*To say that the artistic community throughout the world is going through some major changes is an understatement. As theaters of all sizes deal with dark stages and the crushing blow of COVID-19, there is also a growing movement to finally fix the systematic racism within the traditional theatrical community. A local organization leading the movement in Colorado is called IDEAs (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access) and was created by local actorvist Lisa Young. Here, Young takes a moment to explain the burgeoning organization, what led to its creation and how people can support the cause.
Yellow Scene: Tell us about IDEAS. What is it, what are the goals for the organization?
Lisa Young: We’re a grassroots outreach organization providing activism, resources and accountability for the work of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) in theaters to our members. We serve our membership of individuals, companies and communities by granting IDEAs designations to organizations which fulfill guiding principles called Pillars of Inclusion, within their policy and infrastructure. We are Change Agents, who are making demonstrable advancements real and effective. Our goals are to make an enduring positive impact by demanding theatres become inclusive organizations, creating avenues for expansive programming and casting, and cultivating and building mindful communities.
YS: Why did you create it? Tell us about your experiences that led up to this.
LY: IDEAs was founded in May 2020 after the deaths of Amaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless other Black people. I was at home, receiving emails with questionnaires and surveys from dozens of companies about the response to COVID-19 and how to safely return to live theatre productions. As we were considering the impact of COVID-19 and the mobilization and outcry for justice from people supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, I had one thought: “What are we prepared to do to dismantle racism, anti-Blackness and inequalities in theatre and keep us safe from discriminatory practices?” As a Black woman living with hidden disabilities, I had found some success in working with mainstream companies and Phamaly Theatre Company (phamaly.org). But I rarely saw my brothers and sister (the Pham) on stages outside of Phamaly. I’ve also performed with ImaginASL (a d/Deaf company, formerly Rocky Mountain Deaf Theatre). I saw the lack of opportunity in casting for d/Deaf and Blind actors, those with neurodiversity, and mobility issues. There was even the deficiency of opportunity for people living with disabilities to attend shows because of the lack of ADA-required accommodations [of all variety]. So after sitting at home in semi-isolation because of moderate asthma, I created a plan. Unlike George Floyd, I was breathing and could be a greater part of the movement.
YS: What has been the most surprising outcome of the program so far?
LY: We have had tremendous response on social media and at our streaming events. We started the Facebook community page on Juneteenth (June 19, 2020). One week later we had more than 1,000 members and we currently have around 2,500 group members from around the country and the world. We had a town hall in late July and started the live-stream with 87 participants representing artistic directors, and executive directors from around Colorado — two hours later we had retained 82 of the participants. We also partnered with the Rocky Mountain Artist Safety Alliance for a weekend of “Safer in Theatre” practices. In August we had a panel discussion with John Moore Theatre Coverage and we had over 600 viewers.
YS: What can people do to help support this cause? How can people get involved?
LY: We are about to launch our membership programs and ask community participation by:
1. Becoming members. In September, 2020, we will launch our memberships with a robust program of healing work for BIPOC artists, artist databases, resources and other communit-led content at www.ideasttages.org/membership
2. Providing financial support of our programming, such as Outspoken: A Listening Project web series; Coffee and Cold Reads, a podcast; Dream Cast and much more by becoming a sponsor or a donor through our GoFundMe: https://gf.me/u/yjp9v6.
3. Demand theatres become anti-racist organizations and decry the brutalization of Black people on stage and in the streets.
YS: What does the future of live theatre look like to you?
LY: In terms of COVID-19? I believe more creativity will be birthed because creatives are being pushed to do all things differently… micro-theatre, tiny stages, outdoor performances, virtual and streamed productions and social distancing with all the precautions for healthy people in spaces of phenomenal art. When it is safe to return to theaters, we will have a new arsenal of technology and ways to be inspired. In terms of institutionalized and systemic racism (and all the other -isms and -phobias), we have a long journey ahead. Hard conversations are being had on social media and people are eager to learn, make mistakes, be interrupted when missteps are made, apologize and learn some more. IDEAs is here to stay and the community at large has accepted this is a needed and valuable practice to care for one another and keep each other honest in these demonstrable steps toward equity and equality in the arts. The virus was the enemy at the gates that made us turn toward each other in the worst of times to fix our art homes and relationships
YS: What do you have upcoming?
LY: Our listening project called Outspoken is a multi-episodic web series of Youth Voices of the BLM Revolution that was produced this summer. Youth participants were partnered with Black professionals in theater to create individual artistic pieces that would amplify their work as actorvists and their own personal activism and artistic style.