Theater J’s Anti-Racism and Inclusion Values and Commitments
As the leading Jewish theater company in the US, Theater J strives to infuse Jewish values in every aspect of what we do. We place special emphasis on the value of tikkun olam: repairing the world. It is through this lens that we acknowledge that white American theater has created and benefitted from a foundation of systemic racism and oppression that has harmed generations of BIPOC artists, technicians, and producers. Theater J is committed to being an inclusive, anti-racist, and anti-oppressive institution.
Theater J is a Jewish theater, and a program of the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center. We tell stories of Jewish culture, history, and faith that speak to both the Jewish experience and the universal human condition. Being Jewish is not particular to any one demographic, one set of beliefs, or one singular identity; for example, ethnically and racially diverse Jews represent a significant portion of the Jewish population in the US. As with many communities, Jews are and have been both victims of persecution and beneficiaries of privilege; our histories tell stories of antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, and oppression in a multitude of forms. By producing and presenting both new and classic Jewish stories for our stage, we seek to teach empathy, create community and commonality, and reflect the world back to our audience so they can help make it a better place for everyone. We are committed to doing that work in a more just way, both onstage and off.
The action items listed below are only some of our commitments in this work, which we see as a constant journey toward a more just world. We will update this list regularly. We commit to listening and learning as we develop these practices further.
- Judaism is both multi-cultural and multi-racial; we are committed to seeking more representation of ethnically and racially diverse Jews on our stage, in our audience, on our staff, and in our leadership.
- In early 2022, Theater J announced a commissioning program, Expanding the Canon, to commission seven new plays by and about ethnically and racially diverse Jews. You can read more about it here.
- In the 2022-2023 season, we will be producing a play by a Mizrachi playwright.
- We commit to producing Jewish plays written by artists of color.
- Theater J has revised our script submission policy, which previously required a playwright to have an agent to submit a play (with very few exceptions). We now invite unrepresented BIPOC artists who have written plays that meet our mission to submit those plays directly to us.
- In 2022, we are producing Fires in the Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith. In the 2022-2023 season, we will be producing Lynne Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.
- We commit to producing more plays that explore the intersections of Jewish and BIPOC lives.
- In the 2021-2022 season, we are producing Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror.
- Three of the six plays that Theater J will be producing in the 2022-2023 season explore the intersections of Jewish and BIPOC lives: Intimate Apparel; Gloria: A Life; and One Jewish Boy.
- Theater J has offered three classes about plays that explore the intersections of Black and Jewish lives, co-taught by former Theater J Artistic Director Adam Immerwahr and actress Felicia Curry.
- The greatest subsidizers of the US theater are theatermakers working below livable wages, and this presents a disproportionate barrier to entry for BIPOC artists. Union rates, which are set nationally, are often too low to survive on in the DC metropolitan region. Theater J commits to publishing our actual rates for all artistic positions in all breakdowns and employment notices (when allowed by the theatrical unions), as well as listing information about our artistic salaries on our website.
- We strive to communicate clearly to our artist community during the casting process, so that actors can be sure of whether they are eligible to be cast in specific roles. Many roles at Theater J are cast with an eye toward multi-racial inclusivity. But as a Jewish theater, we often produce plays in which we feel that white Jewish ethnicity is essential to the play and the production, such as in Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy, in which characters have been arrested because they have physical characteristics perceived as being those of Ashkenazi Jews. We have had and will continue to have multi-racial casts playing Jewish roles in plays in which white Jewish ethnicity is not essential, such as in many of the plays of the Yiddish theater. We commit to publishing a clear explanation of our casting policy and communicating the specific casting goals of each production more clearly in all of our casting breakdowns.
- We compensate artists at all talkbacks and donor events outside of rehearsal hours at which they will be expected to speak publicly.
- We also know that artist talkbacks can be places that are or feel unsafe to BIPOC artists, particularly when those artists are invited to participate with a predominantly white audience. We have developed a set of intervention protocols for these harmful incidents and ensure that facilitators are culturally competent and well-versed in these protocols.
- We have a full and comprehensive feedback and review process for all current staff members, holding both managers and employees accountable for furthering anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and inclusive practices. All departing staff members have exit interviews. We disseminate an anonymized survey to all departing artists and show-specific production staff, the results of which are shared with staff, executive leadership, and lay leadership.
- We review all job descriptions before they are published to ensure that all positions are available to the widest pool of applicants.
- All of our show-specific and full-time staff have access to the HR department of the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center. A representative from HR attends first rehearsal to introduce themselves.
- All artists who are employees are given access to our Employee Assistance Program, which offers 24/7 confidential access to licensed professional counselors, as well as financial planning and legal support.
- All artists, technicians, and staff at Theater J, even if they are only working on-site for a few hours, are required to complete an anti-racism training/orientation prior to the commencement of their work. The training was designed by Michael Bobbitt, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and features sections on Jews of Color as well as the principles of bystander intervention. There is an alternate training available for BIPOC/Global Majority artists, technicians and staff which includes sections on self-care and healing from racial harm.
- Along with our colleagues at the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, all full-time Theater J staff (and many of our volunteer leaders) are completing in 2022 a several months-long training and consulting with Dimensions Educational Consulting.
- Through our Passports Free Ticket Program, we offer free tickets to communities that are historically underserved by the arts, such as those in womens’ shelters and homeless shelters.
- Theater J partners with the Charles E. Smith Living Communities to ensure that access to the arts is provided to residents who are not always able to attend theater in person.
- We regularly partner with our sister programs at the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, including the Morris Cafritz Center for Social Responsibility, the Inclusion & Disabilities Program, and the Early Childhood, Youth and Families Programs.
- We know that the burdens of being a parent and caregiver can have disproportionate impacts on BIPOC theatermakers (artists and technicians). We have created a Parent/Caregiving Committee that seeks to find ways in which artists and technicians who are parents and/or caregivers can be better supported in our practices.
- We disseminate the full rehearsal schedule (including planned rehearsal times) at least 45 days in advance of first rehearsal so that theatermakers can better plan for their parenting and caregiving needs.
- We share a policy about how and when parents can bring children to the workplace when caregiving needs arise.
- A lactation space is provided for those who need it, along with a fridge to store breast milk.
- We proactively reach out to all incoming theatermakers and let them know about our Parent/Caregiving Committee, inviting theatermakers to share their needs with us, rather than placing the burden on the theatermakers to initiate that conversation.
- We do not hold “ten out of twelve” rehearsals. Furthermore, we commit to ending all rehearsals at least one hour prior to the last scheduled Metro train, so that artists and technicians who rely on public transportation will not be disproportionately burdened by our rehearsal schedule.
- We have completed a vendor audit of the concessions we sell in our lobby, and now ensure that a portion of our concessions are made by BIPOC-owned companies. In order to be inclusive of everyone, all concessions throughout the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community are Kosher.
- We share our land acknowledgement in all our programs, on our website, and at every first rehearsal.
- Our current land acknowledgment reads: Our building sits on the traditional homeland of the Nacotchtank (Anacostan), farmers and traders who lived along the banks of the Anacostia River. Beginning in 1608, European settlers decimated the Nacotchtank with disease, warfare, and forced removal. By the 1700s, the survivors fled to join other tribes to the north, south, and west, including the Piscataway Peoples, who continue to steward these lands from generation to generation. We know this acknowledgement is only a small step towards justice, and we ask that all of us learn about the past and present and invest in the future of our country’s Indigenous communities wherever we are.
- We encourage the sharing of pronouns (for those who are comfortable doing so) whenever we introduce ourselves, including at first rehearsal and the beginning of technical rehearsals. We have ensured that all of our forms and contracts have gender inclusive language.
- For information on Theater J’s access & inclusion initiatives, visit our Accessibility page here.
- A Theater J staff committee meets regularly to hold ourselves accountable to all of these commitments, as does a working group of the Theater J Council (our advisory and ambassadorial body). Theater J Artistic and Managing Directors of Theater J report to the CEO and CFO of the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center.
We invite our community to share their input with us and hold us accountable; please send comments to Managing Director David Lloyd Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First Published October 2020
Updated August 2021
Updated April 2022
We’re immensely grateful to WeSeeYouWAT for their list of Demands for White American Theatre, which have helped us in the development of these commitments.