Overview

Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Activities (2010-2020)

While we commit to continuing our ED&I journey recognizing there is still much more room for growth, we share the below summary of our ED&I activities from the past decade, including a detailed analysis of our artistic programming. 

2020: The entire leadership team participated in a 28-hour training session conducted by the YWCA based on its “Unlearning Racism” program. Prominent African-American leadership coach Don’Angelo Bivens is engaged by the Board of Trustees to provide counsel to the theater’s Artistic and Executive Directors. We honored 12 SHEroes as part of programming centered around Eclipsed. We produced two shows with central LGBTQ themes – The Legend of Georgia McBride and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The Kaleidoscope Group conducts an organization wide ED&I analysis and review as well as numerous stakeholder interviews. A visioning session is led by KG with the leadership team to develop a vision for our ED&I work. Covid-19 hits. 

2019: Three female identifying leaders, including two that identify as non-white and one that identifies as ethnically diverse, stepped into new roles as Managing Director, Associate Artistic Director and Director of Community Engagement. Three out of five new trustees elected to the board are persons of color. We hosted a training session for our ED&I committee with Art Equity and launched our Blueprint Planning Committee to develop Milwaukee Rep’s first ED&I plan. The board unanimously approves a new strategic plan that places ED&I as one of three top priorities for the theater.  The Kaleidoscope Group is engaged to finish the development of an ED&I plan and the ED&I Task Force is transitioned to a permanent standing board committee with the chair having a seat on the Executive Committee. Monthly ED&I Brown Bag Lunch discussions are organized for the staff. Director of Education Jenny Toutant and Managing Director Melissa Vartanian attend the YWCA’s “Unlearning Racism” program. We launched the pilot year of the August Wilson Monologue Competition and produced the first play on our Quadracci Powerhouse Stage with a leading trans character (Things I Know to be True). Executive Director Chad Bauman is recognized by the United Community Center as a “Friend of the Latino Community.” 

2018: We produced Dael Orlandersmith’s Until the Flood centered on police brutality and its impact on the black community. 48 community responders representing mostly black and brown voices gave a response after each performance and thousands of audience members stay to participate in our Act II program.  In the spring of 2018, we developed an engagement program around our “Neighborhood Series”, which includes One House Over, and Until the Flood and Our Town. We engaged consultant Claudia Alick to do an ED&I analysis of our theater, while trans activist and educator Elie Krug gave training session for our staff, board and patrons. Executive Director Chad Bauman, trustee Patrick Smith and Mpact Council Member Tonen O’Connor take a four-month “Unlearning Racism” course with the YWCA. We formed an ED&I task force, which approved the Denver Foundation’s ED&I blueprint as a model to develop the first ED&I plan for the theater. We presented the idea to staff in the fall of 2018, went through a self-nomination process for a “Blueprint Planning Committee.” Feast of Crispian is welcomed as our second resident theater company and we produce the first Veterans Theater Festival in the spring of 2019. 

2017: We launched a season with black actors in the leading role of all three of our theaters: Man of La Mancha with Nate Stampley, The Royale and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. With Akhtar’s Disgraced, we created a major engagement initiative called “Talk Identity,” with community responders, intercultural dinners, the exhibition of “Many Faces / One Identity”, and panel discussions. 

2016: Milwaukee Rep launches Mpact, with a central pillar defined as equity, diversity and inclusion. We develop initial partnerships with the United Community Center, YWCA, Milwaukee LGBT Community, Pearls for Teen Girls, Boys & Girls Club, COA Youth & Family Centers, Safe & Sound, and Latino Arts. Additionally, we launched our community program in partnership with the Amani Neighborhood and key programs such as Act II, to lead our audiences through conversations with difficult subject matter. We announced a three-year partnership with Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Ayad Akhtar to produce all of his plays on our stages and welcomed our first resident theater company – Bronzeville Arts Ensemble – allocating $20,000 from our operating budget to support their production of The Mojo and the Sayso

2015: Milwaukee Rep updated its mission to include “positive change” and being “representative of Milwaukee’s rich diversity.” We also committed to significantly increasing diverse voices on our stages and for many years since, more than 50% of the actors on our stages have been people of color. We recast A Christmas Carol to feature many more artists of color and we reallocated 2,500 free community tickets for A Christmas Carol throughout the orchestra and balcony for the first time, leading to theater leadership receiving death threats. 

Programming featuring diverse artists since in the 2014/15 Season and beyond includes: The Color Purple, Good People, after all the terrible things I do, Low Down Dirty Blues, Dreamgirls, Fences, The Invisible Hand, The Devil’s Music, Sirens of Song, Disgraced, The Royale, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, The Who & the What, Until the Flood, Black Pearl Sings, In the Heights, One House Over, Junk, Things I Know to Be True, Two Trains Running, Guards at the Taj, The Chinese Lady, Songs for Nobody, The All Night Strut!, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Eclipsed, Destiny of Desire, Hedwig & the Angry Inch, The Niceties, and Chasin’ Dem Blues

2011-2014: Milwaukee Repertory Theater engaged a growing number of artists of color in “non-traditional casting.” Additionally Milwaukee Rep started to break down the box of only programming shows illuminating black culture, during Black History Month, although during this time, this still did happen. During the 2011/12 Season, we embarked on our first big “Community Engagement” activity by doing the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read program for To Kill a Mockingbird.

2010: Artistic Director Mark Clements disbands an all-white resident acting company.

Artistic Progress toward Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (2016-2020)

In the past several years, Milwaukee Rep has worked intentionally and proactively to create a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive company. While we know that we still have a tremendous amount of work to do, it is important for us to situate our future work in the context of some of the steps we have already taken particularly in our artistic work. 

Diversity on our stages begins with play selection: in the past four seasons, we have amplified the stories of people of color. For each season between 2016/17 and 2019/20, our plays featured leading characters of color in 27%, 36%, 42%, and 50% of productions, respectively. During that same period, eleven other productions have featured actors of color as protagonist characters where the playwright has not specified the leading characters’ ethnic background.

We believe that two of the best ways to assess our progress toward more equitable practices are through (a) the relative proportion of AEA weeks in our season fulfilled by actors of color, and (b) a careful examination of how salaries scale between actors of color and white actors. On point (a), for each season from 2016/17 through 2019/20, we have seen POC work 30%, 41%, 52%, and 47% of available AEA actor weeks. On point (b), the difference in average salaries between white actors and actors of color in the 2019/20 Season was a variance of less than 1%.

We have also prioritized creating a more racially diverse corps of non-AEA actors. In the past four seasons, 78% of all contracted non-Equity weeks have been fulfilled by actors of color. Separately, our Emerging Professional Residency Program, which is a pipeline for early-career artists, comprises 62% POC for the Acting ensemble and 50% for Directors in the past four seasons. 

While much work remains to be done when it comes to employing artists of color offstage, we have also made substantial progress in this area. 24% of all directors have been people of color since 2016/17, while we have also gone from having no choreographers of color in the 2016/17 Season to having 44% and 50% choreographers of color in our 2018/19 and 2019/20 Seasons respectively. When it comes to designers, concerted efforts are showing results: in 2016/17, 2% (1/48) of all designers were people of color. This past season, one in five designers identified as a person of color.

Numbers alone don’t tell the full story, however. In the past two years in particular, we have also deepened our understanding of what the terms “equity, diversity, and inclusion” mean and have adopted practices that are more difficult to attach to statistics. We provide a few examples below, with numbers as available.

When it is consistent with a director’s vision of the show and appropriate to the story being told, we have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to seeing actors of all ethnicities in casting calls for roles without specific ethnic racial and ethnic markers. In Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, for example, in which five out of the eight cast members identified as people of color, over 50% of the actors who auditioned for the production were also POC.

At the same time, we have begun to make progress toward more appropriately inclusive and specific casting. In Eclipsed, for example, all five cast members identified as emigrants from or first-generation descendants of Africa or the African diaspora. In 2018/19, we engaged in a thorough process to cast a trans/non-binary actor in the role of Mia in Things I Know To Be True, and also hired a trans casting director and cultural consultant who advised our work throughout the process. Our productions of West Side Story, The Legend of Georgia McBride, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch enlisted offstage consultants to share relevant stories and experiences with production teams. Of note, all of these artists were compensated for their efforts, a change in internal policy that we adopted a few seasons ago.

Since 2018, we have begun to invest in hiring offstage personnel with a greater eye toward cultural specificity, including Latinx choreographers, associate choreographers, and voice and text directors for In the Heights and West Side Story and Black artists to design hair and wigs and direct voice and text for Eclipsed.

As we express our core belief that Black Lives Matter, we also reiterate our fundamental commitment to the idea that representation matters, both on and off stage.

John (Jack) D. Lewis New Play Development Program

In our work to develop new important works for the theatrical canon, we have in recent years commissioned 16 new works including works from 7 women and 8 BIPOC (4 Black, 1 Asian, 1 Middle-Eastern, 2 Latinx). Commissions include: Five Presidents (Rick Cleveland); American Song (Joanna Murray-Smith); Sirens of Song (Kevin Ramsey); Under the Hoan Bridge (Catherine Trieschmann); George and Emily (Jon Daly); The Not-So-Accidental Conviction of Eleven Milwaukee Anarchists (Martín Zimmerman);  Tama’s Empanadas (KJ Sanchez); Mark Twain’s River of Song (Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman); Hootenanny: The Musicale (David Lutken); New Age (Dael Orlandersmith); Run Bambi Run (Eric Simonson and Gordon Gano); The Nativity Variations (Catherine Trieschmann); Wife of a Salesman (Eleanor Burgess); Parental Advisory (Idris Goodwin); American Dervish (Ayad Akhtar and Mark Clements); Untitled (Lloyd Suh). 

In 2020, our “From Our Home to Your Home” program included 20 commissions including 11 female identifying writers and 12 BIPOC (5 Black, 4 Asian and 3 Latinx) writers including: Kellen Blair, Joe Kinosian, Rick Cleveland, Idris Goodwin, Kirsten Greenidge, Lauren Gunderson, Marie Kohler, Joanna Murray-Smith, Dael Orlandersmith, Liliana Padilla, Omalolu Fiki, A. Rey Pamatmat, Adam Seidel, Lloyd Suh, Catherine Trieschmann, Lauren Yee, Martin Zimmerman, Benjamin Benne, Gina Fermia, Cori Thomas, Jon Rua and Rajiv Joseph.