Village Theatre Youth Education Racial Equity Plan

June 18, 2020

Dear Village Theatre Patrons, KIDSTAGE Families, and Teaching Artists,

People have been asking what specific actions Village Theatre will take to center racial equity/anti-racism in the organization. What will we actually do to back up statements we have made about Black Lives Matter? I would like to personally address the question for the Youth Education programs.

The focus of the KIDSTAGE program is on youth voice and leadership. We have three distinct areas of unquestionable responsibility in the effort to create a more just and equitable society.

First: We are storytellers. Our students tell stories to the public through the productions and curriculum we chose. Storytelling is a powerful shaper of the notions we get about the world and its people, and therefore ourselves. That young people tell these stories in our programs makes it even more important for us to have these questions in the forefront of our minds: Who writes the stories? Who is the story about? Who decides what story to tell? Who is the audience and what message does it send into the world? Who are the young actors and how are we helping them, and the audience make sense of the themes of the story? Who is and isn’t in the room? Who is directing and designing those stories?

Second: We develop future storytellers. They are the writers, directors, designers, and producers of the future and will be in charge of the stories we hear. Who gets to be in these special programs? How are students selected? Do they have to pay? Who are their mentors and teachers? How are we eliminating barriers to and lifting up the voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and their stories?

Third: We are educators. We have direct influence on young people who will impact our culture and society. We serve a racially diverse group of students. What are our program’s core values? Who decides what we teach and how? How are we ensuring an anti-racist curriculum and culture? 

As a white woman with privilege, I am rigorously interrogating my leadership practices and the program and organization overall. Since becoming engaged in the work of racial equity I did not go deeply enough personally and did not do enough to root out the norms and built in assumptions of dominant culture that can be harmful, particularly to BIPOC and pervade our programs and how we function. Also, we did not share our equity planning work and actions widely enough, nor engage deeply enough with our BIPOC community of students, staff, and teaching artists to create it and to ensure we are held accountable to it.

We commit to constructing a healthier culture and practices so everyone can show up and work and learn as their authentic self, where BIPOC, including students, hold leadership positions and where young people tell and create stories that represent our entire world and community.

One of the first actions we will take is to establish a work group that includes BIPOC staff, student and artists guided by a racial equity/anti-racist planning specialist. This will not be a place to educate white people. Although that will happen as well. This group will deconstruct and reconstruct the existing racial equity/anti-racist action plan to ensure it meets the actual needs of our BIPOC community. We must have everyone “in the room where it happens.”  The full action plan is below.

Black Lives Matter. We will reinvigorate this work.   

With an open heart and mind, and resolve,

Kati Nickerson
Director of Youth Education and Community Outreach

Village Theatre Youth Education
Racial Equity/Anti-Racism Original Plan (2015)
with brief evaluation and identified actions (2020)

The work on racial equity became an organizational and programmatic commitment in 2015 when Robb Hunt (Executive Producer), Kati Nickerson (Director of Youth Education & Community Outreach), and a board member attended “Racial Equity in the Arts,” an in-depth workshop by Seattle Arts and Culture and Seattle Race and Social Justice. We created and began following a plan of action to eliminate barriers and amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in our student community.

The youth education plan was reviewed by several Black teaching artists and leaders from the Snohomish County NAACP. We did not share it widely or involve the BIPOC stakeholders in the creation of it. That was a mistake. The plan did create some positive changes primarily in improving access to BIPOC, training staff, and hiring of BIPOC, but we have much further to go and have made many mistakes along the way.

Action steps are in bold and italics. The equity plan and action steps can and will change as we actively center anti-racism and reconstruct this plan through a diverse consortium of staff and teaching artists.

  1. Actively assess and address oppressive white cultural norms in our programs, processes, and leadership practices (hierarchical structure, perfectionism, defensiveness, revenue over purpose, progress = bigger/more, fear of open conflict, urgency, either/or thinking, etc.). Work to create a more intentional and safe environment with more BIPOC leadership, teaching artists and students and representing the global majority in many of our shows and materials.
    One of the most important actions in this work. We have not done enough. The director of the program and staff will do personal work and receive training and coaching in this area. We will take an unflinching look at how dominant cultural norms show up so we can be intentional about creating a safe and brave space where everyone can bring their whole selves.
  1. Publicly Name Our Values, Goals and Actions and post them online, in brochures and in our buildings. So far only this statement is posted: “Village Theatre KIDSTAGE believes that everyone benefits from an inclusive, multi-cultural environment of students, staff and programming. We welcome people of every ethnicity, race, faith, sexual orientation, gender identity, income and ability.”
    This statement centers white culture as the norm and focuses on access and we will be redrafting it by February 2021.
  1. Actively seek and hire staff for leadership positions that represent our diverse student community.
    We must also examine our culture and onboarding practices to ensure BIPOC feel at home. (see #1)
  1. Anti-Racism/Social Justice in the Classroom training for staff, teaching artists and directors. Since 2015 we have offered two robust trainings per year but last year we only offered one.
    We will now be incorporating anti-racism education into every training starting immediately.
  1. The Bridge Program for Elementary Schools: Participation in the arts at a young age is the main predictor of involvement in the future. And we believe that access to the arts builds crucial life skills. We provide student matinees and free workshops and residencies for schools with a high percentage of low-income students.
    We provide many free workshops and although we have made more in-depth residency programs available, we have not established a partnership with any low-income schools. We will prioritize relationship building with two low-income schools.
  1. Ensure curriculum and musicals include and represent voices, stories and writers from the global majority. We recognize that the musical theatre industry is predominately led by white men; we provide musical-writing programs that give students the opportunity to write their own stories—and to gain skills and awareness to become future professional storytellers and producers.
    We are currently discussing the expansion of the writing program and to incorporate a season selection team that includes BIPOC directors and students.
  1. Ensure programs are financially accessible to all students: 25%–100% scholarships are available. No questions asked. This has led to an increase in scholarships by 300%.
    This is about access, which leads to more BIPOC involvement in the arts, but does not address our culture.
  1. Race-Conscious Casting: Here is what we say in our season announcements: “KIDSTAGE strives for race-conscious casting—to intentionally and purposefully consider race and ethnicity in character decisions. The stage should reflect the diversity of our community and race is acknowledged in, and ideally deepens, theatrical conversations. Race-conscious casting honors culture and fosters equity. Characters in the selected shows can be played by actors of any race/ethnicity unless otherwise noted.”
  1. Put our budget where our mouth is: We dedicate $8,000 a year to training and nearly $400,000 to scholarships and free programs.
    We will restructure our financial architecture to allow for more paid internships and more artistic projects that develop young voices and future leaders in the industry. Starting September of 2020.
  1. Updated April 14: Internships and Cost-of-living Scholarships: Village Theatre provides stipends to offset expenses for interns. Beginning in the summer of 2022, we will begin offering cost-of-living scholarships to those with financial need and other barriers to involvement in our internship programs.
  1. Data for assessment purposes: Student, cast member, and employee demographic data helps inform our decisions. Village Theatre youth education programs serve 59% BISOC overall and 35% in the KIDSTAGE program. This represents a growth of nearly 100% in the KIDSTAGE program since 2015.
    This is a measure of access not equity.