Tag Archives: LaMama

Where Do You Stand? What Do You Stand For? 

by Constance Strickland

I received a message last week from a friend who resides between Chicago and New York. She is a playwright, poet, performer, a brilliant witty woman who tells layered stories. You can imagine how it broke my heart to read her words: 

“I’m tired. The limit does in fact exist and I feel like I’m at mine. It just feels too hard and like it’s impossible to change anything. There’s just no money and I don’t know how to sustain any of this.” 

It has been over three years since the pandemic, We See You White American Theater and the righteous fight for justice in the Arts. Yet, the sentiment among Independent Black Artists remains loud and clear: justice has not been served.

Many Black theatre artists are still battling for spaces to manifest our work, we are chasing for a place in the theatre where our voices can be heard authentically, and we are still without funding to complete or create new theatre works. We battle, we cling to a hope that often remains unseen—a quiet spark deep within our souls. We are seeking work beyond a classroom. We do not want an opportunity to be hired in leadership roles at white-led institutions. We are not seeking power. We are not tokens. And we do not want to be one or two of the only Black bodies in the room curated by white institutions. Nor do we want to be invited into spaces where Black curators, who are hired by white institutions, must choose between their Black contemporaries like an open auction. We want ateliers, and our own studio spaces, where we can dream, manifest, and build our collective and individual legacies.

Now, more than ever, there’s a pressing need to advocate for funding for Black artists across various fields and mediums of theatre. Too often, initiatives for diversity, equity, and inclusion in white-founded institutions merely result in superficial changes, with a handful of Black individuals elevated to prominent positions without any systemic transformation. The occurrence where very few and often the same Black people are placed within the hierarchy of these institutions and nothing radical ever changes. 

It’s no secret that the major funding and monies still lie with these white-led institutions, therefore causing a low amount of resources to a wide variety of Black artists, creating a small pool where we all have to apply to the same resources, where the same advisors, grant readers, and voting teams come from a small group of the same theatre or academic institutions, networks, with a lack of imagination on how to support multi-faceted Black Artists who are creating new works.

In Los Angeles, Ebony Repertory Theatre is the only African-American professional Actor’s Equity (AEA) theatre company… joined by only a handful of smaller companies. To me, this is a grave tragedy and reveals the great amount of work there still is to do for Black theatre in Los Angeles, most certainly for Black women in theatre.  As Black women continue to grapple with the financial fallout of the pandemic and confront escalating rates of racism, the urgency of our mission grows. I have been physically sitting with how Theatre Roscius, my small independent non-profit theatre company, can begin to morph further from developing my physical plays into further uplifting local Black female artists over the next two years and that gives me hope, fuel, and fear. Although I have received numerous grants over the past couple of years (that took over eight years of grant writing) the reality is more funding is required. A further reach of serving is needed. I think of Jackie Taylor, founder of Black Ensemble Theater, Barbara Ann Teer, founder of the National Black Theatre, and Ellen Stewart, founder of LaMama Experimental Theatre Club, who against all odds found ways to survive and thrive.

I ask myself:

How can Theatre Roscius be further of use to women in my community whose stories I tell using my body as the catalyst? How can I uplift Black female artists with resources; financially and artistically? How do I create room for a new canon of experimental/avant-garde Black Theatre that does not have to go through a particular mainstream or commercial route? 

I ask you: 

How can we continue to reshape the American theatre? How do we expand the canon of voices that exist in American theatre? Can we delve deeper? What stories of our community are we not telling? I look forward to asking more questions, and to not being satisfied, while doing the work required to discover and implement these found answers. 

As time moves and the world continues to find ways to breathe together, what Theatre Roscius has always offered and will elevate is a new way. To give female artists time to imagine, investigate, explore, sit with their ideas, and then execute those found connections in real-time. 

My wish is that Black Artists not be afraid of having no money. That we band together even when colonialism tries to separate us. That we refuse to engage in hierarchies and archetypes. Can we disrupt and reconstruct not for personal clout but for the collective and those coming up after and with us? 

May we remember why we do the work, why we have always done the work and it was never to uplift the business of theatre. I hope that we continue to honor our artistic lineages and remember that we have always been the blueprint.