Help Us Create a Plan for Lasting Change at WebCo!
As Broadway and industry giants everywhere come together to end systemic racism, it is time we band together to put a stop to the racism in our own rehearsal halls, audition rooms, stages, and classrooms.
The following is a letter written by Michael Tran and Kiah McKirnan with the Artists of Color Collective in Webster Conservatory. This letter, addressed to the administration and faculty of Webster Conservatory, offers a detailed list of actionable steps inspired by both educational and professional institutions around the United States as well as suggestions by members of the AOC. All of the actionable steps are organized into three different sets of proposals pertaining to transparency, recruitment, and institutional priorities.
"A Letter to the Administration and Faculty of the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University:
June 8th, 2020
We, the students both past and present, of this Conservatory write to you this letter today as a family with a singular voice to once again to call your attention to an issue that has been continually plaguing us as students of color: and that is the issue of diversity within the Conservatory.
In a time when we see institutions and theatres across the nation share their commitment to racial diversity across their social media platforms, we are reminded once again that to be an ally is not just a title nor a worded statement, but rather, conscious and committed actions requiring transparency, improvement, and constant growth.
We understand that the conversation of race is difficult. But nonetheless, it is an important topic to be discussed. We also understand that implementing actual changes can be difficult but want you to know that we are here to help. As artists, we are called to use our talents and skills as a way to promote empathy, begin dialogue, and motivate change within our communities on both a local and national scale. Therefore, we come to you today with a series of proposals and actionable steps in hopes that you will not only listen to us but take immediate action to ensure we are all heard.
Our first proposal pertains to transparency. We believe that the first step to instigate effective change and create a successful environment for growth in students, is that we as Webster Conservatory, must take steps to be become a more transparent institution. It is our hope and want that Webster Conservatory will begin to be transparent in terms of the following:
- Transparent in the fact that there is learning, but that there is still a lot to learn.
- Transparent about the incredible list of successful Black and Brown alumni.
- Transparent that there is a severe lack of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students.
- Transparent that there is a need to strengthen relationships with the Black Repertory Theatre and other diverse, BIPOC institutions across the St. Louis area.
- Transparent that there is a severe lack of BIPOC faculty across Performance and DTSM.
- Transparent that there is an acknowledgement of the premature departure of BIPOC students.
- Transparent that there is a desire and need to retrain young black and brown storytellers.
- Transparent that there is a need to build funds for scholarships that assist BIPOC students in need.
- Transparent that there is a need for data and research to ensure that future classes will have 50%+ students of color.
- Transparent about solid courses of action that will lead to effective and sustainable change.
Our second proposal is intended to reorient the way we as Webster Conservatory approach the recruitment process. With this proposal, we hope to reach out to young emerging BIPOC artists across all racial and socio-economic barriers. As a Conservatory, if we are committed to finding and retaining the best talent, the barriers that prevent us from doing so must be eliminated.
- We believe that one of the top priorities for Webster University and the Conservatory is financial aid reform. This includes the need to build funds for scholarships to assist current, incoming, and prospective BIPOC students in need.
- We believe that Webster Conservatory must actively take steps to recruit BIPOC students. This begins by scouting for talent on a local and national scale while additionally providing them with opportunities to get to know Webster University and the Conservatory of Theatre Arts through information sessions and/or personal invitations to lunches.
- There are numerous high school and state competitions for Shakespeare, Musical Theatre, and Acting. Additionally, the August Wilson Monologue Competition has state and national events annually, most winners are BIPOC and specifically black students.
- We believe that we must provide opportunities to young artists who are financial unable to invest in Unified auditions by beginning to accept video auditions / pre-screenings.
- We believe that recruitment must expand to more diverse and predominantly non-white schools across many different cities and states.
- We believe that Webster Conservatory needs to be more thoughtful about the way they promote materials and we believe it needs to showcase students well. Many students took issue with the 2018-2019 WebCo playbill cover. Out of all the beautiful pictures taken in Vera Stark, the one chosen for the cover was Kiah McKirnan dressed as a maid.
- We believe that Webster Conservatory must take steps to better alumni outreach, specifically to alumni of color. There have been so many successful black graduates from the Conservatory. Alumni like Cody Renard Richard, Rocky Carroll, Michael James Scott, Nathan Lee Graham, and Jenifer Lewis are just a few of the many extraordinary alumni of color to have graduated from this institution. Yet, very rarely do we see them come back to visit, talk to students, or support the Conservatory.
Our third proposal pertains to actionable steps that we can take within the Conservatory. With this proposal, we hope to continually foster a learning environment that is inclusive, sensitive, and will prepare students for a career in the 21st century American Theatre.
- We must recognize the urgency at which BIPOC students are unable connect, understand, and express their issues and struggles openly due to the severe lack of BIPOC faculty members who understand those same issues and struggles.
- We propose having alumni / performers of color speak to BIPOC students and talk about what their experiences are like in the current industry and how to best prepare.
- We must begin to implement courses that are specific to BIPOC theatre and performance in order to prepare them for success in their future careers.
- We must begin to be cognizant of the language used in classrooms, rehearsal spaces, audition rooms, and classroom. This involves using language that is inclusive and sensitive.
- This is a link to an article written by Ashawnti Sakina Ford, an actress and teaching artist from Minneapolis, Minnesota of phrases that we should work to eliminate in our work environment: https://minnesotaplaylist.com/magazine/article/2020/phrases-we-should-work-to-eliminate-in-the-rehearsal-room
- Additionally, we must begin to hold conversations with all teaching staff to strengthen the way course material is discussed and taught.
- We must ensure that BIPOC students are strengthened through support and career guidance that pertains to industry as much as their fellow classmates.
- We must be cognizant in discussions / selection of Webster Conservatory seasons that it reflects the values of representation and diversity of stories.
- We must be active in reaching out to more diverse, BIPOC guest directors so that students will be able to work with a variety of different directors from different backgrounds as they will in the industry.
- The link is a Google Drive of a growing list of BIPOC Theatre Artists / Technicians of Color: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/0/d/1nKAqlLZbURxxYbPIpLpL8Ase-6QIMpqS79ujz_B0xxE/htmlview#
- The link is a Google Drive of a growing list of Asian-American directors in the United States. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1-OmVhGjdRGuJzWFvNT0njM2vDViq1OGozpjJBdrkjmk/edit#gid=0
We believe that these are the beginning steps that we can take together to make long, lasting, and sustainable change. We wholeheartedly understand that changes like these do not miraculously happen overnight nor do they happen in a few short months. We hope that you will allow us to support you as we not only hold you accountable to your commitment to fight injustice, racism, and inequity, but also to these proposals now and in the future.
In your decisions to admit students into Conservatory, you are not only investing in the future of the Conservatory of Theatre Arts, but you are also investing in the visionaries, creators, and leaders of the next generation of the American Theatre. We have seen again and again that the next generation of theatre and film is filled with artists of all colors, shapes, and backgrounds. We once again reaffirm that diversity in the industry is not a ‘phase’, nor is it a ‘trait’ to be marketed. Rather, it is a reflection of the beautiful tapestry that is humanity.
We are a part of you. We are honored to be part of this grand legacy that is the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University. It is our sincerest hope and desire that you will invest in us as we have invested in you."