DEI + Anti-Racism Work

In June 2020, we took a deep look at our policies and organizational structures and realized that they were not aligned to support our values. We created a Plan of Action to ensure that The New Jersey Play Lab will be anti-racist and proactive in prioritizing artistic diversity and safe, equitable, artistic spaces that ensure inclusivity, access, and awareness. 

Some of these changes have been immediate, and some of these changes are ongoing. As we continue to mold our organization to reflect these goals, this will serve as a landing page where we will list the places on our site where you can read revised policies, programs, and approaches to organizational structure.

One Year Out: Progress on our Action Plan of 2020

Action: Broadening and diversifying our staff and teaching team

This past year, we were fortunate enough to increase our staff and teaching team three-fold, creating greater diversity of race and gender. Likewise amongst our interns in PlayGym, the majority of artists have been BIPOC individuals. 

Current impact: 

  • Having greater diversity of perspectives in our PlayGym leadership and in our dramaturgy of Residency plays has brought conversations to the forefront that have resulted in new guidance and policies in our classes and deeper, more comprehensive notes for our playwrights. 
  • Through collaboration, access and resources, we are committed to facilitating meaningful, individual artistic growth for these new members of our team. 

Next steps/goals:

  • As we expand our programming with new opportunities this upcoming year, we hope to bring in additional trained dramaturgs, especially BIPOC dramaturgs, to take leadership roles within them. These include paid script consultancies, leadership of Residency dramaturgy, paid teaching opportunities, and additional perspectives on mentorship for our dramaturgs who are training with us.
    • Note: if you are interested in joining us in this capacity, please email us at info@njplaylab.org.
  • It is important to us that all playwrights who feel that they would benefit from our programming also feel confident that NJPL is a place where they and their plays will be seen, understood, and appreciated. We hope that the continued diversification of our backgrounds, experiences, tastes, artistic traditions, and working styles will increase our ability to meet the needs of the NJ playwriting community.
Action: Continued learning through conversation, conferences, webinars, books

Over the past year, we have been privileged to learn from many voices in many different formats that continue to influence the way we approach our work.

  • We are grateful to the individual artists who reflected on our Action Plan with us, who shared their personal experiences, and who provided formal and informal feedback on our work.
  • We have attended training and workshop resources that have been formative such as:
    • New Jersey Theatre Alliance’s Creating Change conference 
    • NJTA’s Gender Inclusive Casting Workshop 
    • NJTA’s Indigenous Theatremakers in Conversation panel
    • Groundwater Arts Decolonizing Theatre trainings
    • Decolonizing Shakespeare panel hosted by Delaware Shakes. 
  • Books, blogs, and online magazines have provided crucial perspectives. Recent deep dives include Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses (understanding the idea of writing “craft” as inherently cultural and subjective as opposed to empirical), and The Truth About Stories by Thomas King (specifically looking at Native American stories and storytelling).

Examples of current impact:

  • As a result of our new learning, we have created internal documents of questions, prompts, and checklists to guide our organizational decision-making to uphold our values and to ensure these values connect to our actions.
  • From our discussion around the word “craft” and the inherent subjectivity of terms like “best practices”, we explored ways to continue to challenge writers to consider questions of ownership and intended audience in the stories and characters they chose to depict in their plays. These questions have been integrated into our PlayGym guide for all instructors, and will be present in our Residency discussions. 
  • We continue to revisit and revise text on our website to reflect these more nuanced understandings and intentions. See below for specific examples of changes we have made in structure, policies, and goals:
    • How we think about representation and disrupting assumptions.
    • We are now moving forward under a new organizational model of power-sharing that ensures a wider and more diverse curatorial and dramaturgical sensibility as opposed to a more consolidated or hierarchical approach. To read more about how we have reimagined how curatorial power is held in our organizational structure:
      • Visit What We Do, and scroll down to “Our Vision and Our Story”.
    • How we are working to be more transparent, and to overcome implicit bias in our play selection process.
      • Visit NJPL Residencies and scroll down to “What do we look for in a Residency playwright?” and “What do we look for in a Residency play?

Next steps/goals:

  • Short term: Internally, to concretize and prioritize ongoing growth, we plan to dedicate one staff meeting every other month to collectively choose and discuss a text that expands our notions of diversity, inclusion, anti-racism, or best practices, and reflect on how the ideas discussed might impact our organization.
  • Long term: Externally, we plan to form an Advisory Board dedicated to our continual growth, who can give us feedback and challenge us to continue to deepen our understanding and to refine our practices.
    • Note: if you are interested in joining us in this capacity, please email us at info@njplaylab.org. In the meantime, if you have organizational feedback to give us, please email us at info@njplaylab.org.
  • Our new organizational structure values the simultaneous championing of many individual voices rather than a collective consensus. However, we want to continue to clarify the values and approaches that define us as a company so they exist throughout our work and our organization as a connective thread — a thread linking an even greater variety of dramaturgs, each with autonomy to embrace their respective strengths and tastes.

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Looking back, we are bolstered by the considerable steps we have taken towards most of our goals. Looking forward, as we prepare for a new round of Residencies this fall, we have the opportunity to address further goals:

Upcoming Actions relating to the resumption of our Residency Program: 
  • Investing in personal outreach with BIPOC writers and artistic communities in NJ in promoting the opportunity to submit to our Residency program, and beginning to build reciprocal relationships in which we can learn how and where play development is desired and valued.
    • If you would like to help us connect with your community, please email us at info@njplaylab.org.
  • Selection of stories: We begin with the recognition that there are many writers and communities whose stories have not been prioritized and who deserve to be heard. In addition to wanting to champion a greater diversity of writers, we are bringing two additional takeaways from our continued learning in how we select stories, namely: 
    • What stories do we as a society NEED? We consider the difference in choosing “we” stories rather than “I” stories.
    • Choosing stories that acknowledge the multitudes of intersections and variation within BIPOC and other marginalized individuals and communities and broaden the range of how that variety is represented.

If you have questions or want to speak to us about any of this in more depth, please reach out to info@njplaylab.org.

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