A Letter to the Theater and Performance Studies Community at Yale

Theater Faces Image
July 1, 2020

Originally published June 16, 2020

Dear Theater and Performance Studies community,

This spring and summer have brought cataclysmic national tragedy alongside extremely hopeful potential for social transformation. We hope you have been able to care for yourselves and your loved ones, during this time. We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the political protests that have unfolded in the wake of the atrocious killings this spring, with the murders of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the most recent deaths in an unfathomably long list of Black individuals who have suffered under persistent structural inequities and police violence. This wrenching moment demands introspection and participation on the part of every citizen, to undo the systemic racism that persists within our institutions, industries, social organizations, and disciplines.

As a faculty of artists, writers, and scholars who aspire to create work that challenges and reveals oppressive and unjust cultural norms in the U.S. and beyond, we understand that it is our moral responsibility to do much more to recognize the systems of power that grip our own community, and take immediate action to address and begin to dismantle systemic racism within our own program and within Yale.

We want to share with you some of the immediate plans we are undertaking in Theater and Performance Studies to center anti-racism pedagogies and art practices.  Understanding that effective change requires a commitment to open dialogue and new forms of collaboration over time, we are also eager to hear from you as to what you envision and wish to see enacted. 

Here are our planned action steps to date:

  • We will foster a culture of self-reflection and openness, understanding that open dialogue and sharing of experiences are essential to this process. We are asking hard, vital questions of ourselves, our different matrices of privilege, and our program; we welcome the questions and ideas you have as well, as we work towards lasting, meaningful change.
  • We will develop and support shared spaces on a frequent basis – in classrooms, rehearsals, workshops, long table discussions, and in-person and online community forums – so that everyone in the community feels heard and safe, no matter how they prefer to communicate. Our intention is to host a facilitated community forum each semester for open exchange between students and faculty and reflection on the cultural climate within the program, within Yale, and beyond.
  • We will undertake a long-awaited curriculum review, to reevaluate the requirements and progression of the major, with the goal to decenter the emphasis on Euro-American theater models and highlight and expand the diverse voices, geographies, and cultural forms of performance that circulate through our course offerings.
  • We pledge to support Yale’s commitments to diversify its faculty by recruiting and retaining Black, Indigenous, People of Color artists and scholars to the program.
  •  We will center the voices and experiences of Black, Indigenous, People of Color artists and scholars within the curriculum and on our syllabi, and as guest speakers and artists even more prominently in classes, colloquia, and other program-sponsored events.
  • We will sponsor a series of workshops on diversity, inclusion, and anti-racist practices in theater and dance, led by guest artists and trained facilitators and open to all students and faculty affiliated with the program.
  • We will continue to promote and support our senior production season as a space for addressing broad social inequities, and for political intervention into the theatrical canon, as exemplified by the inventive adaptations, thoughtfully designed community theater projects, and devised pointed works created by our seniors in recent years.  
  • We will work in collaboration with student leaders to examine and re-structure audition and rehearsal processes such that these “gateways” into productions and courses can be accessible to and supportive of students of all backgrounds and experience levels.
  • We will continue to sponsor initiatives such as Theater of Desire and the Yale Dance Lab as platforms for student-driven work, in which students may radically explore and press toward decolonized, inventive new forms of theater and dance.
  • We will ensure accessible channels for reporting and addressing occurrences of all forms of discrimination and harassment.
  • We will be proactive in our approach towards equity in labor in our program’s staffing and faculty by monitoring and assessing fairness and equity in teaching, advising, student evaluations, and workload distribution.
  • We will partner with our neighboring programs, departments, and professional schools at Yale, including but not limited to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, African American Studies, American Studies, Ethnicity, Race, and Migration, English, the School of Drama, the School of Art, the School of Music, and the School of Architecture, to share resources, perspectives, and strategies as we work together to transform  institutional and interpersonal expectations, structures, and conversations towards anti-racist ends.
  • We will spotlight local performance-based organizations that are led or co-led by people of color, whom we encourage you to support in whatever ways you are able. These include  Long Wharf TheatreUnidad Latina en Acción; Collective Consciousness TheaterBregamos Theater. We commit to meaningful arts exchanges, resource sharing, and anti-racism advocacy within the New Haven community through initiatives like the IRIS afterschool and summer learning programs, Yale Prison Education Initiative,  and work with area schools.

These are our initial concrete action steps —we know there will be more and encourage you to send us ideas to add to this list. And there is also the need for long-range vision. Together, we need to create new, even more radically collaborative models, new forms of listening, and new means of intensifying our ability to call out and dismantle oppression in the myriad of intersectional forms in which it operates in this country, within Yale, and within our own program. 

You have the power to shape this world—you are shaping the world, a vision of the world you want to live in, every day. We support you, we learn from and with you, and we join you in this cause.

Sincerely yours,

The faculty and staff of Theater and Performance Studies

For Further Reading on Black Lives Matter, please follow this link