At the Citadel Theatre we spent the summer collecting data on the composition of our artists, staff and board from over the past 10+ years. Executive Director Chantell Ghosh and I have worked closely with our incredible Associate Artists (Helen Belay, Tai Amy Grauman, and Mieko Ouchi) and the whole Citadel team to assemble and interpret this data, focusing on categories such as racial identity, gender, age and disability. Based on the data, we have committed to metrics and actions to make change. We have released the report and commitments publicly so we can be held accountable by our community. We are hosting an online forum on October 5th to present the report and receive feedback from the community. I encourage you to read the report and join us at the forum if you can.
Looking at all of this data about the Citadel has given me a crystal-clear picture of who the Citadel was in the past, who we are currently, and who we need to become. My first thought in seeing some of the numbers was, “Well, that can’t be right.” But, I quickly realized
The numbers don’t lie.
I am proud of the successes we have had in my three years of programming. Before I arrived at the Citadel, less than 10% of the actors employed annually at the Citadel were BIPOC. Last season, 39% of our actors were BIPOC. Of the 20 plays commissioned between 2002-2016, only one was written by a woman. 91% of the plays we’ve commissioned in the past three years have been written by women. And 38% of those playwrights have been BIPOC. So, we’re making some steps in the right direction.
But I was very surprised to see how low our numbers were in recent seasons for other BIPOC creative team members, such as designers, stage managers and directors. And those are seasons that I programmed. I think if you would have asked me during those seasons, I would have said we were making really good progress, but looking at the numbers has made it really obvious to me where real change is needed, because
The numbers don’t lie.
As we were completing the report, we received a letter from the 35//50 Initiative calling for theatre companies across Alberta to commit to a set of organizational beliefs and policies, rooted in anti-racist and anti-oppressive practices. These commitments would result in 35%+ of staff and contractors who identify as Indigenous, Black, and people of colour, and 50%+ of staff and contractors who identify as women and non-binary, by the 2024/2025 theatre season.
As Artistic Director, I am proud that the Citadel has committed to the 35//50 Initiative. Committing to this project is going to be hard work for an organization as big as the Citadel – we employ hundreds of staff and artists. We can make some immediate changes with the shows we program and the artists we employ, but change will be slower with staffing, as well as in areas where we work with unions and associations who provide their members to our organization (like IATSE or the American Federation of Musicians). It will take collaboration with those organizations to implement change together. We will do the work transparently, updating our data annually and sharing it with our community to keep us accountable, because
The numbers don’t lie.
If an organization as large as the Citadel can commit to making this change, then other theatre companies can too. There’s no excuse. To my colleagues running theatres in Alberta (and beyond), I respectfully suggest that if you haven’t committed to the 35//50 Initiative yet, or haven’t taken a deep look at your organization and how it reflects the community you serve, do it now. It is what your community is calling for, and it is your responsibility as artistic leaders to proactively participate in this change.
Now is the perfect time for transformation. I know that COVID has created an incredibly stressful situation for all of us. I know that theatres are desperately struggling to keep staff and artists employed and to stop the hemorrhaging of money happening as our ticket revenue disappears for the foreseeable future. But when are we ever going to get a moment like this again when we can “press the reset button”? We’re constantly caught in the cycle of season programming, which is such a machine that it is hard to implement any real change. But now, while our programming has stopped, it is exactly the right moment to take a real look at who we are, and proactively make plans to rebuild our theatres in a different way.
I strongly believe that the best way to begin to change is to take the time to embark on your own data collection process for your organization. Looking at real data is a very clear way to ground yourself in your current truth. No matter what you feel, or you intend, the data will show you what you are doing. And as any good director will tell you, the truth of a person is made up of their actions. The data will be humbling but
The numbers don’t lie.
And people are watching. So just be honest. It’s where you’re at. And now that everyone knows the truth, do better. Together.
Facebook reminded me the other day that I moved to Edmonton and started my job at the Citadel four years ago. If you would have told me what these four years would have in store for me, I never would have believed it (I’m currently trying to run this giant theatre from my basement on Zoom, which is bonkers). Without question, the best thing about moving to Edmonton has been the chance to become a part of this incredible community of theatre artists. The Edmonton theatre community is so generous, supportive and tireless. When I first arrived, I had so many conversations with artists who had heartbreaking stories about their past experiences with the Citadel, but no one’s goal was to “tear it down” – everyone wanted to rebuild their regional theatre into a place that truly supported and honoured the local community. Over the past months I have had the same experience, witnessing such community-focused generosity from local artists and theatre-makers advocating for change, and from the thoughtful approach of the 35//50 Initiative, providing a clear path for our community to walk together to implement real, lasting transformation. We are in this together, and we can change our community and practice to ensure that we are respectfully and proactively representing the diversity of Edmonton.
I commit to doing the work. And more than that, I commit to doing the work transparently, sharing our successes as well as our challenges and missteps. I am inspired by Edmonton’s theatre community and excited about the change we can make together. I look forward to the time when we can all return to our stages, and to how we will continuously and collaboratively reimagine our practice. I also look forward to the not-so-distant future when the Citadel, and theatres across Alberta, have surpassed our 35//50 goals, and we can all proudly say,
The numbers don’t lie!
Daryl (he/him) is the Artistic Director of the Citadel Theatre. He has lived in Edmonton for four years. He likes to run in the river valley, plays the drums, and is the proud husband to Holly Lewis and father of Liam and Jack.