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FSU Students and Alumni Release a Letter Demanding Change at Asolo Conservatory/Rep

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FSU Students and Alumni Release a Letter Demanding Change at Asolo Conservatory/Rep

BroadwayWorld has just learned that students and alumni of Florida State University's Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training have released a letter calling the program to implement an anti-racist plan of action.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynne Nottage said of the the letter in the Herald-Tribune: "It speaks to the shocking exclusion and marginalization of Black voices, not only on the faculty, but in the student body, curriculum, training and productions on the main stage of the theater. It is time to bring pressure to bear on our institutions that have been resistant or slow to change, and let them know that racist practices, whether conscious or unconscious, will no longer be tolerated."

Read the full letter below:

Dear Greg Leaming, Michael Donald Edwards, Linda DiGabriele, and Celine Rosenthal, Attn: John Thrasher, James Frazier, Bradley Brock, and Ann Charters

The FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training and Asolo Repertory Theatre recently released statements on social media in response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. In both statements, each institution claimed to stand in solidarity against racism. We, the current Black students of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory, write to you today to state with one voice: these claims are false.

You claim to stand in solidarity against racism, so we investigated your claims. Here is what we found. Since the 1999-2000 season, the FSU/Asolo Conservatory has produced 91 plays in its production seasons. None of them were written by Black playwrights. That is zero plays by Black playwrights over 21 years. Over that same span of time, the Conservatory has employed only one Black director. We surveyed the syllabi, and from 2017 to the present day, the entire curriculum of our program- including movement, voice, acting, and text analysis- has included only two Black authors, August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks. Parks was just added to the curriculum last year. Wilson and Parks are two out of twenty-one readings on the syllabus for text analysis. The other nineteen are all written by white men. We also analyzed student demographics. From the graduating class of 1999 to the graduating class of 2020, the percentage of Black students who have graduated from the Conservatory is 6%. And our investigation has led us to believe that since the inception of the Conservatory in 1974, there has been only one Black faculty member who was employed for two years over a decade ago.

The Asolo Repertory Theatre produced 187 shows from the 1999-2000 season to the 2019-2020 season. Out of those 187 shows, four were written by Black playwrights. And two of those four were by the same playwright. Over the last 21 years, Black playwrights have accounted for just 2% of the shows produced at the Rep. Also over the last 21 years, the Rep has only employed three Black directors. 187 shows. Three Black playwrights. Three Black directors. Finally, the leadership of the Rep since its inception in 1958- including executive directors, Managing Directors, and artistic directors- has been exclusively white. If you care to see the evidence for any of our data, we have the receipts.

To stand against racism is, at minimum, to center and uplift the voices of Black people and people of color. Your claims that you stand in solidarity against racism are not only false, they are offensive. These numbers alone demonstrate a consistent and blatant disregard of Black artists by your institutions. You are not standing against racism-your institutions exemplify the very definition of institutional racism. You cannot claim that racism has no place in your institutions when you systematically refuse to represent Black voices. Your statements even fell short of saying Black Lives Matter. Now we know why.

We reached out to and received feedback from all the Black alumni of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory since 1996 regarding their experiences while students at the Conservatory. Here is what we found. When asked whether they felt the faculty were operating in their interests as Black students, the large majority of Black alumni either said no or that this is an area of concern. For several Black students, completing the program also meant surviving the program- finding ways to navigate within the walls of the Asolo while contending with widespread microaggressions, racial biases, and discrimination from the Conservatory and the Rep. We learned that the leader of the Repertory Theatre once paraded a group of five Black students in front of community members at a catered event held on the mezzanine of the theater lobby and exclaimed, "Look! There's five of them," without introducing each student by name, as a way to celebrate the Rep's supposed racial progress. In doing so, he diminished the individuality of the five Black students by placing them on display. We also learned that the leader of our Conservatory, who has never chosen to produce a play by a Black playwright in the Conservatory season over his fifteen-year tenure, once singled out two Black students in front of all their white classmates just before their showcase in NYC and said they, "Look like shit," because of what they were wearing.

Alumni have expressed that when issues were raised concerning lack of representation, those issues were often dismissed or left unresolved, leaving several Black students to feel silenced, powerless, and without a safe place to voice concerns. Many Black alumni stated that faculty and staff are ignorant concerning the complexity of race in our society, preventing the faculty from knowing how to support and empower Black students and their artistic growth. We commiserate with the Black alumni in their experiences- from being "mistakenly" called the name of another Black student by faculty, Rep staff, and sponsors, to being pressured to have a relationship with the white sponsors who pay for us to be here and who wear buttons with our faces on them as they proudly exclaim we are theirs, to being subjected to inappropriate and derogatory comments made by faculty and sponsors about Black students' culture, speech, and bodies.

As current Black students of the Conservatory, we feel and hear our Black predecessors. Black students have pushed through. Pushed through being triggered, silenced, threatened, exploited, invalidated, dismissed, isolated, restricted, othered, belittled, controlled, and underrepresented. And this is traumatic. The necessity for Black students and students of color to push through the oppressive web of institutionalized racism ends now.

The only remedy to the problems outlined in this letter is comprehensive systemic change. Not just for the next few years, but for the duration of the existence of your institutions. Below is a list of suggestions as to how you can go about changing the structure of your institutions from being racist to being anti-racist. We are intentionally providing suggestions instead of demands because we want to give you the opportunity to live up to your statements. But we will hold you accountable. So, what changes will you make? We await your reply.

In power and solidarity,

The current Black students and Black alumni of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, and our Allies

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