We in the theater like to think we're so open-minded and so inclusive that we don't even need a diversity officer. But the statistics for inclusion of women and artists of color belie that argument. Moreover the mark of someone who is truly open-minded is one who has the humility to recognize when they need an outside perspective. I keep hearing "it's getting better," but it's called "best practices," not "better practices." By the time it gets best, we'll be dead.
You need a diversity officer because -
1) national demographics are shifting
2) if the theater hopes to shape the national discourse, then the plays we put out should reflect the diversity and values of all Americans
3) theaters are publicly-funded institutions that are accountable to the populations they serve
4) the only way to attract new audiences is by widening the perspective of the stories we tell;
6) as forward-minded as we like to think that we are in this industry, the theater is actually lagging behind corporate America when it comes to putting women and people of color in power positions.
If you can't afford to hire a diversity officer, get an artist to volunteer as one. But really consider whether you can or can't afford one. Because I would argue that what you really can't afford is to alienate your audience and lose the faith of the artists who comprise your community. While nobody seeks to offend, we all have our blind spots. In the past year alone, I've witnessed...
- one member-based theater that offended their female artists by putting out a season of plays that was nearly entirely written by men
- several theaters that offended the Asian community by staging stories set in Asia without casting any Asian actors
- one play with a depiction of a transgendered character that was so offensive to a transgendered audience member that he wrote a protest letter to the producing theater
A diversity officer would have been able to help in all of those situations, and those were just the situations that erupted in controversy. Behind the scenes, a diversity officer would be able to contribute perspective on all of the hundreds of microdecisions that go on in a theater every day.