Stage Door News

London: The Grand Theatre commits to ongoing anti-oppressive work

Friday, February 19, 2021

In this final week of Black History Month, the Grand Theatre is publicly acknowledging the need within the theatre community to dismantle the systemic racism and oppressive history of which they have been a part. Acknowledging their participation in this history required reflection, research, and a plan to move forward. Today, the Grand announced that during these past nine months, the Board and Staff have embarked upon the first phase of a journey to disrupt the cycle of oppression, marginalization, and exploitation, and take on the work required to move forward towards a more just and equitable company and industry.

Following both the tragic death of George Floyd in May of 2020, and the subsequent public actions via Black Lives Matter marches around the world, leadership at the Grand Theatre felt compelled to examine the theatre’s own history and complicity in systemic racism within our community. “With no performances scheduled to be on our stages for an undetermined period of time, our focus turned to the work we felt needed to be done to address inequalities and racist practices within our own workplace and our role within the context of  the broader theatre community,” says Artistic Director, Dennis Garnhum.

To guide Board and Staff through the required first phases of unlearning and re-learning, the Grand retained the services of E.B. Smith of HC Smith Ltd. Both an actor and former member of the Grand’s Board of Directors, E.B.’s unique perspective was instrumental in assisting with the establishment of the Grand’s Anti-Oppression Committee, comprised of both Staff and Board members, the development of the Anti-Oppression mission statement, and executing a strategy for ongoing, meaningful sets of internal conversations across and between departments. 

“In this initial and critical first phase of the work, I’ve encouraged the Staff and Board to set their intentions both personally and professionally. As important as it is that the Grand Theatre commits to the work, the Grand is made up of the people who work there. Together, we are ‘learning out loud’ and looking at how our personal and collective lenses have shifted in the work that we do. Using this period of forced intermission of performances, what we can and are rehearsing are our administrative practices. Using a metaphor that resonates with our theatre community - we are reading the scripts of the past, present, and future; we are rehearsing, taking notes, going back into the ‘rehearsal hall,’ and examining how we must put these notes into practice,” noted E.B. Smith.

During this period of internal reflection and exploration, the Grand has developed an anti-oppression mission statement that will guide all work moving forward and hold us accountable for that work. The statement, as developed by the eight-member Anti-Oppression Committee and unanimously approved by the over 70 members of the Grand’s Board and Staff, is a fluid, working document intended to inform the choices we make, and the directions we take in our everyday policies and practices. 

The statement reads as follows:

Institutions across Canada are being called upon to recognize and address historical and contemporary practices that have resulted in and perpetuated social inequity and harm.

We at the Grand Theatre recognize and acknowledge our part in this history and current reality. The Grand Theatre has a responsibility to take decisive action to ensure that the theatre is an inclusive and accessible place. To this end, we will name, address, and eliminate harmful behaviours, practices, and inequities that we have both produced and reproduced. Our Anti-Oppression work will examine how race, gender, class, region, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, and all intersections of those categories interact with our organizational processes, so that we do not reproduce harm in our hiring, programming, and daily business operations.

While the Grand Theatre has benefitted from diverse cultures through performances on our stages, we have not fully acknowledged our cultural impact on these communities.

We have much to do to build trust, consistency, and accountability as allies with Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, and other marginalized groups. Therefore, we will remove systemic barriers to participation and ensure our organization is a physically and emotionally safe space for BIPOC and other marginalized groups at all intersections of identity.

As well, we will deliberately seek out and recruit BIPOC and other marginalized groups to work and participate at every level of our organization ensuring that people are welcomed, respected, supported, and valued in our theatre.

We commit to building and fostering authentic and sustained relationships with the communities we value but have excluded.

Through the work described above, we will achieve an accessible, equitable, and inclusive Grand Theatre community of artists, audiences, donors, boards, and staff.

This will be the foundation of our work and practice at the Grand Theatre.

In one of its initial steps towards their goal of more inclusive representation, the Grand actively recruited and added six new members to their Board of Directors from communities underrepresented in the past. “Our Board now more clearly reflects the voices of the greater community, and this will allow for richer discussions of the future direction of the Grand,” stated Anita Shah, President of the Board and a member of the Anti-Oppression Committee

In one of the applications of this learning process, the Grand has incorporated their Anti-Oppression work into its newly developed series of internal, interactive workshops called “Company Conversations.” The workshops will afford Staff and Board the opportunity to delve into the content and relevance of plays and apply the anti-oppression lens for a deeper exploration of the material.

Garnhum continued, “Our recent general auditions process also reflected this new commitment. In light of what we are learning and to gain an expanded lens, we were much more deliberate in the process from start to finish than in past years. From our outreach to the artist community to the review panel itself, we saw more diversity in applications and the 400 auditions were reviewed through a more diverse lens. It’s a step forward in the right direction with many more steps to take.”

In its next phase of learning, the Grand has contracted with locally-based firm Rumina Morris to deliver an intensive anti-racism training “Shifting Perspectives” that will take the Board and Staff on a deeper dive into how racism shows up in and manifests in our  workplace leading us to the necessary steps to correct our anti-racist attitudes and practices.

“From how we select plays and contract with artists, to how we market, hire, fund raise, and interact with our patrons and the community at large, we are identifying and confronting the systemic barriers in all of the work we do. There are many more hard conversations to be had and much more work to be done. I am so proud of our Staff and Board who are leaning in to effect lasting, positive, meaningful change both personally and professionally,” stated Deb Harvey, Executive Director.

A list of members of the Grand’s Anti-Oppression Committee and mission statement can be found on our website.