INTRODUCTION: LANGUAGE BARRIERS
Claudia: Ugh my neighbor ...Can you hear the piano? My next door neighbor is is a pianist So if you hear a piano in the background, so is my neighbor playing live *laugh*
Claire: Claudia Norman lives in Jackson Heights, a neighborhood in Queens, New York, and Like many people who work in the arts, Claudia wears a lot of different hats: independent producer, artistic director, cultural worker
Claudia: When I say cultural worker, I mean, I’m presenting projects in the international arena. So my focus is to bring voices and cultural projects into the United States.
Claire: Because Claudia brings voices into the arts industry, she can immediately tell when a space is missing something, like a key perspective. And at the start of the pandemic, she was invited to a lot of working groups.
Claudia: So I was super busy jumping from Zoom to Zoom, taking notes…
Claire: Virtual meetings, mostly on Zoom, where arts administrators and executives were brainstorming what to do about all the live performances that were getting canceled, but Claudia noticed that the stakes weren’t the same for everyone.
Claudia: The same name: “How to return to Live Performance” but experience from so many different points that it didn’t mean the same for an artist for like a creative producer like myself that I was losing immediately all my income and somebody who programs for an institution and needed to return the ticket sales, y’know.
Claire: You see, Claudia is a freelancer. And freelancers usually don’t get paid unless that live performance actually happens, while everyone else in these virtual working groups: they had salaries.
Claudia: It was just like a very few ones receiving their checks, working from home. And the majority of the people in this field were not knowing if they will have money to eat, to pay rent and all of that.
Claire: Claudia said it felt like she was speaking a different language - that the lack of inclusion, the missing perspective in the room, was obvious to her, but not to the decision-makers
Claudia: But we had the opportunity in 2020 to see that those structures, they don't work anymore. It doesn't go with our narrative of inclusivity and in order to really make it work, it requires infrastructural changes that if you want to prove that you are running on inclusivity and that your organization is really I mean, we can see that. Or or not, you know, we can see that you are just talking, but not doing really the deep research so action! you are like in a privileged place.
Claire: You’re listening to Arts. Work. Life., a podcast from The Association Of Performing Arts Professionals.
I’m Claire Caulfield.
So Inclusion is a word that’s thrown around a lot in the performing arts industry.
But true inclusion: Actually making sure spaces are welcoming and equitable? There’s a lot of work to be done.
All three of our stories today start in 2019, and show how the past few years forced people to re-evaluate their very definition of inclusion.
Today’s episode: Inclusion: What does it mean to be ‘In The Room’?
Featuring stories about physically getting into the room,
The things that are said IN those rooms
And choosing between two very different rooms.
>> music ends
ACT ONE: THE FIRST STEP
Claire: Act One, The First Step
Lynne Jordan is a staple of the Chicago blues and jazz scene, known for her voice and on-stage charisma.
But the confidence was hard-won.
In our first story, Lynne takes us behind the curtain, revealing what keeps her in and out of certain rooms.
Because even though she’s sold out shows across the country,
Taking that first step on stage has become a lot harder.
Lynne starts her story in 2019, when she was visiting a new venue for the first time.
Lynne: And so I’m real excited to go and I walk in, and I see from the entrance the stage at the end of the room, it’s just one big room. It’s not anything major, it’s just a platform. And as I go and take my seat, I realize that the entrance to the stage is from the audience and there are three free-standing stairs. So there's no railing, there's nothing. There's just three little stairs up to the stage and the room is filling up. And my excitement basically turned to dread because I knew that the audience would have to watch me from the back, try and navigate or negotiate these stairs. And it ain't going to be pretty.
You know, I've been singing for. I don't even know how many years. Well, professionally, for 30 years. But I didn't have this mobility issue until maybe the last ten years. I’d say.
Up until my arthritis took over my life, was a very active singer. I danced.
But I have osteoarthritis, so it's degenerative and it just gets worse. You know, I started doing things to help strengthen my quads above my knee. And lose a little weight
And I’m heavy, I’m obese.
But I mean, what I really need is a knee replacement. What? And so it's what I deal with now. I walk with a cane all the time now.
I can list all the venues in Chicago that don't have wings or a backstage area because like a lot of blues clubs and just clubs in general... they have a raised stage, they have steps and it's right in front and none of them I can name the ones. There's two, have handrails, they're just free floating stairs. And usually they're like real cheaply made.They just like push them up to the stage. So not only am I having to walk up these stairs with no rails, they're like not connected to the stage. It's the worst.
It seems like they don't think that they have performers who will need accessibility.
I think they should think about that, especially these blues clubs where a lot of these great living legends are 80 years old,
You think they would think of that. Because it's embarrassing, you know, and it's painful. And if you have any sense of pride, I mean,
If I were younger or if I was still dependent on club work for money. I it would be awful. But again, it does affect me because my wedding work, I used to do a lot of weddings. I'm a good entertainer, but I can't stand up for very long. So I have to entertain from a chair, a higher chair, you know, kinda Cabaret style.
But I know no young kid is. Want some old woman sitting in a chair *laugh* maybe this is all in my head but it has affected that kinda work
But a few years ago I remember I was sitting at a I don't know if it was a wedding or what. And this obnoxious, these girls came up, they're like, stand up, get up. And I was like, What in the heck? I can't believe these women are shouting at me to get out of my chair and stand up to sing. But I felt terrible. I wanted to punch ‘em in the head, but I still I felt horrible. I was like, Oh, God, this is a nightmare. Get up, dance! I’m thinking, Oh, shut up, I'm disabled. Leave me alone.
I have a very good friend who also has mobility issues. And she just doesn't perform anymore because it's just too hard. And I completely get that. But again. She also has insurance, health insurance and a retirement. And I don't have all that, so I cannot afford to stop working, you know.
If I stop performing, I'd have to go get a day job. I have a college education and everything, but last time I ever worked was right after college because I started singing, so i didn't have a corporate gig
I would tell any young person, to prepare, And I'm not saying have a backup career or anything like that, but to have security. I had about a decade of profitable flourishing and income.
I do wish I had prepared for retirement and wish I had saved my money.
When live performing and all my gigs completely canceled because of the pandemic, I mean, I pivoted. And I bought an external microphone and a real fancy iPhone and I started doing these things called Diva Grams.
>> DivaGram clip
I would sing a song for someone. do a personalized greeting
It was all shot waist up or actually more like the boobs up. And I would put on these bright purple gloves and a hat
And, you know, from the waist up I was Beyoncé dancing in the chair I was just hustling right along, doing the virtual work, and no one could see that I needed a cane and I didn't have to go anywhere.
Then, of course, things started opening up and live performances came back. And now I'm outed because over the last two years, I gained weight, so my knees were hurting even worse. And that was like my biggest dread. I thought, Oh, my God, what kind of shows am I going to book? I thought oh god I wasted those two years
Something a friend said to me that sticks in my head. I was whining about my knees hurting and not being able to stand and sing. And she said to me, Honey, they're paying money to hear you sing. They're not paying money to see you stand. And I thought, Yeah, *laugh*
>> “If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Keep Sittin’ on It” music / song fade up
I've spent enough time beating myself up.
This is who I am. I walk with a cane, I have bad knees, but I'm still a great singer and I'm going to entertain your, you know, your patootie off, *laugh*
Claire: Lynne Jordan lives and performs in Chicago, Illinois.
>> “If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Keep Sittin’ on It” music / song fade down
>> music wraps
ACT TWO: UNFILTERED
Claire: Act Two, Unfiltered
Our second story today takes us to the University of Massachusetts, their Amherst Fine Arts Center.
Michael Sakamoto is the center’s performing arts curator and director of the Asian and Asian-American Arts and Culture Program.
So he’s not only in the room, he’s helping to lead the entire building.
But that does NOT mean the diversity, equity and inclusion work is done, in ways that Michael couldn’t have anticipated when he first accepted the job in 2019.
Michael: I was about three months into my new job, and it was my first night introducing a show as the new director of the Asian and Asian-American Arts and Culture Program
And I was introduced to a longtime patron, and she was telling me very enthusiastically about a recent dance performance that she'd seen, and she characterized it as a female dancer who was very cute and passive and taking tiny little steps, you know, just like a Japanese person. And she repeated that same point for emphasis. And it was a really, kind of, you know, baldly racist moment. And my colleague, who had introduced me to the woman, apologized profusely afterwards, and my response was just simply, you know what? It's 5 minutes to curtain. I've got a job to do. There are some things in life I just don't have time to deal with anymore.
In 2019 when I moved from Iowa to Massachusetts because I had come out of a very difficult, somewhat racist experience. And I now find myself in a position of some authority as the director of one of the only university-based Asian and Asian-American arts and culture programs in the entire country.
And in summer of 20, when the murder of George Floyd occurred, all of a sudden you had white folks all over the country and definitely in our own backyard, kind of losing their heads, suddenly realizing as if it was a news flash that we lived still in 2020 in an extremely racist society. So it was very difficult to be part of those very necessary conversations because it was triggering to a lot of non-white folks to be in a room with still mostly white folks saying, “Oh, my God, I can't believe this is happening.” Well, actually, it had been happening to us every day of our lives since we were born. So where have you been? And yet you can’t say that because it’s not productive even, if it is true.
And I had to personally really dig deep on some days to find a place where I could just simply be calm in that room. What that also meant is there were some days where I couldn't be.
And I just didn't care at that point about being polite for people who, you know, through either no fault of their own or perhaps through very much a fault of their own. We're very privileged.
And saying, oh, America's experiencing racial reckoning. So, no, actually, America is not experiencing a racial reckoning. America's experienced a call for racial reckoning. A racial reckoning would actually be a reckoning. A solution.
There were days where I would be sitting in a national performing arts presenter consortium meeting ,and I could either say the thing, and maybe have a mic drop moment just because I was so unfiltered, and then there were other days where I just couldn't even enter that space at all.
So in some ways, I'm more. And in some ways, I'm less unfiltered.
When we programmed the 2020-2021 season, which was all virtual and mostly free for the public, we did more explicit social justice-based work than we’re even done in one season and that was, not a silver lining, but a how do I say an opportunity that the pandemic presented was for us to take the kid gloves off in terms of our content a little more.
Really pushing the envelope of these sort of questions of like what is it in you as an audience, members of viewers, a listener that's desiring me? And does that have to do with race? Does it have to do with politics? Does it just have to do with a simple emotion that is still somehow actually not so simple, that's actually really caught up in all of those very complex, messy factors and influences.
And that was frankly, just on a purely personal level, how I kind of kept my sanity as a professional and survive that year because we hadn't done that. I would have gone home every day really fundamentally questioning what I was doing with my life. And so in a way, I guess now that I say that out loud. It's almost like that sort of saved my life.
As every day. Another incident of racism or of violence, of discrimination, of what have you. Comes into really stark view, I don't get dispirited, but I do begin to question my premises. And what I keep coming back to is that no matter how bad things get and no matter what happens, everything has an opportunity. There's a yin and yang. There's a dark and a light.
There's an opportunity for making something better than it was. There's an opportunity to create a new expression, a new way of doing things, a new way of learning.
And that's what gets me through.
Claire: Michael Sakamoto is an artist, writer, academic and arts administrator living in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
>> music ends
ACT THREE: GOING IN CIRCLES
Claire: Act three, going in circles
Our third and final story today is from Anthony Torres.
In 2019, Anthony was working on a play about war trauma. The piece was written and performed by Anthony and other Puerto Rican war veterans.
The last live performance was in January 2020, before the pandemic shut down the rest of their tour.
Anthony picks up his story in the summer of 2020, with a bit of a career shift. He was working as a trauma therapist at a rehab facility for first responders.
His story is about the similarities between those two jobs:
Workshops with veterans and refugees. Sharing trauma. Theater in the round.
Group therapy with police officers. Sharing trauma. Plastic chairs in a circle.
But the clinical setting surprised him, had him going around in circles, or maybe spiraling, and forced him to reevaluate what rooms he was creating, and why.
Anthony: I began this job as a as a trauma therapist, working with police officers, firefighters, 911 operators, EMTs, many of them veterans themselves with war experience. And, you know, I felt like I was a good fit for this job, a combat veteran myself, someone who's. been. Both in the VA and the military.
I was in a good position to share with a lot of these folks who also struggle with that dynamic of of readjustment and reintegration into society.
George Floyd's murder happened while I was in this job. And I remember walking into my workspace for a 9 a.m. group the very next morning and being one of maybe three people of color in this space of 20 or so, first responders.
You know, in a room. Full of first responders. How could we not discuss this issue? Right.
There were two African-American police officers who shared. And then. Then things quickly went left. A lot of defensiveness. And I quickly realized that this was not a productive conversation.
I was immediately pulled aside by my supervisor who asked me to basically not do that any more *laugh*
And what I did repeatedly during these, you know, 18 or so months at this job, uh. Was just point out the idea that. You know. Coming together and having these discussion discussions can be very uncomfortable for many of us for different reasons, but they're vital.
When we stop those opportunities, I think we're doing us all a disjustice.
And what I saw so often was suffering.
Suffering in in in the voices, in the eyes and in the stories of of these men and women in these positions. What what frankly scared me was to see these people from all over the country. at these seemingly breaking points.
My clinical opinion is some of these men and women were not stable, emotionally, mentally, to be in these positions of high responsibility, the highest level of responsibility.
But there were several, several instances where it started to just wear on me. Emotionally.
One example was this police officer who, what was going on in maybe Portland or Seattle. These responses to police brutality. He called these folks savages. That hit so deep with me. Because that's one of the easiest ways to dehumanize people is to give them this blanket label of just as you would animals. This was a view that was spoken about Puerto Ricans. as Puerto Rico became a colony of the United States. This is also deeply ingrained in the military culture. You know, this is what this is what we do to the others to make us easier, to fight them, to hurt them, to kill them. So to hear, you know, this come from a police officer was demoralizing and sad.
It was after talking to a black detective who said, she not only deals with discrimination from her superiors, but also on the job, specifically white men. The disrespect was exhausting, and, you know, she shared with me, did you think I'm going to open up and speak about those experiences to a roomful of white men? You know, I don't feel comfortable.
And I had to do something about that. It really disturbed me, so I decided to have a luncheon. You know, it doesn't disrupt anyone's schedule. Let's just invite anyone who wants to be in the space. And, we just had a discussion. About what's the impact as a person of color in these environments, in these institutions.
And the next day, my my supervisor told me that it come down from the chain of command, that I would need to not create this kind of special space.
It was very demoralizing for me because I just felt like, you know, we're doing the politically correct thing. We're doing the bureaucratic thing. Um, we're not clearly not doing the right thing here.
So it was a major, moral and ethical dilemma for me because on one hand, as a combat veteran myself, to support those who have dealt with trauma who hold such high responsibility in our society and understand that their suffering. But also in their place of authority, with the constant threat of violence that they themselves perpetuate, it just got harder.
And I had just come from this place of, you know, touring throughout 2019 with this piece about war trauma, thinking and writing and, you know, about activism and social justice and raising voices of the marginalized to to do a complete shift from that to... *sigh*
I just couldn't help but feel like I was in the wrong place, and this is not where I wanted to put my energy.
Theater work has always been a platform from day one to address many of these issues of isolation, of loneliness, of suffering of mental illness.
You know that we have a place that our stories matter. And our voices. <> you know, this idea of courage is speaking up despite fear. You know.
Artists and arts administrators What communities is our work focused on?
Everything that I've learned from my military experience to the theater work, to the clinical setting. What can I pull from those experiences to contribute to society?
Whose voices am I looking to raise or empower?
Claire: Anthony Torres is the executive director of Combat Hippies, a theater company based in Miami, Florida.
OUTRO & CREDITS
Claire: Thank you for listening.
ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a production from APAP – the Association of Performing Arts Professionals.
APAP is the national service organization for the performing arts presenting, booking and touring industry.
I’m Claire Caulfield, your host and producer.
And Jenny Thomas is our Executive Producer.
Music today from Lynne Jordan & the Shivers and Blue Dot Sessions
This podcast would not be possible without the generous support of The Wallace Foundation. So thank you.
Other thank you's to Sherri Larsen,
The APAP staff and board of directors
Our storytellers today, and the hundreds of thousands of arts workers across the world.
Your stories matter. and arts workers ARE essential.
And if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review. It helps other people find our show.
If you work in the performing arts, submit your own story to this podcast! APAP-3-6-5-dot-o-r-g-slash-podcast.
Carolyn: Arts, Work, Life. that’s real *laugh*
>> music ends
Claire: Next time on ARTS. WORK. LIFE….
Craig: My wife worked the nine-to-five job and so that allowed me the freedom to perform and and I'm forever thankful to her.
Lynn N.: And so I decided to increase their pay and forego my salary for that year to make it happen
Thamara: Being the head of a big project but with no money
Taylor G: I do have insurance but it doesn't cover anything and it certainly doesn't cover any dance specialists