Embedded in, and in concert with, our mission (access, inclusion, affordability) Chicago Children’s Theatre values Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in all realms (ability, age, background, beliefs, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status), and commits to being an actively anti-racist organization. In addition to a recent examination and re-hauling of HR and Board recruitment policies, CCT is being intentional in creating a paid internship program focusing on young BIPOC artists and arts professionals to support a pipeline of high-quality candidates for leadership positions throughout the sector.
Central to CCT’s artistic vision is to amplify creators and performers that reflect the heritages and diversity of Chicago’s neighborhoods. Recent examples include:
- 2018’s world premiere LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET developed a diverse audience and showcased artists from Latinx and African American cultures while exploring themes including intergenerational learning and socio-economic disparities.
- 2019’s world premiere, THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM-1963 developed a diverse audience and showcased artists from African American culture.
- DIAMOND’S DREAM is a filmed puppetry experience from a diverse creative team that explores African American culture and basic human rights in a pandemic Chicago.
- THE RELOCATION OF NOKWSI, is an animated puppetry production that honors Indigenous culture.
Examples of work that demonstrate CCT’s track record of collaborating with emerging and established BIPOC artists to create diverse art include:
- 2020’s commission of Alvaro Saar Rios for the 2022 world premiere adaptation of Matt de la Peña’s book, CARMELA FULL OF WISHES to further develop CCT’s Latinx audience, to showcase under-represented artists from the Latinx community, and to explore timely themes including the experience of 1st/2nd generation immigrants – work and family life, legal status, family separation, bilingual culture, unique vibrancy of neighborhoods, and women as leaders in culture.
- 2018’s commission of Gloria Bond Clunie for the world premiere, MY WONDERFUL BIRTHDAY SUIT, spun from a conversation about Michael Tyler’s book, “The Skin You Live In.” Birthday Suit tackled the very serious subject matter of navigating conversations about race and skin tone to very young audiences and was awarded a CTFA Founder’s Grant, funding theatre projects of excellence and national significance for young people.
- 2016’s commission of Nambi E. Kelley for the world premiere play, JABARI DREAMS OF FREEDOM which dealt with bullying, violence, inner-city trauma suffered by youth, and Civil Rights history. Featuring historic figures like Ruby Bridges and current icons including President Obama, JABARI is both a retrospective and topical educational play that added to the national canon of Theatre For Young Audiences. Kelley continues to shine with high profile successes like her adaptation of “Native Son,” and new commissions like the recently announced, “Phenomenal Woman: Maya Angelou.”
- CCT has also commissioned Paris Ray and Lamont Dozier (of Motown fame) to write music for its original productions including, MR. CHICKEE’S FUNNY MONEY, LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET, X-MARKS THE SPOT, and THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM- 1963.
- CCT commissioned Gabe Ruiz to write the music for its 2018 world premiere, EPIC TALE OF SCALE.
- In 2020, CCT embarked on “The SpringBoard Project.” For this initiative, CCT hired a group of emerging and esteemed majority BIPOC theatre makers to read, imagine, write and brainstorm ideas for a new theatrical piece for young audiences. This could result in a short scene, puppet show, scenario, poem, artwork, treatment, or ideas/concepts for adaptation to potentially be explored for future development at CCT. The long list of talent that CCT collaborated with includes: Daniel Carlton, Caitlin McLeod (Dessoye), Justin Ellington, Micah Figueroa, Isaac Gomez, Terry Guest, Jerrell L. Henderson, Ike Holter, Nambi E. Kelley, GQ, Sully Ratke, Lanise Shelley and Elizabeth Wong.
CCT was highlighted as a positive example in a 2020 New York Times article examining nationwide diversity issues in TYA (The New York Times, “Theaters for Young Audiences Say They Need To Be More Diverse,” 06/18/20).
In Our Arts Education & Community Outreach Practices
This commitment is also central to CCT’s arts education and community engagement efforts. Whenever possible CCT engages teaching artists who represent the racial/ethnic demographics of each school/neighborhood it serves, investing in developing a teaching artist community mirroring the racial/ethnic diversity of its participation-base.
In Our Production Practices
We are proud that our production department, in our production history, hiring track record, trainings, and policy implementation, has led the charge in addressing EDI issues, for the organization and for the theatre industry as a whole. Theatre production has historically excluded artists and practitioners of many identities, including BIPOC artists, women, and LGBTQ+ artists. In all our production processes, we aim to ensure that the amazing diversity of our city is equally represented onstage and off, while continuing to work towards more just and equitable production processes that actively invite the collaboration of traditionally excluded communities. The following list includes steps and policies enacted to begin the process of bringing this vision to life:
- Pay Equity, including equal pay for similar jobs across design disciplines, pay transparency on all job posts and job offers, and a commitment to pay at least a living wage to all employees, onstage and off
- Production processes that leave space for work-life balance, including a 5-day rehearsal and performance week, no 10-out-of-12 technical rehearsals, and adequate production support for all disciplines, including tech department supervisors, assistants, programmers, and overhire labor as needed.
- Hiring processes that aim to make sure that our productions reflect the diversity of Chicago both onstage and offstage, including wholistic interviews, job postings that don’t include educational or previous employment requirements, and hiring goals that aim correct historical inequities by increasing the representation of BIPOC artists, female artists, and LGBTQ+ artists backstage.
- A collaborative process that centers the concept of “Nothing about us without us,” ensuring that productions that reflect the lived experience of identity groups are created with collaborative teams who have lived that experience.
- A longstanding commitment to access for our performances – ranging from a physical infrastructure designed to be accessible to all, to working with all of our production teams to ensure every show we do has a number of accessible performances – including sensory-friendly performances, ASL interpreted performances, open captioning, touch tours and audio description – to make sure children with a range of needs are able to participate and experience our theatre.
As An Institution
CCT acknowledges and continues to address what is a watershed moment when it comes to equity, diversity and inclusion challenges in the theatre industry as a whole. CCT operates under a formal EEO Statement, and has specific organizational objectives tied to EDI that include:
- Nation and city-wide collaboration; pledges and actions to support anti-racism efforts
- Adoption of statements, action plans and policies
- A commitment to EDI with goals for staff, Board, and contracted artist makeup; and a commitment to producing culturally diverse art on stage.