I attended a meeting Monday night, February 17th, 2020 held by the Theater Artist Leadership Coalition (TALC) led by Laura Stearns, Maria Asp, and Elena Gianetti. Expecting to see 10-15 people, we were all pleasantly surprised to see over 30 people fill the room. When we went around with quick introductions, we were asked to say our name and which “lens” we saw through in terms of our place in the arts. It was an impressive mix of actors, stage managers, choreographers, artistic directors, managing directors, teachers, members of the arts community as well as IATSE members including electricians, carpenters, and wardrobe dressers. The purpose of the meeting? As the TALC website states, “We hope to create a set of standards, with buy-in from leaders of artistic organizations, that will be used statewide to keep all artists from experiencing harassment, emotional, physical or or sexual harm while learning or creating in the arts, and ensure safe working conditions for everyone, no matter how large or small the organization.”
The desire is to create a set of working standards similar to the one created for the non-union theatres of Chicago a few years ago. The goal is clear. How can we create or re-create by using the Chicago Theatre Standards (CTS), link below, as a model, policies that will cover the needs of artists in our community who have had to struggle through difficult working situations with no recourse?
Laura, Maria, and Elena have formed TALC in order to hear from our community. As one participant let us know, there are over 500 small theatres and arts organizations in Minnesota. The idea of a Minnesota Theater Standards (MNTS) is to create policies that will cover all areas of arts organizations, including production, marketing, development, box office, education, front of house, ushers, volunteers as well as actors, directors, designers, stage managers and crew. Every production should allow people from all sides to feel safe, protected and informed. As Laura said, we need to create effective change in our community that has been fractured by abuse and mistrust.
For Monday’s meeting, we were to break off into smaller groups and brainstorm on ways to improve on the CTS; add, edit, and make it for Minnesota. How can we make it better? Each group then presented the ideas that they had been discussed and written down. This was the beginning of what will be a longer process of creating a document that can be given to theatres and other arts organizations to provide a fundamental guide outlining ways to prevent and respond to everyday challenges. Many of the guidelines read similarly to many Equity contracts with sections including auditions, basic health and safety, harassment, and a path to conflict resolution among others. The responses from each group were thoughtful, essential and important. The hope is to begin to reform the CTS into the MNTS with all of these suggestions and ideas. Then theatres can choose to adopt the MNTS and follow the procedures outlined in the document.
There were two very overarching ideas that stood out for me. The first was how can we set ourselves up for success from the beginning? Are there guidelines organizations can put into place and discuss from the start of the process that lets everyone know what is and what is not acceptable. In that way, we are being more proactive and not just reactive. The second idea was the concept of some kind of stamp of approval or some way for people to know that a particular theatre or organization has agreed to adhere to the MNTS guidelines to the best of their ability. I thought this was a great way to let you know that the place where you go to audition or interview is taking the idea of keeping you safe and informed is important to them, that you will be informed and protected. I would hope when all is said and done, those organizations would be proud to have that stamp.
In the group that I was in, we touched briefly on how do we move forward; meaning how can we address past harms? Is there reconciliation for those who have been harmed and for those who wish to make amends for causing harm? How do we as a community address both parties? Do we create a third party to act as an intermediary? I am hoping that this will be a topic of more discussion.
The MNTS is being created for all artists and I encourage more of you to become involved in this process. We need ideas from all areas. We need diversity in our ranks. We need people of color, people with disabilities, people of all sexual orientations – we need everyone’s ideas and experiences so that the MNTS can truly represent us all.
The next TALC MEETING is a panel discussion on Monday, March 16 from 7:00-9:00p at the Ritz Theater. The panel will have representation from a variety of administrative and community leaders from around the metro area, from small theaters to large ones, independent contractors to community activists, for the purpose of discussing best practices, policies, and procedures, and their process in coming to the decisions they have made around these important concerns. TALC will also be discussing the creation of the MN Theater Standards document. In the first half of the evening we will hear from our panel, moderated by Laura Stearns. After a short break, the audience will have an opportunity to ask questions of the panel. For those that might be uncomfortable asking their questions, you will be able to write your questions down and have them read to the panel.