Posted June 6, 2019
Updated June 7, 2019 with the following correction: the original letter mis-stated the date of an email to the IRNE committee - it was the morning of June 3rd rather than the night of June 2nd. The text has been updated to reflect that.
Updated June 7, 2019 with the following correction: the original letter mis-stated the date of an email to the IRNE committee - it was the morning of June 3rd rather than the night of June 2nd. The text has been updated to reflect that.
Dear New England Theatre Community,
We, as individual artists, and not as representatives of any organization, crafted and published this letter on April 8th, 2019. The letter is clear about our desire to open a dialogue around making the IRNE reviews and awards, which are so vitally important to our community, more inclusive and transparent. It offers concrete suggestions about how to do so.
We did not state an intention to personally pursue or implement the strategies laid out in the letter. Our intention was to speak up. We are not a collective or an organization. We are individuals who raised our voices. We were heartened that you, the Boston theater community, agreed with us in large numbers. Over 600 of you signed on to the letter, many with comments of support and wonderful suggestions.
Certainly we, and many others of you in the Boston theater community, would have responded affirmatively to a request to engage in a process to support and strengthen the IRNEs. This could have included the crafting of a transition or succession plan, so that this important collective could continue its work. But we never received such a request.
Given that our names are listed below the letter and most of our emails are easily publicly available, including in the address books of many IRNE reviewers, we did not include a way of contacting us as a group. We figured the IRNE committee would either respond publicly or reach out privately. They did neither. About a week later, we received a note from a third party interested in facilitating the dialogue the initial letter called for. We replied immediately that we’d be happy to be in dialogue. After a delay of a few weeks, this person connected a member of the IRNE committee with one of the letter’s authors, and requested that we talk. We expressed a desire to be in conversation, as did the IRNE representative, and both parties indicated that they would speak with the group they represented, and keep the other informed. At this point, there was about a two-week gap in communication from both parties. It was not until late morning of Monday, June 3rd, that we reached back out as a group, confirming that our full group would be happy to convene for a conversation with the IRNE Committee, and asking about possible dates to do so. We were all shocked and disappointed to hear later that day about the IRNE committee's decision to disband – a decision we discovered along with everyone else when the news was posted to Facebook.
We provide this timeline in order to be as transparent and direct as we can possibly be. We want to own our part in the stalled communications. If we could go back and do one thing differently, if would be to have sent our follow-up email sooner. We wish we had done that. And while our collaborative intention is clearly stated in the original letter, we understand that the timing of its release, on the day of the IRNE ceremony, was perceived by some as more of a calling-out than a calling-in. That impact was not our intention. We were rushing to craft and edit the letter balancing the chaotic schedules of thirteen writers; we could have been more mindful about how the timing of release would be perceived. These reflections are important to us because we want to be part of a community where communication is clear and transparent, and where, when missteps are made, we can own them and work to do better next time.
The authors of this letter are a group of women, mostly women of color, who undertook a significant labor for our community by collating and articulating feelings and frustrations that have been long-discussed in private but not publicly aired. We hoped that the open letter would be a call to action and an opportunity for change – publicly available, so that these matters might be discussed in the light. Because the deeply-felt and honest concerns expressed in the letter are not new. They were prompted by this year’s nominations, but informed by long experience. We can tell from your comments that you, the 600+ letter signers, know this. Over the years, many people in the Boston theater community have attempted to engage with the IRNE committee around questions related to parity in reviews and nominations, the ethics and responsibilities of committee members, and the lack of transparency in process. While we do not feel it is productive to re-hash the specifics of these conversations here, we welcome you to raise any individual points you feel are relevant in the comments section below.
We are hopeful that a different critical ecosystem will arise from these ashes – one that takes the points in the original letter into account. We have seen conversations to this effect on social media that are exciting and encouraging. We are, again, a group of individuals and not a formal organization – but if you want to start a group, or organization, or conversation, and invite us to join, please feel free! We will need all of our smarts and heart and generosity to rebuild something new.
If you would like to make a comment to be included below this letter, please click here. You may comment anonymously or with your name. We will post comments that are constructive (whether supportive or critical), and decline to include those that are hostile, trolling, or make any form of personal attack.
With love and respect,
Lyndsay Allyn Cox
Dawn Meredith Simmons
Summer L. Williams
I stand with you and am grateful for your voices and your labor. Your work prepares a path forward for those in the Boston theatre community who wish to see a more equitable, inclusive arts ecology.
Create your own event and honor and endorse the type of theater and artists that you feel are important to the community. Most other cities have an artist controlled awards process. It is time for the Boston theater community to decide for itself what type of theater it wants to celebrate and encourage.
This was a smart and conscious forward thinking letter. I also believe that if you can't connect with others in such places as New York or even out of our country, then it is time to build and craft your own organization that supports the ideologies that will help support women and minorities in theater for today and tomorrow.
I’m sad that the IRNE team could not see this as an opportunity for growth. Your original letter was honest, direct, thoughtful, and so deeply needed. When institutions that foster imbalances of power (whether intentionally or not) respond to calls for more equity and more community responsibility by giving up the old work instead of doing the hard work, it’s a loss for all. I hope new models emerge that promote a better way of affirming independent theatre in Boston.
-Dave Valdes Greenwood
The letter glaringly omits any mention of the Eliot Norton Awards. If this is a true "open letter to the Boston Theatre Community" they should -- and must -- be included. Why?
For those interested in a definitive timeline, the original "Open Letter" was sent on or just before the day of the IRNE Awards on April 8 as was stated. According to emails, the first contact between Dawn Simmons and myself (at the urging of a third party) was May 14/May 15 with the statement that she would get back to me after conferring with the others. On June 3, just before noon (and after the news had been leaked that IRNE would be disbanding), we received an invite from Dawn Simmons and other signers. "If you're also interested in a dialogue, that's great; let's get some dates on the table for a conversation with representatives from the IRNE committee and the initial signers of the letter." A 5 PM we informed her that we had announced on Facebook that the IRNEs had disbanded.
-Mike Hoban, Theater Mirror, former IRNE Committee
Thank you for this transparency. Re the above comment about the Nortons, I disagree, it seems clear to me that the initial letter was directed toward the IRNE awards because of their large effect on the small and fringe theatre community, and this follow-up letter is a continuation of that conversation, not a blanket statement about all theater criticism or awards in Boston. In my opinion it would be better to have awards that aren't connected to critics, it's better to keep them separate, so I do hope the theater community comes up with sometihng like that.
I stand with you and am grateful for all of your work on this incredibly important issue in our community. I am here to support and assist.
Boston theatre (especially Smaller/fringe theatres) took a huge blow at the loss of the IRNES’s, a loss that didn’t have to happen. Disbanding is not progress, and not the solution anyone deserved. I hope that they find it in themselves to see their impact on the community and either be reborn, or see something new from the ashes.
-Francis Xavier Norton
No matter where you stand, can we all please acknowledge that this is a huge blow and another nail in the coffin to a quickly dying fringe scene? I truly hope a new award ceremony arises from these ashes, but I highly doubt it will. I mean, who would truly have the time between work, producing, rehearsals, tech, directing, etc. to create, facilitate, review and impartially award the hardworking artists of the Massachusetts area?
As a former founder of a now dead company that was quite thankful for the award recognition (particularly for the necessary grants we received, as acknowledged in the original letter), I fear another nail has hit the coffin of fringe theater and more support from ALL theater artists and lovers will be even more necessary for its survival.
The IRNEs had their faults. These letters have their faults. The fringe scene, unfortunately, will reap what has been sown out of good intentions.
Beverly, whatever happens, don’t let them guilt you into coming back. You’re better off without them.
Thanks to the amazing women who wrote this letter for their leadership in this community and this thoughtful follow-up. While many (including me) are saddened at the end of the IRNEs, it's voices like these that can give us a lot of hope for what comes next. Onward and upward.
As difficult as the IRNE's disbanding might be for the Boston theatre community, it's important now, more than ever, that we not lose sight of the path ahead expressed in "An Open Letter to the IRNE Committee." It is dismaying the IRNEs did not see this as an opportunity for growth, but that doesn't mean the community isn't liable to take up the torch. Thank you to the individual artists who care deeply enough about our community to speak up when it falls short of what they know we are capable of achieving.
The lack of self-awareness and evasion of responsibility on the part of the letter-writers, deliberate or otherwise, is stunning.
The first letter was simply an intent to shame people into action; if that was the tactic selected, so be it, but just own it; don't try to back-pedal now that things have not gone the way you anticipated.
Posting the letter the day of the awards without any prior communication with the committee is not acting in anyone's best interest; it is seeking an emotional, outrage-fueled response, and however good the intentions were, they were poisoned by the means of delivery.
Never mind the fact that a longtime IRNE member, Guy Giampapa, had died only a few weeks before your letter, and the committee planned to honor him at the ceremony; that clearly did not factor into your calculus.
What precisely did you think would happen? This was an all-volunteer body, stretched thin beyond words, that organized the awards because they wanted to give something back to the community, and at every turn, all they received was condemnation and criticism: the wrong people are being nominated, the venue is bad, the food is cheap, and on, and on, and on. I personally witnessed interns from the certain large company throwing awards into the trash on their way out of a ceremony a few years ago, driving one longtime committee member to tears as she fetched the awards out of the trash.
And so, while your letter may have been well-intended, and (perhaps more tragically) even justified, it was the absolute wrong tactic and likely the last, crushing straw that snapped an already frail camel's back. And who benefits? Absolutely no one.
Posting the original letter was perceived by a great many of the Boston Theater Community as "bullying" and as a public shaming. How inclusive is that? Doing it hours before the IRNE ceremony was tactless, immature, and beyond-a-doubt divisive. And yes 600 people signed the original letter. Where are those signatures now?
Reflecting back on the events leading up to these "Open Letters", I feel nothing but great sadness now looking at what was accomplished:
The disbanding of a 24 year old committee; public shaming of volunteers when it could have been a private and constructive conversation and meeting, but most importantly the dividing of a theater community who have taken sides. Can any group or committee benefit from change? Of course! Were these letters a good way to start that dialogue for change? No and if you look in you hearts you will see that is the real truth here. The intent may have been good but the approach and especially the timing was sadly devisive in tone leading to a bittersweet end of an era. The biggest loser here? Fringe companies and up and coming new actors to our vibrant theater community. Yes, we should all be heard loud and clear but not at the expense of tearing others down. That's when your argument fails.
The above argument that the April open letter to the IRNE committee was released to the public on the day of the awards ceremony is zero percent believable. I am fairly certain that no one intended to break up the IRNES. But it was a bad bad bad negotiation tactic, if opening the door for collaboration was the intention. Its recipients rightfully found the letter upsetting. Public shaming via social media, especially on a day of significance to the other party, is an aggressive, unloving act that breaks conversations — and sometimes, organizations and communities — down. Blaming the other party’s “perception” for the fallout of our own confrontational actions is gaslighting. Calling the parties we confront chicken or lazy or childish for walking away peacefully is a form of bullying. We need to collectively own what we have done and move on without the IRNES. Let’s respect their decision to walk away in peace because that is what they have chosen to do in response to what we have chosen to do.
There are no winners here at all.
For a quarter of a century, the IRNE committee created something for the Boston theater community without asking for anything in return. Was it perfect? Of course not. Nothing ever is. But every year, we showed up to the ceremony, we put the nominations and awards on our resumes, and we took the entire thing for granted.
Then, 600+ members of our community said in one voice to the IRNE committee "what you're doing isn't good enough." Scanning through that list of signatories, it was shocking (but not surprising) how many of them were nominees and awardees themselves. It takes a special kind of hubris to accept an award, or multiple awards, from the IRNE committee in one hand, and with the other hand, sign a letter rebuking that same committee. If the initial letter-writers, or any of those 600 signatories, really believed in what they were saying, they would have returned their awards, or refused to accept them, until such time as changes to the process were made. That obviously did not happen.
The sense of entitlement, self-righteousness, and outright arrogance of our community is incredibly disappointing. I say "our" because I have been proud to have been part of this world for many years, but now, I cannot look at some of my colleagues the same way again, both the initial letter-writers and those who signed on.
The worst part is, the actual argument being made in the letter with respect to diversity and equity was, and is, a valid one, but it was conducted in such a disrespectful manner, utterly lacking in grace and empathy, that the core message has been irrevocably tainted.
The letter-writers are now compounding the error by trying to spin and justify the failed approach. Suggesting that it was not their intention to release the letter on the same day as the ceremony is preposterous. By their own admission, they were "rushing" to finish the letter amidst the juggling of 13 schedules. But, there would only *be* a rush if the intention was to release the letter by a specific time. Thus, the argument falls completely flat, and the letter-writers seem to think that the rest of us are perhaps not bright enough to see through their obfuscation.
At this point, it seems the only thing that has been achieved is that what was a tightly-knit, supportive community of artists a week ago is now a divided body full of resentment, suspicion, and disappointment.
I wish I could sign my name to this message, but is has become clear from comments made by individuals on Facebook, and the general tone of this entire situation, that dissenting voices are not welcome, and are safe only behind a curtain of anonymity.
I'm disappointed in the folks who have come here to throw stones while covering themselves in the shroud of anonymity. This group of letter writers — women of color and their allies — have pointed to inequities in our local field, signed their names to it, stand by it, have asked for open and authentic conversation, have made corrections to the letter when they've been made aware of errors, and they are met with anonymous commenters who sure have a lot to say but aren't willing to say it under their own names. Interesting. Add in the tone policing, and the nitpicking on exactly how and when the letter was delivered, and what I see are classic tools of white fragility designed to derail the substance of the letter. We can honor the long service of people on the IRNE committee, respect the workload they undertook for no pay, acknowledge the ways that IRNE awards elevated the work they elevated, AND ALSO have concerns about inclusivity and unacknowledged adherence to structures of privilege.
Well that was predictable. The moment people begin to criticize or disagree with aspects of what happened, they are immediately dismissed with terms like "throwing stones" "tone policing" and "white fragility" without actually having any of their specific points addressed or refuted. And then you wonder why they choose to remain anonymous? Seriously?
Bottom line: The IRNEs were flawed, but did more good than harm. The original letter made very important points and succeeded in starting an essential conversation, but its rollout was definitely mishandled. People can disagree with certain pieces of the bigger picture and still be supportive of the overall framework. All of these elements can exist together--they are not mutually exclusive. But when you reduce everything down to "you either agree with me 100% or you are against me 100%" you (a) turn people off, (b) undermine your own case, and (c) come across as disingenuous and dishonest.
The original open letter was not a genuine attempt to open a dialogue -- let's just say it for what it is -- and it is not "knit picking" to point out that the timing was deliberate. That was the entire point--it was meant to be an aggressive first move (as opposed to a formal letter delivered in-person to the committee) which is a perfectly legit way to go if thats what you want, but don't shy away from it just because you're getting called out on it. The fact that the original authors are women/POC does not immunize them from criticism, and tacitly suggesting that it does is transparent and immature.
Good people with good intentions can disagree and still be respectful of each other and committed to a shared goal of a better future, but based on how this has all gone down so far, I dont have a ton of faith that it is going to happen that way. I home Im wrong.
Asking someone to do better is not an attack. Starting a conversation on the day of highest visibility is not an attack. Sharing feelings, concerns and thoughts that have long been voiced privately throughout the theatre community in a respectful, open manner, is not, I must repeat, an attack. Especially not when doing so means reaching out, as an artist, to some of the critics and tastemakers who control far more publicity with their reviews than they ever did with their awards.
Many anonymous commenters seem to be under the impression that the letter-writers were calling for a boycott, or a disbanding, of the IRNEs. A lot of nameless folks are quick to call out an attack that didn't happen. This was an effort to converse as a community around a community-centered event. As someone who was up for an award that night and had received one in the past, I co-signed the letter to make it clear that my concerns were not "sour grapes," nor were they mitigated by my inclusion. I would imagine that many of my other co-nominees and recipients who co-signed felt the same.
This was a discussion that we all needed (and still need) to have, and one that many in the community have been trying to have for literal years. Maybe this was what it took to finally push it through. I don't begrudge the IRNE committee their feeling that, after years of volunteer work, they were too overtaxed and overtired to take on the mantle of these changes. Their choice points to just how tough and hard and rigorous the work needs to be to be successful. It would've been fantastic to use the IRNEs as a focal point of the conversation. But now we'll have to use the vacuum that they left.
I didn't make an anonymous comment, but the option was offered, and people used it. I appreciate this letter's authors for offering the chance for people to comment anonymously. Speaking from an equity in public policy standpoint (and this IRNE situation is a public policy power problem among other things), a benefit of anonymity is that it allows the relatively powerless to speak their truths without fear of real-world retribution from people who are more powerful or influential. I am -->!!!*not* !!! <--saying that it would happen in this case, but a critical commenter to this letter who is not confident in their place in the local theatre hierarchy may fear not being cast, getting work, or allowed to use a theater facility, for example. I personally feel that this would not happen, but it's a valid and reason why someone would comment anonymously. Anonymous responses also provide data that you won't get if people are named and afraid of repercussions. I suggest that StageSource, Small Theater Alliance and/or like organizations put out survey so people of all levels of the theatre hierarchy can say truthfully say what they observe, perceive, want and need in response to the IRNE dissolution in a less emotional, more measurable way, with less bias or fear of repercussions. This data could be useful moving forward. Anonymity also opens the doors up to trolls, and gleans feedback that can be hard to hear, but whether I agree or disagree with them, the above comments seem sincere and not trolly to me. I'd also like to add, respectfully, that I disagree that efforts to confirm the timing and mode of delivery of the original letter was "nitpicking." Emotions are high and policy and organizations can't be changed on emotion alone. People need to know and trust the basic facts if they are going to take productive and solid steps based on reality. I applaud and respect this letter's authors for correcting the date of the OG letter's distribution.
What is the position of StageSource's Board, members, and staff on this matter? StageSource is the organization that provides leadership and services to advance the art of theater in the Greater Boston and NE region and whose mission is to unite theater artists, theater companies, and related organizations in vision and goals that inspire and empower our community to realize its greatest artistic potential. The authors of the open letter say they signed as individual artists and not as representatives of organizations, but it is very concerning that StageSource's ED is one of the authors. It is very sad how divided the community is.