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Community Organizations and Partnerships

With Samson Syharath and Dmae Lo Roberts of Theatre Diaspora

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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.

In today's episode, I'm interviewing Samson Syharath and Dmae Lo Roberts, co-founders of Theatre Diaspora based out of Portland, Oregon. Theatre Diaspora began as a response to the lack of Asian American and Pacific Islander visibility on Portland stages and audiences, as well as a lack of awareness and education regarding the importance of casting Asian American actors in Asian American roles in plays. MediaRites took on Theatre Diaspora as a project to create a yearly season of stage readings focused on Asian-American identity cultural issues. Theatre Diaspora has now become its own 501(c)3 organization and is working with other community organizations to develop a variety of programming.

With talkbacks and invited panel discussions after every performance, Theatre Diaspora has generated awareness of the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience to all communities. Theatre Diaspora helps establish Asian American and Pacific Islander theatre artists and playwrights dedicated to giving AAPI theatre more visibility and to engage the public in insightful talkback discussions on cultural diversity. Yes, and so I would love to give you a chance to introduce yourself a little bit more to listeners or folks reading the transcript, let us know a bit more about who you are.

Samson Syrahath: Hi, I'm Samson Syharath, I am a Laotian-American. I'm the managing artistic director and co-founder of Theatre Diaspora, I am also part of the Accountability Collective here in Portland, Oregon, and part of the board of directors at Portland Area Theatre Alliance and the EDI chair.

Dmae Lo Roberts: I'm Dmae Roberts, I am the executive producer of MediaRites, an organization that I've run since 1991 in Portland, Oregon, and I have been a media artist, as well as a theatre artist throughout most of my career. I have lived in this community since 1989, so I'm very familiar with trying to bring more resources and more opportunities for BIPOC people here in this city. I am also the co-founder of Theatre Diaspora and a member of Theatre Diaspora still, and I also do a podcast called Stage & Studio.

Yura Sapi: Thanks so much. Yeah, so grateful to have you both on as co-founders of Theatre Diaspora to talk more about the ways in which we're not replicating that same white supremacy culture we wanted to get away from. I always ask my first question, to tell us more about your origin story with creating Theatre Diaspora, and we're super lucky to have both co-founders here and so I'd love to know more about how that happened, how your relationship as co-founders has developed and how it worked for you two in that process of creating and founding this organization.

Dmae: So I was very active in theatre throughout the nineties and early two thousands as an actor as well as a playwright. But as a biracial Asian American, Taiwanese American, I generally have been in white productions. I just want to say it, they're generally white plays that were produced here. By writing my own family story, I was probably the first Asian American playwright in Oregon to be produced by equity companies, and I basically scouted for talent all the time. Through my production, I was able to train people to be able to have a chance to be able to play Asian American characters.

So after I quit doing theatre in the early two thousands and focused on my public radio work doing Crossing East, the first Asian American history series on public radio, I came back to it through mostly staying in touch through my podcast Stage & Studio. So I would meet people and I'd see one Asian person in the cast, I would have them on my show. Samson was one of the first, that's how we met actually, I said, "Oh, he's in this show, so I'm going to interview him." It was really interesting during that time, inching back into theatre, noticing and talking with people like Samson that things hadn't changed that much in Portland theatre.

When I left theatre, there actually quite a few Asian American actors, but most of them had to move on because there wasn't work. So I noticed that there were these plays being done that were essentially Asian plays, but with white actors in, for instance, Kabuki makeup. Also, there was a play that was a Japanese play set in a manga bar in Tokyo, but it was played by all white actors, even though actors like Samson had auditioned, I think there was one Asian American actor in the show. It was just appalling to me. So at that time, Portland Center Stage, which is the top Equity theatre in Portland, reached out to me to help them connect with the Chinese American community in Portland when they were doing Chinglish.

So that was at a time back in 2014 when "Okay, well, I can give you some advice." People didn't even think about paying people for that type of advice, which I call cultural consultation. So I did help Portland Center Stage, it was very positive, I gave them quite a few ideas and even suggested an Asian night. They said to me, "Oh, wouldn't that be like segregation?" And I said, "No, it would be such a relief to go into an audience, a theatre audience, and see people like you." That doesn't happen very often. Most of the time when you go to Portland theatre shows, you can do a hand count, I call it. If you get past one hand, that's actually not bad, or get past both hands, that's excellent in most PWI theatre.

So they actually tried that and worked with some organizations that I suggested, and it was very successful. That was the first time I'd seen a play, except for my own, where there was mostly— an Asian American play where it was predominantly Asian Americans in the audience. So after that, I asked Portland Center Stage if I could do a reading of Dance and the Railroad, which is a one-act that David Henry Hwang wrote quite a few years ago, which had never been produced here. Samson and I worked on that and it was actually quite successful, we did it as an enhanced stage reading with movement, and PCS said that, "If you wanted to continue doing this, we would give you a space." So that's essentially how Theatre Diaspora began, was that.

It was very grassroots and we started building up audiences that were hungry for representation, for seeing material that reflected them, to be able to sit in an audience and see actors who reflect them and feel a connection to. So then, as we started developing more stage readings, and they got very elaborate, we had costumes and props and movement, we decided— I asked the group how they felt about MediaRites taking it on as a project so that we could get funding. It's very difficult in most cities for a startup organization to get major funding, so because MediaRites as a multicultural media production organization, was able to have a track record, a proven track record. So we were able to get funding for our productions.

We continued up into actually staging two fully staged productions, and through the resources that MediaRites got also for professional development, we were able to have more leadership training with Samson. Samson, you want to talk about that development? Because I think that's also missing from a lot of organizations, is to give that professional development opportunity.

Samson: Yeah. I think to truly start from the beginning, my introduction to theatre and art, I grew up in Arkansas, in rural Arkansas. I grew up on a farm gathering eggs for my parents, and I was introduced to theatre in high school, and then in college it actually wasn't a major yet, it wasn't a degree that was offered. Then when it finally was, I went ahead and did that, because that's where I found my community, that's where I found my friends and where I basically found my voice a bit. Then that actually brought me here to Portland, and I did see a trend of not very many Asian roles for Asian actors, and not very many Asian actors.

When I would ask the other Asian actors that I would find, like Dmae and other members of Theatre Diaspora, they would say, "Well, there aren't any roles for us, so we leave." Then when I talked to arts organizations, they would say, "Well, there aren't any Asian actors here, so we don't have those roles for them." It really puzzled me because when roles aren't specified as specific race or ethnicity, I think the neutral— I think people think that the neutral is white. How do we fight against that? How do we create more spaces for us and people that look like us? That's when I talked to Dmae and we did come up with the project of Theatre Diaspora.

So I think what Dmae was talking about with this leadership, I think that's why visibility was so important to us, because visibility really opens up possibilities. To be able to see someone like me on stage, it opens up an opportunity for me to say, "Oh, maybe I could do that." To see people like me in leadership roles, it opens up the opportunity and I think that's a way that we can open things up to make things more equitable, make everyone feel safe enough to actually go for their dreams, go for what they want to do.

Dmae: Well, and through that also is empowerment too, because Samson was able to go ahead and apply for 501(c)3 status, which is so crucial to the future of Theatre Diaspora. He was successful at that and has been very successful at getting funds right away, and to get grants from really tough places to get funding from, such as foundations, private foundations. So all of this led to being able to have more empowerment too, and I think that what I find really great is also that we have these two separate organizations now that can occasionally partner and share resources.

So I would like more organizations that do have track records, who are able to share those resources, to build up new community-based but direly needed projects and self-sustaining organizations by sharing these resources and being able to partner more often. Because especially now theatre is in such a crucial stage. It always has been, but now it's even in a more dire stage of being able to connect with audiences and to be able to do the kind of work where you are community building.

Yura Sapi: Can you speak more about these partnerships that might be possible with organizations in terms of sharing resources? Maybe how it's working for you with MediaRites and Theatre Diaspora, giving us a little bit more details about how that actually looks and works and maybe even some of the challenges you face. I know even thinking about just the 501(c)3 status and becoming a part of this nonprofit industrial cog that exists, especially in the US and the way in which funding works for arts organizations through this model, can be difficult to be a part of and join in, in terms of, for example, how the board of directors often works and hierarchies that might come about. But yeah, talking more about the partnerships you were naming and in this radical idea of sharing more resources.

Dmae: Well, I don't know that it's... Yeah. I guess it is radical, if you think about that as far as competition. But we have always, MediaRites especially has always partnered with community organizations in projects. There has not been one organization, one project, that MediaRites has done that hasn't partnered with a community-based organization in a way of sharing resources, and also being able to connect directly with the community that we are highlighting regarding the project.

But as far as in theatre, I think this has been very positive for us because Theatre Diaspora has so much to offer traditional PWI theatre. When you do a PWI play and it's a cultural play, most often the people in the audience do not reflect the people on the stage. At least here in Portland, it's 95 percent white for the most part, unless it's a BIPOC theatre. So that one of the successes that Theatre Diaspora could talk about is the partnership that we did a co-production— Co-productions are a good way to do that, with one theatre organization here. Even though we didn't actually invest funds as much, we invested our time and resources that were highly marketable, i.e. the demographics that we could bring to the theatre and also the resources of being able to bring in partner organizations that we have worked with in the past, and also our knowledge about outreach and inclusion.

Dmae: Also, just the fact that we have connections with the Asian American arts community, that really helped as well. What other resources did we bring in, Samson? I'm thinking of the Brothers Paranormal when we co-produced that play by Prince Gomolvilas.

Samson: Yeah. I think one of the most important things was bringing in the aspect of community. When organizations like that talk about EDI, it does seem like they're talking about bringing in outsiders or people that aren't included in. I think the way we thought about it was they weren't others, they are the community, they are who we want here and who we serve. So we would have one of the previews was solely for IRCO, which is the Immigrant Refugee Community Organization, and we were really focusing on community organizations and not just other arts organizations, because they do have their business models that center whiteness.

So right now, we're doing a project with the Asia Pacific American Network of Oregon on writing workshops and it's really interesting. When we're talking with other arts organizations that are larger, usually the conversations in those collaborative meetings are about budget, they're about money. But when we're talking to community organizations, it's about the people, it's about the work and the art that we do. I think that's something that we're really focusing on right now.

Dmae: Yeah. To follow up on that, when they are talking about money, what they're talking about usually, when they want to connect to the cultural community that the play production might be based on, they're talking about selling tickets. That's essentially the number one goal. That's what outreach... It's tied into marketing, rather than outreach tied into community building, outreach tied into inclusion artistically as well. So that's the difference, how Theatre Diaspora would work is that the partnering organization is in on the meetings, is in on decisions and same with MediaRites too. It isn't just, "Oh, we just want your name and we're not going to offer you anything else for that. We just need your name for the grant proposals."

Samson: Yeah. It's about demographics.

Dmae: And people-building and relationships. You have a relationship just for one show, it's not a relationship, not at all, it's more exploitation.

Yura Sapi: I wonder if arts organizations, how it becomes where an art organization is not a community organization, because for me, at least with LGBTQ+ art and healing space in Latin America, it's always been centered in the community. But thinking about art versus artists, and adding that understanding that it's about people and relationships, like you were saying... And so it puts me in a curious position about this, even this phrase "arts organizations" and how we're centering then potentially the product that in a capitalist society gets turned into... the conversation's always about money.

Samson: Yeah. I think it's important to think about redefining things, like redefining what success is and what progress is. Are we defining it by money? Are we talking about numbers? Or are we talking about the experiences and the connections that we're making? When we started talking to APANO about our current project, it's called Coming Out and Overcoming, they're writing workshops about Asian American and Pacific Islander community members that identify as LGBTQI+ and the queer community, and it's something that we're creating a space that is safe for us and to really uplift each other. Sometimes I wonder why organizations don't see the benefit in just creating that and just supporting the community.

Dmae: I also wonder, as theatre moves back into some kind of normalcy, all the racial reckoning that has been taking place and all the "We See You, White Theater" messages, I wonder if that's all going to go away. I wonder if that was just at a time when we had time to think about it and to do some self reflection, and I wonder if it's going to stick, frankly.

Samson: Yeah. I wonder sometimes if it is just performative. When they use the words "anti-racism, anti-oppression," when they had their solidarity statements, what does it actually mean? What are they actually doing other than putting out a statement?

Dmae: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. I see people, organizations, especially the larger organizations, already announcing their seasons, and it doesn't seem that different. I don't see anything about partnerships, I don't see anything about... Even in a community like Portland, even though there's a lot of theatre, there's only I think a handful of what would be called equity companies in Portland. It just seems to me that there's no consideration about connecting with the BIPOC theatres here. We have quite a few BIPOC theatres here, including Theatre Diaspora. When a decision is made to do an Asian American play or a Black play or a Latinx play, they really... There's no discussion with the BIPOC theatres to maybe coordinate their seasons.

Quite often, BIPOC theatres have planned things like an August Wilson play, and all of a sudden the larger theatre is doing an August Wilson or a Black-centered play. So there is this competition for actors, and so the actors have to choose like, "Do I work? I have to choose between two possible jobs that didn't space it out so that I could work both jobs." That's a decision, I think that is something that there could be more discussion with and sharing resources. But there's this competitive logic that we have to get things first, we have to produce it first, and not consider the community. I'd like to see that abolished, because I think it's very simple to have those connections, and that's just within the artistic community, that doesn't include being able to connect with community-based organizations, BIPOC community-based organizations, that might be planning their own events.

Most definitely. So I just see more investment in the art being the foremost, so we have to put all our resources into the big sets, the expensive costumes, the high production values, because we want to please the 95 percent of the audience members that buy tickets that want to see that. They charge a lot for those 95 percent of the people who want to see it, and I understand the logic of that, that's a money source, that's an economic reality. But there might be other people that don't need that, I certainly don't, I don't need to see all of that. I'd much rather see something that's authentic, I'd much rather see something that really connects and that also has the people who are being represented in the audience. So I'd much rather have that experience.

When Samson talked about that IRCO audience, the Immigrant Refugee Community Organization audience, I think that was one of the highlights for Theatre Diaspora. Samson was in the audience, so he could see people representing him in the audience, and that's so valuable to an actor. But I was in the audience watching the play and these were Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities with families, they were ages from ten and up, and they were so involved they didn't even know. Here's the difference, they came to the show, they were sitting in the lobby and it was a special event just for them. The theatre that we partnered with did not provide any food and they told us we couldn't have food, which we generally do for every Theatre Diaspora production, any event really. If you want community to come, you provide food.

So they were selling cookies and so there were some young Tongan kids who were like, "Is there any other food besides that?" Because they couldn't afford it, and I was going, "I wanted to give..." I could have brought them food, but the theatre didn't want us to, because they wanted to sell the cookies. Then I was talking, the theatre executive director was in the house, but not out in the lobby with the playwright, and we had flown in Prince Gomolvilas to see the play and I was out in the lobby and talking with the families and they thought they were coming to see a film. They didn't know what they were coming to see. So I went and got Prince Gomolvilas and took him out to the lobby and I said, "Here, here's your audience. We need to talk about your play and tell them who you are and have a direct connection with the families in the lobby."

So we explained what a two-act play was and what he was writing and what he does as a playwright, and this was not some formal talkback. This was, "Come on, let's talk to our audience because they don't know, there's no program because this is a preview, special preview, for them. So we're going to talk to them about what to expect." So we did that and the person who runs the theatre is like, "Oh, okay. Whatever." But then we went, when they saw the play, they were so involved. They were cheering and shouting at the right times, because it was a spooky play, and they enjoyed it. It was one of the best experiences I can remember sitting in the audience, especially of a production that we produced.

That is the kind of experience that I want. I don't want people to just sit there and go, "Oh, that was an interesting play. Let's dissect it." This was so involved and so memorable, and I remember there was a white reviewer, you're not supposed to review previews, but he came and he didn't like it, he didn't like all the cheering and all this stuff. He wrote that in his review, and I'm going, "Wow, guy, you really missed it. You missed the boat, you really did. You missed the whole experience."

Yura Sapi: It sounds like even though you all have built your own table and this idea of creating space for yourselves, for ourselves, still super attached or affected by so many of the actions that the predominantly white institutions, critics, people that exist in this region that you're in affects your community and your organization. So I'd love to know what's beyond that, what's beyond centering these white institutions, white people, and if that's possible or maybe what are you looking for towards the future in the ideal? Beyond maybe even what is potentially in the forefront as possible, what's the impossible and what does that look like? What does liberation look like?

Samson: Yeah. I think actually that moment, it helped us define what table we wanted. Because every organization was saying, "This is how we do things. This is how we do things and we'll always do it this way." We're questioning why, why are we always doing this? If it's steeped in white supremacy, why do you keep doing things the way you're doing them? For us to see what it felt like for the people that didn't feel like they belonged to actually belong, for them to hear their language spoken on stage, for them to see people that look like them on stage, we knew that was what we wanted to center around. We didn't want to center around white supremacy or the models that have always worked for white theatre companies.

So I know I, for one, for Theatre Diaspora, have been looking into other ways of funding, not only just these grants, but also what are ways that we can center community in fundraising? I know we found this resource online called Community-Centric Fundraising, and they have these principles that help us look at how we value time as money as well, how our volunteers are just as important as our donors. I'm also, someone told me about the characteristics of white supremacy by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, and that really helped me realize the ways in which white supremacy has been seeping into our culture and dictating how we do things. To be able to acknowledge that, I think in one of your episodes with Claudia Alick, you had said, "Acknowledgement is the first step of transformation."

That really stuck with me, because we're acknowledging the things that are wrong in our society and in our community so that we can steer clear of that, so we can fix it, so we can build something that isn't centered around that.

Yura Sapi: The 10 Principles of Community-Centric Fundraising, available at CommunityCentricFundraising.org. One, fundraising must be grounded in race, equity, and social justice. Two, individual organizational missions are not as important as the collective community. Three, nonprofits are generous with and mutually supportive of one another. Four, all who engage in strengthening the community are equally valued, whether volunteer, staff, donor, or board member. Five, time is valued equally as money. Six, we treat donors as partners and this means that we are transparent and occasionally have difficult conversations. Seven, we foster a sense of belonging, not othering. Eight, we promote the understanding that everyone—donors, staff, funders, board members, volunteers—personally benefits from engaging in the work of social justice. It's not just charity and compassion. Nine, we see the work of social justice as holistic and transformative, not transactional. Ten, we recognize that healing and liberation requires a commitment to economic justice.

Dmae: But I like this one where nonprofits are generous with and mutually supportive of one another, and time is valued equally as money. This is some of what Samson was talking about. Also, we foster a sense of belonging, not othering. We recognize or we see the work of social justice as holistic and transformative, not transactional. That's often the case, it's like, "Well, when we partner, what are you going to do for us?" It's like when we partner, what can we do for you? What are you looking at that you would like to work with? I think the model is always going to change, and this is something that's really hard for PWI theatres.

They want to have a working model and they want to do the same thing throughout the season and have the set routine. I think the model always has to change depending on the situation, depending on the community, depending on the production that you're doing. It has to change, because not every community is going to respond the same way. How could they?

Samson: I think a lot of people think that it's something easy to do just by putting out a solidarity statement or just these quick fixes, and I'm not going to lie, it's work, it's hard work that we have to do. So with the Accountability Collective, I think we all assume that there's one person that has power and that creates something. When people talk about the Accountability Collective, they say, "Oh, Samson founded that." When really, it just happened. We are a group of people that realized that there was a problem and wanted to help fix the problem.

We were thinking about the power structure and how we didn't want it to be a vertical power structure, like someone is on top and it goes down to the bottom. We wanted it to be a horizontal, and it was a difficult time trying to figure out how to make that work properly because we were so accustomed to this vertical power structure. We had to take into consideration that some ideas of white supremacy are also seeping into us, because that's what we knew, that's what was fed to us as we were growing up. Some examples of that is sense of urgency or perfectionism, and we had to put those aside and really think about how we work together. We tried as much as possible to empower each other and to also not put more on each other's plates, or only take what we can take on.

Dmae: Yeah. I want to follow up on that idea of white supremacy within ourselves. As a biracial Asian American, white and Taiwanese, I constantly throughout my life have been looking inward to see, to judge, my own actions. Am I doing this particular thing or having this kind of response because I'm more— I have lived with some privilege in the way some people treat me? Or am I behaving a certain way because this is the way my mom behaved and I learned it from her? So it's like this constant self reflection. When I talked about how, I don't think I have talked about it, but when there's this bridge building concept, mixed-race people are often looked at as bridge builders, because we are bridging the races.

Quite often, we are, because you can understand certain things from different angles and different cultures from different angles, but you also get tired of building bridges when it looks like nobody else is building that bridge, or when white dominant culture isn't helping out on that bridge. So right now, I see a lot of efforts to bridge build because of the racial reckoning and the self reflection and the anti-racism statements, but I wonder if that bridge is just going to go unfinished. Because there's so much more to do, there's so much more, you can see that, you can tell them, but there again, why is it the responsibility of BIPOC people to inform white organizations? Why is it our responsibility to give them the information?

I don't think it is, and for free, right? So there are several steps that need to take place after this. There has to be the aspect of being able to compensate monetarily or through cultural consultation, or there has to be a way of sharing major resources. Whether it's the building, a venue, whether it is actual money behind the production, whether it is putting dollars into partner organizations so that they can do the work of being able to get people to the theatre. It's a big deal for a community that is not used to going to theatre to go to the theatre. It isn't just, "Oh, here's some tickets, sit in the lobby and see the show." It's like, "Here are the actors, here are the playwrights."

That's why I introduced the playwright to the group that was there that night from IRCO, we need to have a personal connection. When Samson and I have done the readings, we have gone to college classes to be able to talk to some of the students about what we were doing, so that they would feel more involved in being able to come see the show. It is that kind of direct contact that's so important. It's also looking at what that organization might want, besides coming to see the show. Do they need transportation? Do they need to have free parking? Yeah, you're going to get them to pay for tickets? Well, there are so many foundations that would love to give that theatre money to do all of that, but they don't necessarily know how or maybe they don't want to do it. I don't know, because it's very involved. So it's like these personal connections, what can we do? There's so much more and I just don't know if that's going to be followed through.

Yura Sapi: Thank you so much for sharing everything you have. My last question before we close out, I'd love to know if you have any final tips or resources you might give to anybody who might be thinking about starting their own organization, building their own table in their community, maybe a similar situation with being in a city like Portland or a state like Oregon where the visibility maybe isn't there yet even. Any advice you have for folks?

Samson: Dmae, do you want to start?

Dmae: Yeah, that's a tough one. I think you really have to work with people that you trust and you have to keep building it, and you have to do a lot of self reflection and you will make mistakes. You will always make mistakes, but if you can learn from them and keep talking... It's the hardest thing to do really, we're here communicating to each other, but communication and listening is the hardest thing. In some ways, it's the easiest thing, right? But honestly, without Samson and the group that we have now for Theatre Diaspora, I just don't know how it would have happened. Because it's not one person that can do this kind of work, it has to be a community of people.

Samson: Yeah, I agree. I recently did a lot of research into cross-cultural communication and I think that's redefined how I speak to people and how I hear people. I think that's very important and crucial to having an organization that runs properly. Again, the characteristics of white supremacy, just to be aware of those and to steer clear of them, a lot of the issues that we came up against were based on these characteristics. Also, the Community-Centric Fundraising website was really helpful in opening our eyes to other ways, and I think taking a risk in not following how things are.

Samson: If you're going to create your own table, create the table that you want and don't base it off of other people's tables, because that's not going to work for you. Usually they're inaccessible, they're created for a certain type of person, and if you want to create a new table, you create a new table.

Dmae: Well said.

Yura Sapi: Yeah. Or maybe not even a table, the table itself...

Samson: Yeah, exactly. Why do we have to be confined to a table?

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. Thanks, everyone. Yapaychani.

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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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