You Don’t Have to be an Ally, but Don’t be an Enemy

A Response to the Jubilee Responses

As someone for whom the Jubilee proposal might (might) open a door or two, I read it with great interest and a gleam of hope. For those who might see a door or two temporarily closing, I heard some trepidation and some outright fury. Who will Jubilee close doors for, albeit at just some theatres for just one season? Straight white non-disabled cisgendered men. The biggest constituency on American stages today and yesterday and the day before that and many tomorrows.

I’m an American playwright and the American theatre has been telling me it’s not for me all my life. So throwing a tantrum is not a crazy response, but consider: when women and POCs speak up about systemic sexism and racism, we are risking our careers.

Is that fair? After all, in the theatre, you don’t gain from productions you don’t get. You don’t expand professionally from having your nose pressed to the glass. I know. So this is a gentle intervention for those who are pissed off, or just seriously worried.

I’ve never read a call for submissions that openly stated “there will be one slot held for a female playwright, unless we just don’t feel like it this year.” But look through enough festival histories and the four-guys-one-woman pattern is a well-established thing. The mainstage is even worse. That’s the reality. When I go for an opportunity, I’m really competing for a much smaller, much more limited slice of the pie than advertised. It’s the same (and worse) for artists of color. Apparently, nobody means to do this, but it’s done. And really, don’t bother denying it. Since The Count, no one with any sense is buying that argument.

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Kirk Lynn, co-producing artistic director of Rude Mechs in Austin, had the original idea for the Jubilee and invited colleagues to make up the committee.

You may think I don’t empathize with your situation, but I can and I do. As someone whose opportunities have always been more limited, I know how it feels. How would I react to a contraction of my already-piddling chances? I see two choices: throw a tantrum or get creative.

The tantrum is easy and on display all over the Internet. Cries of “Reverse discrimination!” and “All lives matter!” are commonplace. There’s a clear script for throwing a big old white riot.

What does the alternate creative and positive response look like? I only know what I’d do. I’d network like mad. Go to every show I could manage. Volunteer. Get out there, be visible, be a supporter, use the opportunity to discover new potential collaborators. Frankly, do it in the hopes of becoming a known quantity, someone an artistic director might take a chance on down the road. This isn’t a Pollyanna suggestion: this is what I do now, facing my contracted opportunities. Those of us who are fighting an uphill battle just to be seen or considered are used to finding creative workarounds. Go self-produce something. Put your head down and write like mad. Make it work for you.

Your very public online tantrum says so much about you, so be sure you really stand behind what you say.

OK, you’re still mad that Jubilee is not for you. I get it. I’m an American playwright and the American theatre has been telling me it’s not for me all my life. So throwing a tantrum is not a crazy response, but consider: when women and POCs speak up about systemic sexism and racism, we are risking our careers. We get labeled as bitches and whiners (see recent yellowface Mikado flap or any online forum on any topic in which any woman dared voice an opinion ever). Check out the nasty backlash and consider: do you want this? Your very public online tantrum says so much about you, so be sure you really stand behind what you say. I’ve read responses to Jubilee that actually state that systemic sexism/racism is OK because no one flat out comes out and says No “You People” Allowed. You’re free to say it; that’s your right. But the rest of America is not going away. You get to choose your response to change. You can attack your fellow artists, or you can do something else—something positive and worthwhile.

You don’t have to be an ally. But don’t be an enemy. Sure, there are theatres and theatremakers I harbor some bitterness toward. There have been bad days, bad communication, and bad productions. But to stay in the game, I need to salt that eggplant of unhappiness and let it sit in the colander for a while. Because as much as I like a bitter drink or a bitter green, no one likes a bitter playwright. And no one likes an entitled white guy screaming in her face that she doesn’t deserve a shot. When you cool down, you’re not going to like the picture, either.

So: deep breaths. It’s not until 2020. We’ve all got a lot of writing and working and rehearsing and theatre-going and meeting-and-greeting to do between now and then. Go out there and be a force. Make people see past the fact that you’re a straight white guy and treat you as an individual. Help people stop making biased assumptions about your personal life or your economic situation or your talent based on your skin color, gender, and sexual orientation alone. One year, one Jubilee season, is not going to destroy your career, halt your momentum, or sideline you forever. If the rest of us are still here, still writing, still showing up despite our marginal opportunities, you can do the same. We’re all in the same boat. We all want to tell our stories, on stage, right now.

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Look, nobody needs to be excluded. That's a fact. I'm very glad this idea has been floated as it has instantly raised debate. But no one needs to be excluded. Why not allow theatres to guarantee slots for women, men, gay-straight philapino-hell-if-I-know? How about slots for unproduced writers? This could easily be done and address all of our concerns as a community.

In the history of affirmative action, students given chances through this policy have excelled. Which meant it did open doors for a lot of qualified people. But we didn't slam the door on everyone else.

And it would be a hell of a lot easier to apply this approach then to ban white dudes.

Nobody needs to be excluded. Nobody should be. Think about that: nobody should be excluded.

yeah, but, like, nobody answered my dumb questions about how the jubilee year is framed, how pedagogical objectives and/or straight-up learning moments are collected and disseminated, whether the committee will be able to take on a big ol' task like data collection, dissemination (see above), tsk-tsk'ing the big theaters that try to jump on the jubilee wagon for some good press but bail at the last minute due to all the excuses you mentioned, Catherine.

now i ain't no rabble-rousing roustabout, in fact i both personally and professionally think the jubilee year is a cool idea. but seems like all i've read about it are plain shitfits and writerly shitfits. PUH-LEASE, publish some kind of real plan with real accountability and real support from the philanthropic community, the educational community, the community-community, so i can see how my major regional theater fits into this thing (if at all).

I'm looking forward to that as well! We've seen a manifesto, not a plan. Judging by the caliber of the people on the committee, I am definitely expecting a plan. I don't think this was a random bomb-throw. I'm not part of the Jubilee committee, so unfortunately I have no further intel for you!

totally! my point here is that i (much like you, i'm guessing) would love to see the comment section be geared toward facilitation and/or bricklaying for that plan, as opposed to (what seems to be) vacuous ideologizing. if you have beef with the inclusion aspect, how might that be remediated, or at least mediated, in the execution of the jubilee year? i say treat it like a real PROJECT, not some one-and-done yawp over the rooftops of the theater world.

I posted this modest counter-proposal on the American Theatre facebook page. I believe it addresses most of the valid concerns raised in the comments section while still maintaining the laudable spirit of the Jubilee. I don't think it's either bigoted or a shitfit.

A Jubilee year would be:

1. At least 50% Female playwrights2. At least 50% by POC3. 100% plays by playwrights not-previously produced at that theatre.

-- This would accomplish the goal of causing theatres to create new relationships with playwrights they might not have encountered before.

-- A theatre could certainly do a no-SWM season if it wished.

-- Disabled and LGBTQA artists would not need to reveal qualities that might be otherwise invisible and private.

--Theatres that have already served specific populations would still make new relationships during the Jubilee year.

I think this proposal is less exclusionary and objectionable while still maintaining the laudable spirit of the Jubilee. (As it stands a season of Our Town/Streetcar/Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf/The Importance of Being Earnest would count, and I don't think anyone could argue that is serving new, underrepresented voices in the theatre. Likewise, doing yet another production of Fences might not qualify for many theatres.)

I, too, would qualify for the Jubilee, and I agree the problems it's designed to address are real. I raised reasonable questions. I called the troll a troll.

You ignore every objection, and write as if the one troll in the previous comment thread invalidates the non-troll posts. Others in this new thread state unambiguously that those who raise questions are de facto bigots.

I would be *happy* if every theater in New York announced an all-women's season. I don't assert "exclusion" because *all* curation is exclusion.

My basic objections (which I won't repeat in detail here) are the extension of the idea to the realm of the absurd, such as including gay men in the "unheard" category. Oppressed? Absolutely. Underproduced? Seriously?

This essay is a good illustration of what’s troubling aboutthe Jubilee as currently construed.

Catherine Castellani seems to view as the “enemy” and an “entitledwhite guy screaming” – not to mention implicitly a bigot and a hypocrite –anybody who is not 100 percent behind the Jubilee idea.

I don’t see any acknowledgement that some concerns may belegitimate, that people expressing those concerns may in fact not be bigots ormyopically self-centered – they may indeed agree that the theater has not beeninclusive enough and simply disagree on what to do about it.

I am not a theater artist, I’m a theater critic; if I were atheater artist, I would qualify as a Jubilee participant. Yet I was impressedby some of the concerns expressed by Don Zolidis, NeoAdamite and babelwright, among others, in the comments section of the original Welcome to the Jubilee article.

I’m sure Catherine Castellani has legitimate reasons to feelresentful at the current system. Is the answer to try to make her “privileged”colleagues feel the sting of exclusion as she has felt it? When I readsentences like “Make people see past the fact that you’re a straight white guyand treat you as an individual” what I hear is “Ha- ha, the tables have turned. How do you like them apples?” There is something beyond unpleasantly patronizing about this attitude. It smacks of revenge. The French Revolution and the Cultural Revolution are examples of movements fueled byrevenge. Nelson Mandela’s post-apartheid society is an example of a better solution.

When I look up the definition of “inclusive” in thedictionary, I see “embracing.”

I certainly don't want to see the French Revolution break out in the American theater, and I don't think there's a word in this article that advocates such a thing. I think there are plenty of legitimate questions to ask about Jubilee. There are also respectful ways to ask those questions. This article is not a comprehensive response to all possible reactions to the Jubilee proposal, and I'm sure this won't be the last word. Speaking up thoughtfully, and even forcefully, doesn't make you the enemy. Sadly, there was a stripe of response that was anything but respectful.

I'm delighted you don't want to see anybody guillotined. I'm hoping you also won't use your sharp wit to slice up anybody whom you judge insufficiently respectful in expressing their views. Since you didn't give any concrete examples of these initial uncivilized reactions, all I have to go on are the comments I read on the original Howlround article and your belittling attacks on the critics, who you say are engaging in "tantrums" and a "big old white riot" --attacks which don't strike me as the epitome of respectful expression themselves.

The reason Catherine's argument is solid is because of all the vitriol inherent in many of comments of dissent in Welcome to the Jubilee. I don't think anyone is being a closeted bigot in their comments. They're just being bigots, period. Some polite, some not so. It's actually fine. It shows why the Jubilee is an important call for action in which one very dominant specific group is being asked to do many things: support, collaborate or step back and observe.

If you aren't able to read into the well-constructed, but ultimately misinformed, arguments for what they are, then you may want to sit down with any of the populations that the Jubilee is aiming to uplift and have those people give voice to them, one by one. You would quickly see why "This isn't _______ist or ___phobic." is actually very much that.

This isn't about an "enemy" as you point out. It's about a systematic problem that goes across all fields from theater to the the public and private sectors. There's just a committee of people who have decided to voice that there is an issue and they've come up with a creative way to deal with it.

Enlighten me. I truly don't understand how you don't see that most of the comments in that HowlRound thread are counterproductive themselves and why they wouldn't upset you.

I'm not taking myself out of the bigot over-privileged category, either. I've watched my own mind say idiotic things I'm embarrassed about, but then I examine them and call upon trusted friends to help me understand the roots of that -ism/ -phobia.

I think the Jubilee gives us the opportunity to deal with that head on.

What upsets me – and I really do find it upsetting – is aproposed solution that excludes in the name of inclusion, and that somehow encourages its proponents to attack individuals as morally inferior for having concerns.I think it's admirable that you examine your own prejudices, and maybe the Jubilee as currently construed would be personally beneficial to you. But what about the people who have expressed their reservations about the idea -- who feel antagonized by it? Is your answer just to dismiss them all as bigots? Is there no possibility that this could indicate a flawed idea rather than depraved opponents?

Bigot is the wrong word. I was reacting and apologize. Both you and @NeoAdamite:disqus point that out above. I was reacting to two individuals in particular whose comments were nothing short of disturbing, especially the piece on Bitter Lemons (which was hyperlinked several times in the initial Jubilee post) that is a sad testament to any kind of human progress.

Here's my issue: Nitpicking. I'm a straight white male and I only see the Jubilee as beneficial to me. It gives me tremendous opportunities and options. Yes, it could put my writing on hold if I chose to only write by myself. What if I choose to collaborate with two other writers though who the Jubilee serves? This is voluntary and can be remixed in any fashion the people see fit.

I see the people taking issue as just digging into mico-arguments rather than choosing, and more so, CREATING options. I can look at this as a call to action for exclusion because of how I identify and the body I was born into, or I can view it as a method for real change.

What about... what about... are all well and good but there's not one iota of language that straight white males are banned from the 2020-21 season.