CT theaters pledge to increase anti-racism efforts in wake of killing

Melia Bensussen, right, of Hartford Stage in 2019.

Five central Connecticut theater and arts organizations issued statements of solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters Monday and Tuesday in the wake of the George Floyd killing and resulting protests and violence.

Goodspeed Musicals addressed the “why” in a statement on so-called BlackoutTuesday, noting that theaters have always had a role in cultural leadership.

“We are saddened and angered at the horrible injustice served on Mr. George Floyd and by extension the entire country. We stand in solidarity with peaceful protesters around the country and offer prayers for their safety and for the safety of those public servants who take seriously their oath to protect and serve.”

The statement said Goodspeed’s staffers “stand up against racism by speaking out. Further, we commit to taking a more active role in promoting the voices of black artists and administrators. We can do better. And we will.”

Jacob G. Padrón & Kit Ingui of Long Wharf Theatre released a statement late Monday noting, “Our nation, our city and our communities are grieving the continued violent murders of Black people like George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Mubarak Soulemane.”

The statement mentions the work of local groups such as activist organizer CTCORE and said Long Wharf is “complicit in upholding oppressive systems” if it only communicates a powerful vision but doesn’t act on the issues. “Telling stories of the oppressed on our stages does not exempt us from living anti-oppression principles off of it.

“We know that watching theater develops our capacity for empathy,” the Long Wharf statement said. “Therefore, we commit to working to correct a history marked by ambivalent empathies and empathies rightly placed but wrongly quiet. Silence is a powerful way to calcify the very structures that perpetuate violence, fear and hate. For this, we are deeply sorry.”

The emailed release went on to promise to speak up against racism, train staffers in workshops, fight for inclusivity, continue a partnership with inclusion consultant artEquity on healing and “anti-racist principles” and build a body of work involving artists of color.

A statement from Elm Shakespeare Co. top officials James Wright and Rebecca Goodheart also stated that black lives matter and the troupe stands in solidarity with black artists and neighbors in “condemning systemic racism and demanding justice for the murders of black Americans.

“As a predominately white-led organization, we recognize that anti-racism is more than a one-time statement in a time of crisis. It is a daily commitment in our workplace, classrooms, rehearsals and performances.”

The statement also said that the anti-racism fight must address economic injustice, housing and health care inequities. “We recognize that telling (Shakepeare’s) stories inclusively must include the participation of all members of our community.”

Two leaders of Hartford Stage, Melia Bensussen and Cynthia Rider, issued a statement in solidarity with those calling for justice and equity “in this time of profound pain and deep anger. We honor the lives and mourn the murders of Floyd ... and countless others. So, too, do we add our voices to those who stood on the steps of the Connecticut Capitol and in cities nationwide this weekend proclaiming: Black Lives Matter.

“We pledge to engage in further education and action to dismantle the systems of oppression that infect Hartford Stage, our industry and our beloved city of Hartford.”

The International Festival of Arts & Ideas also issued a statement on Twitter that “Black lives matter at all times. Police violence is unacceptable, and silence in the face of injustice is intolerable.”

Festival officials said they stand in solidarity with communities “targeted and abused by an unjust systmem” and “We will do everything we can to help dismantle systemic racism.”

“We see you. We are with you. We look forward to working alongside you to create transformative change in New Haven,” the statement read.

Connecticut Media Group