In June 2020, we created a Plan of Action to ensure that The New Jersey Play Lab would be anti-racist and proactive in prioritizing artistic diversity and safe, equitable, artistic spaces that ensure inclusivity, access, and awareness.
Much of that work is now baked into our organization; some work is in progress, and some is ongoing in recognition that anti-racism work is never done.
As we continue to mold our organization to reflect our intentions, 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.
Here are some of our core beliefs and the ways they have manifested within our work and our approach. Please reach out with your thoughts, concerns, comments, or questions.
We believe diversity in our dramaturgy team serves the work, more accurately reflects the world around us, and supports a wider range of stories in shaping who we believe ourselves to be individually and collectively.
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.
Therefore, we have broadened our collective of dramaturgs to reflect a greater diversity of race, gender, perspective, and approach. We have envisioned and implemented a new organizational structure which shares curation and leadership amongst the collective. Through collaboration, access, and resources, we are committed to facilitating meaningful, individual artistic growth for all members of our collective so they are empowered to lead their own processes.
Having a greater diversity of perspectives in leadership has brought conversations to the forefront that have resulted in new guidance and policies in our classes, more diverse groups of participants, and deeper, more comprehensive notes for our playwrights.
We believe in the power of stories to shape cultural narratives and our collective responsibility in using that power.
Therefore, we engage in deep questioning around how, for whom, and by whom stories are written and embodied. We interrogate understandings of “quality” and “best practices” as cultural and subjective rather than empirical and objective. We raise questions of appropriate representation, including the right to tell one’s own story and the question of who is designed to benefit from its telling.
- We begin with the recognition that there are many writers and communities whose stories have not been prioritized and who deserve to be heard.
- Everyone benefits when the world as represented onstage is as rich in complexity as the world we live in. We believe that as storytellers we have the ability to disrupt implicit understandings of what is “neutral” and who stories belong to. Therefore our casting policy is that for any role for which the race, gender identity, or physical ability of a character is not intrinsic to the story of the play and has not been expressly delineated by the playwright as such, we will cast as diversely as possible. Concurrently, we will always encourage our playwrights to think broadly and inclusively about who can inhabit the stories they create.
- Every actor deserves to inhabit roles that engage a broad spectrum of their humanity. We know that often artists of color, Disabled artists, trans artists encounter both a dearth of roles and a dearth of range in those roles. We believe it is vital that roles written for these communities should be portrayed by actors from these communities. In development work, this is even more important, as an actor’s performance and feedback can shape what a character or a story becomes.
- We engage in discussions with playwrights about issues of appropriate representation, including the right to tell one’s own story and the question of who is designed to benefit from its telling.
- From our discussion around the word “craft” and the inherent subjectivity of terms like “best practices”, we 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 PlayGym Dramaturgs, our Resource Guides for our Apprentice Dramaturgs, and are part of our Residency discussions.
- We are committed to being more transparent in our attempt to overcome the implicit bias of familiarity in our play selection process, and more explicit in recognizing and naming attributes of plays that attract us. (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?)
We believe that dramaturgy can only be done in partnership and that true partnership involves listening and responsiveness.
Therefore as we continue to seek partnerships with theatres, organizations, and individuals across the state, we will lead with listening to what is valuable to our partners rather than assuming we know what is valuable in what we can offer. Though we will never be able to be everything to everyone, if we wish to be of value to the NJ arts community as a whole, it is our job to learn how our skill sets can be valuable or can be broadened in service of that goal.
We believe that seeking opportunities to decenter our knowledge and make space for what we don’t know or embody is essential to our ability to serve NJ artists.
Therefore we have sought and continue to seek perspectives and expertise from traditions and approaches different than ours, including resources 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 repositories such as Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses (understanding the idea of writing “craft” as inherently cultural and subjective as opposed to empirical), The Truth About Stories by Thomas King (specifically looking at Native American stories and storytelling), and We See You White American Theatre (demanding change in policies and practice across our theatre field to create safe, equitable, empowered spaces for BIPOC and other marginalized artists).
We believe that the dramaturgical tenet of constantly evaluating our actions against our stated intentions and foundational truths is as essential to our organization’s integrity as it is to the play development process.
Therefore we prioritize constant assessment and revision of our guiding principles, policies, and structures to reflect our most current learning. This cycle of questioning and growth keeps us engaged in an ongoing and ever-evolving process of becoming better situated to bring our best selves and our best work to our community.