Justice is hard-won. We are awed and inspired by those who are already making change happen every day in our communities and know that we at Court Theatre must do more to meaningfully contribute. Last week we made a statement of solidarity, and now we share our plan to contribute to the ongoing struggle. We share this publicly because we believe public discourse is generative—we have learned so much from the work of others—and public declarations can be held to account.
Court Theatre is located on Chicago’s South Side, we benefit greatly from the talents of Black artists and Black staff, many of whom are our neighbors and friends. Even as a self-proclaimed South Side institution we are first and foremost a part of the University of Chicago. Every aspect of our work must be informed by a veracious understanding of the circumstances that have shaped us and we must work to address the histories of violence that have shored up our positions of privilege and provide redress for real harm done to the communities we call neighbors and friends. We now see that Anti-racism work cannot be one piece of our work but must become the central value that governs it. We recognize the need to accelerate this paradigm shift in Court Theatre’s culture and be a proactive part of a global dismantling of white supremacy. We believe that culture is comprised of power, values, meaning-making, historical context and place, attitudes and feelings, and behavior and norms. We will address all of these things and this is our plan for doing so:
Power: We recognize the South Side community is an equal stakeholder in the theatre. Court must treat its members as such, ensuring that they inform the theatre’s work as much as any other group of stakeholders. We will work even harder to attract more Black South Side community leaders and organizers to our board who, in addition to UChicago administrators, have the most oversight of the theatre.
Values: We have a responsibility to our neighbors and our society to both redress past violence and to build spaces and tell stories that honor their humanity. We will engage our neighbors as the stakeholders that they are, making anti-racism work central to everything we do.
Meaning-making: Court Theatre will continue to facilitate spaces for Black artists and other Black stakeholders to grow, especially those who live on the South Side, in all aspects of our work. We will strengthen the avenues for Black artists, and other artists of color, to shape the ways in which Chicagoans see our world.
Historical context/place: We will more rigorously shape our notion of what a classic work of theatre is and be guided by that ongoing interrogation. We believe that plays are classics not only because they reveal our shared humanity, but because communities confer status on them by feeling their relevance. Our South Side partners and neighbors have to see relevance in a play for us to consider it a classic and, thus, produce it.
Attitudes and feelings: We will support and amplify the conversations that Black activists are shaping through our work on stage and in our programming. In the short term, we will build a new digital space to facilitate such conversations, through our website, blog, and social media channels.
Behavior and norms: We will interrogate our operations and processes to address a culture of oppression and violence against Black people, other people of color, and under-resourced communities. The entire Court Theatre staff will build its relationships with community members so that they can contribute meaningfully to this work.
We operate within the South Side of Chicago, one of the most culturally rich communities in the world, and yet one that suffers from serious disinvestment. We are grateful to be welcomed here and have an obligation to serve the South Side community as well as the Black community at large more powerfully. In order to do better, we will listen, listen, listen. And we will act.