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Twi McCallum Shares an Open Letter to the Theatre Community on Hiring Black Designers and Creatives

Twi McCallum Shares an Open Letter to the Theatre Community on Hiring Black Designers and Creatives

As BroadwayWorld previously reported, our team is committed to to being a substantial part of a collective industry-wide effort to help address racism and white supremacy in the theatre in as many ways as possible; including a number of specific steps of action that we are already at work to implement.

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Sound designer Twi McCallum has written a "letter to the industry", expressing the "grief from a designer's perspective of how we are often not included in this 'diversity' platform, as it is often limited to Black actors, writers, directors, and producers."

Read her full letter below:

Theater Community:

This is an open letter to the arts/entertainment community, including individual artists and the organizations, from a Black femme sound designer who is tired of "inclusion" being exclusive to the actors, writers, producers, musicians, and dancers.

Many regional and Broadway theaters have been silent about the recent Black disparities. Seeing a select few companies speak up is cute --but being vocal is the bare minimum and now we need to see how they will measure up to these sentiments. The next step in showing institutional solidarity is hiring more black artists to work backstage, creating safe workspaces for us, and giving us comparable press/visibility that you give to the headliners.

Many artists I've worked for, collaborated with, or look(ed) up to have been silent. These non-Black sound, lighting, projection, costume, props, and set designers make a lot of money being contracted for these Black stories. Think of the best play/musical you've ever seen and ask yourself how many of the people off-stage were Black. My favorite Broadway production, which opened in 2018, had a majority Black cast and a Black playwright but hired zero Black designers. This is a common practice that nobody publicly talks about and there is no excuse for why companies cannot adequately staff backstage in the same manner they aim to staff onstage. There are several databases that exist where leaders can find the contact information for various demographics of designers, such as Wingspace, Parity Productions, and the Production on Deck website.

Whenever the arts open up for production post-virus, I hope Black and non-Black leaders HIRE Black backstage creatives. Many of us may be faceless to our audiences, but we exist, we are qualified, but we also need safe spaces. I've experienced my share of grotesque racism in my creative workplaces, like being called racist names during a rehearsal and being physically hit during a performance. I've had to resign from productions because the pay wasn't worth the abuse. There are stories we can't tell out of fear of being blackballed, since we lack the platform that the headlining stars have.

I need people to understand that "representation" should extend beyond the basics of seeing a certain Black actor get a starring role in a radical play, or seeing a Black playwright commissioned at a LORT stage. "Representation" should include those who work backstage and aren't asked for autographs or don't receive as much lucrative compensation for their work.

In (Angry) Artistry,

Twi M.

Twi McCallum is a Baltimore-raised/NYC-based sound designer for the stage and screen. Her first jobs in the big city were a technical theater apprenticeship at New York Live Arts and an IATSE Local 1 stagehand gig at Manhattan School of Music.

Off-Broadway credits include Women's Project Theater. Selected television/film credits include ABC, HBO, Warner Bros, CBS, and NBCUniversal. Selected regional credits include Kansas City Rep, Cape May Stage, and Long Wharf Theater (assistant design.) Twi has also designed Parity Production's spring 2020 production of "Mirrors" at New York Theater Workshop.

Selected awards/memberships include USITT Early Career Mentee Grant, Post New York Alliance, Sound Girls, and Disney Creative Careers Fellow.

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