Earlier this year, Actors’ Equity released the results of its first-ever diversity study. Perhaps not surprisingly, the three-year survey showed that women and people of color have fewer work opportunities and make lower salaries both on and Off-Broadway. For many in the industry, it was a call to action. It prompted those in hiring positions to not only recognize the lack of diversity still permeating the theatre world, but to actively work towards changing it. (Some directors have already been doing so for years—like Liesl Tommy).
Ivy Theatre Company’s artistic director Audrey Alford’s mission is not only to produce great work, but to have diverse casts, design, and tech teams working with her on every show. No exceptions.
For her latest production, Stephen Kaplan’s A Real Boy at 59E59 Theaters, Alford hired two artists who identify as trans, seven people of color, six LGBTQ artists, and one gender non-binary actor out of the 22 total people involved in the show. Her entire management team was made up of women, as was most of her tech crew (even her technical director!). If the Equity study is anything to go by, this doesn’t reflect past hiring practices, and yet Alford says it was one of the most talented teams she’d ever assembled. Playbill chats to the director about her approach.
Do you find it harder to hire more women, trans artists, and people of color in the theatre?
Audrey Alford: They’re out there, but it’s not as easy for two reasons: Firstly, the few of them who are successful and accessible have risen beyond the independent production level, which is where I’m working at; the second reason is that you can’t just put up a job posting on Playbill.com stating: ‘We’re trying to hire a diverse team.’ People do that, but I’ve learned from artists that a lot of them see that as a smokescreen. There’s a trend towards inclusivity now, in all industries, so a lot of people want to diversify on paper but then continue to just hire white people.
What have you done to address that?
I’ve changed the way that I write my listings so that people know I’m serious about the type of artists I want in the room.
Where do you post your listings?
I used word of mouth the most. Now that I’ve been lucky enough to work with so many diverse artists, the first place I’ll post is Facebook. After I produced and directed Carla Pridgen’s play about trans stories Incongruence, I was invited to a few trans groups online and so I always post there, too. I also reach out to theatres that work primarily with Asian, Latinx, and black artists. The process has been slow at times, because there’s a luck of trust—understandably.
What about people who say that they cast and hire blindly, rather than try to hit a diversity quota?
Here’s my philosophy: I want the best person in the role, whoever that may be. But in order to truly find that person, I have to reach out to other communities, otherwise I’m limiting myself. Also, I don’t think anyone does anything blindly. We all see color. So unless you literally have a blindfold on, there’s the possibility for inner bias.
What’s something you’ve learned that you would pass on to other directors or producers?
You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but it’s not your actors’ jobs to teach you. If you want to make intersectional theatre, do your own homework—don’t put the emotional burden on the people you’ve hired. I try to create those kinds of boundaries and a safe space in the room.
Ivy Theatre Company is currently on the lookout for new scripts from playwrights. To submit your play, or to work with Alford, email email@example.com with your script and an artist’s statement.