Collective, “We believe in collective process and a nonhierarchical distribution of power within our own group(s) and in our vision of a revolutionary society.”
  5. We practice flocking, as defined by adrienne maree brown in Emergent Strategy: “Staying separate enough not to crowd each other, aligned enough to maintain a shared direction, and cohesive enough to always move towards each other.”
  6. We approach conflicts as opportunities for learning, healing, and transformation.
  7. We believe the people most impacted by each issue have the most wisdom on how to solve the issue.
  8. We believe that those of us committed to liberation should be practicing mutual aid. We believe that we have the collective responsibility to care for each other and for the land, including meeting the material needs of our communities.
  9. We believe that people of all ages and experiences—including children—have the right to participate in creating their futures and we value their ideas.
  10. We believe that we can and will bring about the end of capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, imperialism, and all systems of extraction within our lifetime.
Thoughts from the curator

It's 2021 and we're amid multiple pandemics that are revealing the structural failures, challenges, and opportunities facing the nonprofit theatre. Where do we go from here? What are we bringing with us through the portal, and what are we making anew? The Devising Our Future series asks theatremakers to consider a future theatre field where resources and power are shared equitably in all directions, contributing to a more just and sustainable world. This series is curated by HowlRound Theatre Commons as part of our tenth anniversary celebration.

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