Gloucester Stage Faces Social Media Backlash After Gala Announcement
By Kobi Kassal
Local actress Lyndsay Allyn Cox was going through her inbox earlier this week when she came across an advertisement for Gloucester Stage Company’s It Takes Two: At Home Gala, which is set to take place live tonight, July 30, and will be available digitally through August 2. “The first thing I noticed was a photo of a cast for this performance, and I thought, ‘that can’t be right,’” Allyn Cox told me via Zoom. Upon further investigation, she discovered that the gala consisted of performances from couples in the Boston area, many of whom are no stranger to our stages: Paula Plum and Richard Snee, Amanda Collins and Lewis D. Wheeler, and many more. What Allyn Cox found to be so surprising is that in the lineup of 16 performers, only two were people of color. “There were no BIPOC or queer couples, there were no gay people listed as well and I thought, ‘here we go again,’” she remarked.
After sharing and discussing with her friend and colleague, Boston based director and dramaturg Pascale Florestal, the two shared their discovery with a BIPOC affinity group on Facebook for those who work in the theatre industry. Florestal noted the similarity to a reading at Two River Theater in New Jersey where Phillipa Soo (of Hamilton fame) was the only BIPOC in the cast, and the theater faced backlash.
Yesterday morning, a member of the affinity group commented on Gloucester Stage’s post regarding the gala, questioning where the BIPOC artists were. From there, more and more people commented asking about representation in this event. It was then that Florestal noticed that certain comments were being deleted from the post. “I was completely shocked when I first noticed this. At first, I thought it was just a Facebook glitch, but when I saw the comments were gone I was so shook because it's one thing to respond and try to have a conversation, it is another thing to just delete something and pretend it never happened. That's a whole other level of erasure. And I think it's easy to delete things and pretend that it didn't happen.”
In screenshots of the original post obtained by Theatre Talk Boston, it is clear that Gloucester Stage was engaging with folks and responding to questions regarding the event. It was at that point that the entire post was removed from the platform. After the original post was deleted, Allyn Cox took to her own Facebook to share her thoughts on the situation and implore her white allies to see what was happening. “I think that the thing that I'm holding on to is seeing that clearly it's not just the artists of color in Boston who care about this. There are white artists in the city and in this country who do care about what is going on,” said Florestal.
“We've been used to make money,” remarked Allyn Cox. “We've been used to fill your one Black quota per season. And we're only hired to work on that one Black show. And I think we're just tired of it. I've been in Boston for 13 years and I've seen some companies do the work, like Company One, who are small but mighty. And I think other companies should look to them as a model in terms of how they prioritize telling underrepresented stories.”
Later in the afternoon, others started posting to Gloucester Stage’s Facebook page, where the conversation continued. At the time of publication, one post has garnered over 70 comments regarding the situation.
When asked for comment, Managing Director Christopher Griffith replied with the following statement, that has since been posted to their Facebook and Twitter accounts as well:
We would like to highlight and respond to actions our team took today on social media, the actors performing in our annual fundraiser this weekend, and our steps following our Black Lives Matter affirmation.
Artists both local and abroad recognized a lack of racial and sexual-orientation diversity in the ensemble of our It Takes Two fundraiser. We want to thank those who took time to challenge our complicity, and recognize that to be anti-racist, we must be constantly breaking down the systems that have led to segregation and a lack of representation of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists in the American Theater and our organization.
Further, when artists were standing up for what is right and calling out injustice, we deleted the conversation and ended the discourse. We apologize for taking an action that silenced BIPOC voices; an action that stands directly against our belief that we want our community to call out inequality and make a positive change. We recognize and are sorry for the harm this caused, and we are sorry to the artists who took time to share resources and ask questions.
We want to provide the artistic community of Boston and our audiences with real change - doing more than stating Black Lives Matter - investing our artistic capacity in BIPOC and LGBTQ+ stories and artists. Our next steps will be to form a community action committee to assess our new Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion plan and evaluate practices and responsibilities within our organization to prevent complicit casting, white-washed publicity, and hurtful actions that silence voices from happening again in the future. More than anything, our leadership will be taking time to listen - and listening means leaving comments on social media that challenge us to do better.
Thank you for those members of our community who stand for justice, equality, and anti-racism in professional theater, and had the fortitude to call us out on our inaction. We will work to be a better organization with your help and guidance.
“At the end of the day, I think it's important for companies like Gloucester Stage to know that we want to work with them,” said Florestal. “But clearly, they don't see us as a part of that conversation. There are plenty of artists who would love the opportunity to work at that theater. I know it's hard, but guess what? Life is hard and that's not an excuse anymore. We all know it’s hard. If I can order my dinner while I'm on this Zoom call, you can find a person of color to put in your cast.”
Kobi can be reached on Twitter @kkassal.