A letter of Commitment

July 1, 2020

Dear Skidmore Theater Company Members and community,

I write to you as the new Chair of the Theater Department. I write to introduce myself to our alumni and to members of our long-standing community, many of whom may not know me. I write to greet our current students and colleagues, and to say: I miss you. I write to welcome new students, colleagues, and community members.

I have been at Skidmore for two years. I am still new here.

I am going to need your help to see the past clearly, nurture the present, and build the future.

I am humbled to take on this leadership role in this moment.

I will do my best to do right by you.

I will ask for your help.

Though I have been a part of Skidmore and the Theater Department for a mere two years, I believe– fiercely– in this program, its dynamic history of theater training and making, and its potential for continued growth.

Our alumni, students, colleagues, faculty, and communities are exposing racism, micro and macro aggressions, white supremacy culture, erasure, and ignorance in our program, practices, and field.  As a department and company, we are seeing how we have not always lived up to the values we espouse.

Our program and our company must do better.

Our program and our company will do better.

Our alumni, students, colleagues, faculty, and communities are making changes to dismantle systemic, social, and personal biases that normalize macro and micro aggressions against BIPOC artists and colleagues, that obfuscate racism and intersectional racism. Efforts in the present, and for the future, do not erase the past. There is much work to do. We must not become complacent, nor begin to believe we have “done enough.” The Theater faculty and staff will articulate an action plan for anti-racism and intersectional anti-racism in our program and company. We will share that with you. We are working this summer.

As I start my term as Theater Chair, I return to the words of Miguel Rubio, co-founder of Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani. Rubio’s words steward me as a historian, teacher, and artist. He writes:

“A present without memory condemns us to a poor future. To believe that today owes nothing to yesterday allows us to think that we have no responsibility to tomorrow. On the contrary, memory and imagination complement each other since they allow us to represent what has already passed and what one day might occur.”

It is my goal, as Chair, to support us to imagine futures, face and heal pasts, and grapple with presents.

We are also in the midst of a global pandemic completely incompatible with theatrical production as we know it, a pandemic that has brought with it profound economic hardships that have disproportionately affected BIPOC and people of the global majority communities. As theater artists, our instinct is to make live performances with audiences.  We turn to live performance to help us imagine, grapple, face, heal. And yet: without the demands of mounting live performance, we can use this time to build capacity to emerge braver and stronger than before.  To emerge more responsive and more responsible for enacting a world that is more just.

I am not yet certain of what the fall and the coming academic year will bring.  I know it will not be business as usual. I hope you will join me for the work we have in front of us, and for the great unknowns still ahead.

As Chair of the Theater Department, I am committed to:

Developing, nurturing, and sustaining healthy spaces. Healthy spaces follow COVID19 protocols. Healthy spaces are inclusive, equitable, and welcoming. Healthy spaces, I believe, are anti-racist. Healthy spaces are spaces in which power and identity are examined and privilege is dismantled. Healthy spaces are spaces for risk-taking, for celebrating, succeeding, failing, experimenting.

Prioritizing action based anti-racism planning in departmental faculty-staff meetings and agendas with a view towards long-term and sustainable cultural change; prioritizing the articulation of a plan of action for and with the department, inclusive of accountability measures; collaborating with SGA and Skidmore College to support and enact equity across, with, and for our whole campus and our many communities.

Scheduling regular “Chats with the Chair.”  I would like to hear from you and learn from you and with you. To begin, I would like to invite our alums and current students to join me and help me understand your experiences, hopes, and needs. I hope we can begin this summer, this month. I will send invitations and Zoom links soon.

Growing capacity for transparent and timely communication and processes.

Collaboratively visioning futures with colleagues and students.

Communicating anti-racist actions that will be undertaken and that have been undertaken.

Pursuing and supporting continued training and education in anti-racism for faculty, staff, and students. A number of our faculty and students bring inter-group training and anti-racist training with them to our department. This work, however,  is never “done,” but rather ongoing.

Interrogating, identifying, and dismantling white supremacy culture across all areas of the major (course requirements, course electives, advising, curriculum), production choices, decision making, and hiring through committees and working groups, continued education, and self-reflexive processes.

Using our resources to amplify BIPOC voices; to include decolonial, anti-racist and intersectional anti-racist engagement and methodology; to recognize that identities and experiences are multi-faceted and intersectional, affected by multiple inequities including and not limited to race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, national origin, ethnicity, and religion.

Building capacity for sustained and sustainable self-reflexive practices and dialogues around production choices, processes, and content with colleagues, students, guest artists, audiences, donors, and alumni.

Supporting self-determination for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, disabled, female, genderqueer, gender fluid, gender euphoric, and international students, faculty, guest artists, and colleagues through projects, processes, and initiatives; recognizing that these identity categories intersect and are not discrete.

Publicly acknowledging that our theaters occupy land stolen from the Haudenosaunee, Mohawk, and Mohican people. Acknowledgement is only a first step. I commit to articulating actions for ethical, reciprocal, and sustainable relationships with indigenous, Native, and First Nations communities in our region.

Thank you for your time. Thank you, in advance, for helping me lead our community.  I look forward to working with you, and learning with and from you.

Dr. Lisa Jackson-Schebetta
Chair, Theater Department, Skidmore College
President, American Theatre and Drama Society
Editor, Theatre History Studies

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