Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias Plan and Commitment to Action
National New Play Network’s Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias Vision Statement
For over 20 years, National New Play Network has incubated and elevated new work by creating community, fostering collaboration, and standing firm in our unshakable belief that everything is better when we all work together.
Two years ago, we strengthened our commitment to new work and to each other by dedicating our next five years to making NNPN and the new play field more equitable, diverse, and inclusive.
We are working to widen the lens of who makes, shares, and experiences the stories we craft, centering and amplifying theater-makers of color and other artists and audiences who have historically been overlooked and ignored.
We have committed to anti-racist and anti-bias practices as detailed in the plan and commitment to action below. We are proud to lead this charge with great joy, renewed purpose, and new-found hope for the future of our country and our field.
Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias Plan and Commitment to Action
National New Play Network commits to fostering and supporting work that dismantles the structures of systemic racism that are endemic in the new play field and the theater industry at large. NNPN believes that bold action and public accountability are vital to creating a diverse and equitable new play ecosystem that will best support all artists and audiences, and will honor, celebrate, and lift up the work of theater-makers regardless of their race or ethnicity, specifically, including but not limited to artists who self-identify as Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, and all People of Color.
Additionally, NNPN commits to fostering and supporting work that dismantles bias based on designations that contribute to the marginalization of groups of people, including but not limited to gender, gender identity, culture, religion, language, sexual orientation, age, neurodiversity and/or disability, and/or economic class.
Since its founding, National New Play Network has existed in a white-dominant, culturally racist societal structure, and its work has reflected norms that align with those forces. The Network has approached the problem in numerous ways (historically, through its programs, awards, and professional development offerings; more recently, through increasing intentionality around supporting artists who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, and all People of Color) and with varying levels of success. However, we acknowledge that in the past, we did not make anti-racism and anti-bias work a priority; by resetting the organization to center this work, we hope to play a leading role in modeling how our entire field can move forward towards dismantling the systemic biases that have prevented a truly equitable and just American theater.
We recognize that we have made mistakes and deeply regret the pain, exclusion, and insecurity that these actions have caused Affiliated Artists, Member Theater staff and/or artists, and/or any other theater-makers, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, all People of Color, trans, and/or disabled who have been harmed or excluded from opportunities because of these actions.
NNPN is grateful for the generosity, time, and expertise of the theater-makers and arts advocates who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, all People of Color, trans, and/or disabled and who have given of their time and energy to help NNPN in these efforts thus far.
National New Play Network is committed to sharing its journey toward awareness and action with its Member Theaters, constituencies, and other organizations to model and motivate these changes throughout the new play field and the theater, arts, and entertainment industries, and commits to supporting the anti-racism/anti-bias work being done at many of its Member Theaters and by the artists and theater-makers who are leading the way.
How the Work Began
The Network has wrestled with issues of access in the American theater within its internal workings and those of its Member Theaters from its inception, as evidenced by its work to bring emerging, unsung, and geographically diverse artists into the national spotlight. As the organization matured, professionalized its staff, and increased both the size of its membership and scope of its programs, it became more intentional about inclusion, diversity, and access, working towards gender parity and recognizing artists and works made by, for, about, and with Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, and all People of Color communities. NNPN’s online database of new plays, the New Play Exchange® (NPX®), which launched in 2015, was built to help remove barriers of all kinds so that both theater-makers and theater-lovers could access new works without regard to costs, a playwright’s pedigree, or location, or a play’s previous success. It also allowed for rotating featured lists, often focused on groups of plays written by or featuring Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, all People of Color, trans, and/or disabled people, and the use of demographic information so that those looking to discover works by specific artists or for specific casts can filter by gender, race, and ethnicity.
In 2017, while preparing for the 20th anniversary of its founding and beginning the creation of a new strategic plan, NNPN began seriously engaging in a period of self-reflection on the topic of systemic racism and bias, first by gathering information about the makeup of the boards, staff, and artists employed at its Core Member Theaters. The results of this study revealed that while Core Member Theaters are often making work by and with Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern and all People of Color, the staffs, and boards of these institutions are overwhelmingly white. NNPN responded with action, beginning within its own house.
In late 2017, National New Play Network kicked off its Strategic Planning process with a workshop focused on defining and recognizing systemic racism. This time, led by consultants Keryl McCord and Lisa Mount of Artistic Logistics, helped NNPN quickly determine that the new plan would need to center this work and that a deep and intentional organizational self-assessment was required. It was also determined that NNPN was in a unique position of privilege at the intersection of artists and institutions in our industry and that it was important that the Network model the robust, equitable, and inclusive ecology we believed the new play field must become.
One year and many hours of committee, board, staff, membership, and constituency conversations later, NNPN’s Board unanimously passed its FY20-25 Strategic Plan, which is rooted in and centers equity, diversity, and inclusion as practice, not a concept. The Network’s mission, vision, and values were adjusted to reflect the organization’s focus on a “new play ecology that reflects a broad range of aesthetics” and the belief that a “commitment to diverse stories, artists, audiences, institutions, and leadership is essential to an equitable new play field.”
The Network determined that it would focus its initial work primarily on racial diversity and that this work would serve as the basis from which other disparities will be addressed. The Board voted to dissolve and reformulate under a new governance model and bylaws to seat: 1) a Board of Directors comprised of at least 50% theater-makers who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, and all People of Color by 2025, and 2) a Core Membership that will include at least 30% Theaters of Color (TOC: organizations that self-identify as making theater primarily by, for, about, and with Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, and all People of Color artist and audience communities) by the same year. Additional programmatic and field advocacy goals were ratified in the Strategic Plan, the Executive Summary of which is here.
National New Play Network’s FY20-25 Strategic Plan established 5-year goals for the diversification of all decision-making positions and processes, understanding that the only true way forward must include all aspects of the organization. For NNPN, these initiatives - beginning with governance and including how the Network and its benefits are accessed and distributed - must include diversity and representation at every level of its structure for power to be redistributed in a way that is worthy of being seen as a model for significant and sustainable, field-wide change.
Where We Are Now
Since the new FY20-25 Strategic Plan was passed and began (August 1, 2019), NNPN has also taken the following actions:
NNPN is examining its every activity, program, and award through the lens of the commitments above. In FY20 (Year One), both of its Commissions, half of its National Showcase of New Plays featured slots, 50% of its Residencies, and 40% of its Fellowships went to artists who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, and all People of Color and other theater-makers who have traditionally been excluded from positions of privilege or power. NNPN’s 2020 National Showcase of New Plays, which featured new work written and directed by BIPOC women, and a Finalists Playwrights Slam highlighting voices from across the country and across cultures – reflected our new vision and commitment.
NNPN has built compensation for all adjudicators into every program budget and reached its initial goal of having program decision-making panels include no less than 30% Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, and all People of Color in Year One of the 5-year plan.
The FY21 (Year Two) Board of Directors is comprised of 55% leaders of color, exceeding the FY25 goal of 50% members who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, and all People of Color.
New Play Exchange® has begun regularly highlighting lists of works by Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, all People of Color, LGBTQ+, and/or disabled playwrights, as well as added to its robust search mechanism (which already includes searches by gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual identity) a “one-click” search button for plays that “center characters of color” or “centers LGBTQ characters” to make those stories easily discoverable.
The Network has completed comprehensive revisions to its Core and Associate Membership eligibility requirements and benefits and has begun building relationships with non-Member TOCs and its sister service organizations (TCG, APASO, CAATA, Black Theatre Commons, Latinx Theatre Commons, MENATMA, and various other formal and informal organizations and associations) that support TOCs and theater-makers who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, all People of Color, trans, and/or disabled.
NNPN has established both BIPOC and White Anti-Racist Affinity Groups to facilitate knowledge gathering and sharing, support, and collegiality.
To remain eligible for continuing membership, all Core and Associate Member Theaters will develop anti-racism/anti-bias statements to be ratified by their staffs and boards and publicly shared, by no later than June 30, 2021.
NNPN recognizes its position of leadership in the field and pledges to serve as a model for other organizations with its commitment to anti-racism/anti-bias work and the policies and practices that result from this work. With a foundation of anti-racism/anti-bias values and a commitment to set an anti-racist standard for the rest of the industry, NNPN pledges to take the following actions over the next 12 months - including dedicating resources in the FY21 and 22 budgets to do so - and recognizes that this is an early step in what will be an ongoing movement to create new systems in our field that dismantle racism and other forms of oppression:
NNPN will approve and publish this anti-racism/anti-bias statement and action plan prominently on its website, publications, social media, and in external documents as appropriate.
NNPN’s BIPOC and White Anti-Racist Affinity Groups will continue to be given space and resources to meet regularly and communicate directly to NNPN leadership.
NNPN will create and execute a transparent plan for recruiting TOCs into Core Membership towards the already stated goal of having the Core Member Theaters be at least 30% TOC by FY25.
Through its virtual and in-person meetings and convenings, NNPN will provide resources and space for its Member Theaters to transform themselves into anti-racist arts institutions that are rooted in, responsive to, and in service of their communities.
The Program Evaluation Working Group will continue its work, re-evaluating programs to increase access to and build accountability for Member Theaters and to ensure that harm is not perpetrated against Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, all People of Color, trans, and/or disabled theater-makers in any NNPN-supported activity.
As part of the development of New Play Exchange® 2.0, NNPN will build new features designed to amplify the work of artists with disabilities. NNPN will continue to promote the adoption of the tool by users who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, all People of Color, trans and/or disabled, and will continue to prioritize highlighting works by playwrights who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, all People of Color, trans and/or disabled.
While NNPN Member Theaters rebuild the capacity to participate in traditional Rolling World Premieres and that program undergoes evaluation through the Program Evaluation Working Group, NNPN commits to leverage the financial resources already set aside for that program in its FY21 budget to incentivize NNPN Member Theaters to develop, produce, and extend the life of new plays by theater artists who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, and/or all People of Color in their re-imagined 2020-21/2021 seasons, as well as developing and implementing anti-racist and anti-bias practices in their production of new plays by, for, about, and with theater makers and audiences who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, and all People of Color.
NNPN commits to maintaining future opportunities for its Member Theaters to seek support for projects that center playwrights and audiences who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, all People of Color, trans, and/or disabled, as well as and strengthen Member Theater’s anti-racist and anti-biased artistic practices.
NNPN commits to advocating for public policy that dismantles racism and other biases in support of Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, all People of Color, trans, and/or disabled theater-makers and the institutions that make work by, for, about, and with them.
NNPN will also incentivize and support theaters in developing and implementing anti-racism/anti-bias policies and practices in their production of new plays by, for, with, and about theater-makers who are Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian, Middle Eastern, all People of Color, trans and/or disabled.
NNPN’s Board will activate the Human Resources Committee of the Board and solicit other resources as necessary to assist Staff as it continues to audit its current organizational structure to identify and eradicate practices and policies based in systemic racism from all aspects of its operations and implement hiring and employment policies based in anti-racism and anti-bias practices.
Staff will work with the Human Resources Committee to build short and long-term growth and succession plans for staffing, creating space for future leadership to continue the organization’s transformation.
Board Committees and/or Staff actively engaged in the implementation of this plan will report regularly to the Board and Membership.
NNPN recognizes that this document will need consistent review and commits to twice annual audits of progress, successes, and failures toward these actions for accountability, and updating them as required based on that evaluation and learning.
NNPN commits to the sharing of those results with all its constituencies twice annually at its regular convenings and publicly upon request and in its Annual Report.