Majestic Theatre Diversity Council Report
This report represents the culmination of the first year of work by the newly formed Majestic Theatre Diversity Council (MTDC). It will lay the foundation for changes to procedures and programs at the Majestic Theatre which will begin the process of making it an organization that proactively supports diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), and justice in our community. This report is the beginning of the work, not the end. The process and procedures at the Majestic will continue to evolve as the process unfolds.
In June 2019, Theatre Supervisor Jimbo Ivy began the process of forming what would become the MTDC after a series of incidents of behavior that was harmful towards marginalized communities over the previous years following the point at which the Corvallis Parks and Recreation department took over management of the Majestic Theatre in 2015. The purpose of forming the council was to address these incidents and move the organization towards being a safe and support venue for our community. Examples of the types of behavior and situations that had been occurring at in the community theatre programs included:
Cultural appropriation and distortion
Offensive depictions of marginalized communities
Whitewashing, wherein white actors were portraying characters from marginalized communities or blackfacing wherein white actors darkened their skin to do so.
Amplification of racist or offensive attitudes
Lack of outreach to and signalling that folx from marginalized communities were welcome and wanted in the theatre programs
Lack of programs or program features that make space for marginalized communities
The MTDC is a council made up of community members and professionals who are passionate about diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. There are over a dozen members representing a wide array of marginalized communities who have not been adequately represented in previous Majestic Theatre programming or procedure. The members of the council are appointed by the Theatre Supervisor and they in turn form an Executive Committee which is currently led by Chairperson, Brandi Douglas.
This report will convey the initial efforts Majestic staff will employ to address these problems and to create a safe and supportive environment for marginalized communities at the Majestic. The approach will happen in general three sections: Outreach, Procedure, and Programming.
Outreach to marginalized communities and support organizations in the Corvallis area will take place at the Theatre Supervisor and MTDC level in an effort to build partnerships and as a starting point for relationships with the Majestic. The MTDC Chairperson and Theatre Supervisor will create and execute a strategic program to connect the Majestic Theatre’s programming and spaces to as many different communities as possible. This program will begin with organizations, but should extend to the individual level. Especially with regards to the Theatre Supervisor, this work needs to occur on a one on one basis and in person, so that these communities can see that a representative from the City wants to work with them in partnership on what their needs are, not what DEI box they can check for the organization. Literally, this work would take the form of meetings with leaders of support organizations and cultural touchstones for marginalized communities. The principle technique would be to establish contact, express the intention of the DEI work being done at the Majestic, and then inquire as to how the City of Corvallis can support the needs of the community via the venue or in other avenues. Once trust and partnership by actions is established, the community would become part of the announcement and invitation mechanisms that provide opportunities for individuals to engage programming. Thus, once the relationship is established and the Majestic becomes associated with allyship, the folx from that community will begin to feel welcome to engage with targeted and general programming.
The offensive and harmful behavior within Majestic Theatre programs stems from the lack of procedures and training in place to set good expectations and combat bias, harm, and ignorance. The principal areas in which training and procedure changes need to occur are in the Majestic staff and the Majestic volunteers. This report will address each in turn.
Majestic staff will receive annual training focused on implicit bias, cultural appropriation, empathy and perspective taking from a professional diversity and equity training provider. This training will lay out foundational concepts and then apply them to actual theatre situations that commonly occur. This training will guide them in making decisions and in their approach to customer service for our community. It will also provide a basis for making decisions about whether or not content or behavior is acceptable by giving them the skills to see beyond their own bias.
Procedurally, the question of whether or not a particular choice, play, concept, or other consideration should be allowed to occur as part of a Majestic program will be based upon whether or not the benefit of its artistic presentation outweighs any harm it may cause an audience member from a marginalized community. If there is any question, staff will consult the Theater Supervisor. If the Theatre Supervisor has any question, they will consult the MTDC Executive Committee. The ultimate decision will be the Theatre Supervisor’s and in such cases the tactic will be to always err on the side of not allowing content that may be potentially harmful to our marginalized communities. It is far better to not allow the presentation of material that could harm members of a marginalized community than it is to artistically interrogate or investigate such content.
Training and education on diversity, equity, and inclusion are needed at two levels within Majestic Theatre programming; leaders and participants. The leaders of Majestic programs have the most power to affect the experiences of the volunteers working under them and the general audience. The typical positions of volunteer leadership are directors, choreographers, producers, and other creative leads. Within these groups a distinction should be drawn between the volunteer leaders that have a short period at the Majestic, typically a week or less, and those that lead groups of volunteers at the Majestic over the course of months. For long-term leadership, participation in an annual training session from a professional diversity and equity training provider will be required prior to beginning work. Examples of long-term programs are Majestic Community Theatre and Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company. Leadership and the play reading committees for these two programs, who choose which shows are to be presented, will also be required to attend this level of training.
For short-term leadership, an online training will be created by Majestic Theatre staff, the MTDC, and reviewed by the Assistant Parks and Recreation Director. A written test will be required to be completed prior to beginning work. Both the in-person and online training will focus on implicit bias, cultural appropriation, empathy and perspective taking, and will lay out foundational concepts and then apply them to actual theatre situations that commonly occur. For participants, part of the First Cast Speech given by the Theatre Supervisor either in person or in video form (to those who can not attend or are added later in the process) will focus on setting expectations for behavior with regards to bias, harm, harassment, and cultural appropriation.
A common statement that directors make is “there are no [marginalized community] actors in Corvallis”. This is stated as an excuse for why very few people of color are seen in leading roles on the Majestic stage. In fact, there are many actors and theatre enthusiasts among our marginalized communities in the area. They just do not audition or direct because they rarely see themselves in the presentations on stage. The best way to fix this is to correct the issues in Majestic programming approaches that lead to this situation. There are a number of key areas in which improvements to programming methods can have the desired effect of bringing more members of marginalized communities into general and leadership roles in Majestic programs.
Audition announcements are an opportunity to signal to marginalized communities that they are welcome and wanted and also a first step in how directors think about their casting. Announcements are crafted early in the process, typically four to six months prior to auditions and over the past year Majestic staff have guided directors in improving the way in which they describe the roles being auditioned. By being clear on the necessity or lack of necessity for specific gender expressions, ethnic or racial backgrounds, age, and physical abilities required within character descriptions the director and by extension the Majestic can signal an open and equitable approach to casting. Additionally, every audition announcement will being with the following statement:
The Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department Majestic Theatre is committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion and to creating a safe place for actors from all communities to explore their craft. We are particularly eager to work with artists of color and other artists from all marginalized communities. All auditions are free and open to the public. This audition is for an amateur, volunteer production. The Majestic Theatre staff and volunteers do not discriminate on the basis of age, national origin, race, gender, ethnicity, ability, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation.
In this way, even before readers get to the content of the audition announcement, they see a written statement of the Majestic’s commitment to enhancing diversity and equity. This will apply to all audition announcements for all Majestic-supported programs.
Dedicated Programming for Marginalized Communities
The best way to ensure that marginalized communities are represented at the Majestic is to create space for programming created by or celebrating folx from those communities. On average, the Majestic Theatre holds one hundred and twenty five performances during one of its seasons. With a goal of the 2023-2024 season, at least fifty percent of Majestic Theatre performances will be led by members of marginalized communities in the Corvallis area. The reason for the delay is due to the COVID-19 crisis pushing parts of the 19-20 and 20-21 seasons into the 21-22 season, thus making the next proposal process for the 22-23 season to begin this new initiative and allowing two seasons to reach fifty percent. This goal will pertain to the Majestic Community Theatre, Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company, as well as all short-term programming.
Land acknowledgements are a way for institutions and organizations to recognize the history that lies at the foundation of their edifices, infrastructure, and community. The Corvallis Parks and Recreation department will work in partnership with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians to develop a land acknowledgement that will be part of the curtain speech given before every main stage Majestic program performance. In this way, everyone who benefits from the Majestic will have the opportunity to reflect upon the history and heritage of the land they live upon.
The process that the Majestic Theatre initiated in June 2019 will take time and effort to generate the result of making the Majestic a home for our marginalized communities. But with the support of the excellent institutions that exist in our community such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, OSU Office of Institutional Diversity, the amazing OSU Cultural Centers, Casa Latinos Unidos, the Corvallis Multicultural Literacy Center, the Disability Equity Center, and the multitude of other excellent organizations and opportunities for education and partnership in our community, all that needs to be done is before us. Now begins the process of doing. Now begins the conversations and partnerships that will turn the Majestic into a place where our marginalized communities feel welcome, wanted, and can call their home.