New Repertory Theatre Releases Statement in Support of Black Lives Matter
New Repertory Theatre has released the following statement:
The recent violent events taking place at the hands of racism, white supremacy, and police brutality, and the responsive protests and actions, have inspired many organizations and businesses in the Boston area to release statements about standing with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the peaceful protests. New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, MA made a strong statement in support of this movement and against racism, and received negative and racist responses from some of our patrons. These responses ranged in rancor from "Unsubscribe me immediately" to referencing protestors as "worthless scum." In a time where nonprofit arts organizations are fiscally dependent upon the support of their current patron bases, Artistic Director Michael J. Bobbitt took a bold and necessary stance.
"In response to our statement supporting the efforts to uplift and advocate for the Black members of our community, we received some blatantly racist emails from some patrons," says Bobbitt. "I immediately replied directly to these people and told them they were no longer welcome in our space. I further advised the staff to do the same to anyone who responded inappropriately. We don't need or want their money. We absolutely will not tolerate racism in the New Rep community."
Viral Facebook Post
After hitting 'send' on the aforementioned emails, Bobbitt posted the following on New Repertory Theatre's Facebook page:
"A few patrons have responded negatively to New Repertory Theatre's #BlackLivesMatter email and [social media] posting. I have invited them not to return, and a few I have told that they are not welcome. New Rep does not want their money."
This statement quickly became the most viral social media post our theatre company has ever seen. The following statistics from the Facebook post are huge for a nonprofit theatre company of our size:
Reaching over 10,750 people
1,141 comments, reactions and shares
Led to 126 new page likes
450% increase in page views the week of the post
522% increase in post engagement
789% increase in post reach
Since this post on June 1, New Rep has continued to advocate for change across the industry and engage in difficult and necessary conversations about race. Examples of this work include:
Providing links to various resources for community patrons to learn about, act upon, and financially support the movement of justice and social change for the Black community
Digitally sharing one item per day from Nicole Baker-Green's list of 19 Things White People Can Do
Encouraging our followers to support local, Black-owned businesses and restaurants
Compiling and distributing videos with statements of support and encouragement from both white and BIPOC New Rep artists
Live-streaming an interview with Michael J. Bobbitt on being a Black man running a predominantly white institution, hosted by his adopted, Asian son
Posting a video that is 8 minutes and 46 seconds in length in honor of the amount of time the police officer applied pressure to George Floyd's neck
While New Rep certainly lost some patrons by taking such swift actions against racism, we have received much more support for doing so, and have already gained new patrons and donors in the process. Comments from supporters include:
"Good for you to commit to such a robust and meaningful set of actions! I've received a few other beautiful messages from cultural institutions about standing with protesters and denouncing racism, but none have specified changes or actions they are preparing to take to chip away at deeply ingrained institutionalized racism and white privilege. I applaud you for stepping up to make these commitments!"
"Please, don't think for one moment that those funds will be lost. They will be made up for by myself, and I'm sure many other theatre educators, bringing students to your productions in response to not only the quality of the productions but also the love of this company."
"I am donating to you right now. You don't need the racists. Thank you for speaking up!"
"Your posts inspired our family to become patrons of New Rep."
New Rep's Action Steps
As we realize our work to uplift and advocate for the Black members of our community is just beginning, New Rep has laid out the following action steps as we move forward:
New Rep will match the donations of its staff and interns to #BlackLivesMatter and Anti-Racism causes.
New Rep will gather and create spaces for our Black artists to heal.
New Rep will deepen our connections with Black artists, patrons, staff, volunteers, advisors, and board members that go beyond a transactional relationship.
New Rep will find more ways to center Black stories and Black artists in our work.
New Rep will continue to hire at least 50% BIPOC artists.
New Rep will expand our board/staff anti-racism and anti-oppression learning to weekly learnings.
New Rep will share anti-racism learnings and tools with our audiences regularly.
New Rep will put more Black and BIPOC voices on our board and staff to ensure that equity and diversity are in the room where it happens.
New Rep will revise every governance, finance, and operational policy through anti-racism lenses.
New Rep will assure that all of our vendors (banks, printers, lease-holders, etc.) have anti-racism and anti-oppression policies and practices and seek out new BIPOC-lead vendors.
New Rep will continue to perpetuate an affirmative and safe community, and 0% tolerance policies on discrimination, harassment, and oppression. Taking action against offenders, if necessary.
New Rep challenges our colleague organizations to join us in these efforts and more.
"There is no easy way to do this work, but that doesn't make it any less vital," says Bobbitt. "As a nation, we have seen the absolute need for individuals, organizations, and institutions to be voices for change. New Rep's mission is to produce plays that speak powerfully to the vital ideas of our time. Just because we're not able to produce plays right now does not mean that we can't speak powerfully. This is the work that needs to be done in order to truly diversify our company and be an inclusive organization. We can't rely just on diverse programming or casting. BIPOC folks need to know that they are welcome and safe in our space, and have voices in every aspect of the company, and New Rep is committed to walking our talk."
If you wish to support New Repertory Theatre in the midst of COVID-19, please consider purchasing a gift certificate or making a donation to our COVID-19 Relief Fund. Visit www.newrep.org or call 617-923-8487 for more information.