This week I write to seek your advice, counsel, and wisdom.
I have a good friend who is a plumber, more specifically a plumbing contractor. He and his union crews bring water to buildings and take poop away from those buildings. A necessary service is provided. Plumbing and plumbers prosper.
Theaters, on the other hand, make self-believed contentions about their irreplaceable value to the fabric of society. After the last presidential election, theater leaders across the country proclaimed that their stages are soapboxes and their players today’s town criers. Then, almost universally, their seasons have been politically flaccid, choosing economic survival over polemics with teeth.
I have devoted my life and career to using theater to seek a just society and insist that equity is the American dream. I want to discover how we can transform live theater from nicety to, like plumbing, necessity. Your suggestions, recommendations, and proposals will be taken seriously. Into what social equation can live theater infuse itself so that that equation is no longer an equation without theater’s inclusion? It could be public policy, climate change, the criminal justice system, transportation, education, economics, health care, reproductive rights, or anything. It just must be essential. This is for the betterment of American society and perhaps the sustainability of the art form itself. More specifically, into what social equation can Mixed Blood insert itself to that end?
My sage and mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We at Mixed Blood promote equity and theater is our delivery system. Equity means promoting just and fair inclusion throughout society and creating the conditions in which everyone can prosper, participate, and realize their own potential.
I also speak and write too much of my fascination with symmetrical numbers. It’s no secret that I am excited about 2020 being Mixed Blood’s 44th season. But that symmetrical number – ’44 – is an American bellwether: that is the year in which people of color become the majority of the US population. Already the majority of people under 18 are people of color. That is the population for which Mixed Blood has tried to model since 1976.
With the premise that laws and programs designed to benefit vulnerable groups (such as people with disabilities, people of color, immigrants, etc.) often end up benefiting all of society, what can we do?
One of my sages, Angela Glover Blackwell, cites a few key efforts that were aimed at a specific group for a specific purpose and has had widespread benefit.
- Curb cuts, led by disability activists in the 1970’s in one town, led to the widespread installation of curb cuts everywhere that serve so many people for so many reasons (parents with strollers, people with luggage, bicyclists, shoppers, custodians, musicians, and more). This ripple effect thinking is where Mixed Blood tries to live and hopes to land. Policymakers tend to overlook the ways in which focusing on one group might help all groups and strengthen the whole nation. (Those curb cuts led to Bush 1 signing the ADA.)
- Seat belt legislation was adopted to protect young children in one state and has now saved 317,000 lives.
- Affirmative action was supposed to open up higher education to African Americans, but also led to white women and many other ethnic and cultural groups to successfully demand access.
- Flight attendants sought to ban smoking on planes for their own health and that led to smoking cessation in all public places and tobacco consumption reduced exponentially.
- Dedicated bike lanes, established to protect bicyclists from injury, have gone on to become backbones of city planning, economic development, and climate change.
- The GI Bill, intended to allow a modest number of returning WWII soldiers to get post secondary education, resulted in a broad, vital middle class! It’s been utilized by millions, and, accompanied by low-interest home loans to veterans, led to the establishment of 300 colleges and millions upon millions of home owners.
So guide me. Without becoming plumbers, what can we at Mixed Blood do and what can theaters across the country do that will ripple into healthy, safe, comfortable communities and individuals in America? I look forward to your thoughts.