Equal Employment Opportunity, Entry to Equity, Member Education, Chicago Area Theatres
Though I serve on four committees, I approach governance from a different perspective than many of my fellow candidates. I am a Black man, I grew my career in Chicago, and I witnessed first-hand the effects of a union that had historically focused on The Great White Way as the epicenter of the theatrical world.
And, they weren’t “wrong.” A large percentage of the money supporting our ability to provide members with protections and vital resources, nationwide, originates in New York.
But, as we stand in the eye of this unprecedented pandemic, our industry facing a foggy future, we have a singular opportunity to regroup and rebuild with a focus towards inclusion. We can shape a future that sees our investment expanded across the entire country while actively embracing all peoples. There is no simple metric quantifying that work. It must begin with equity, diversity, and inclusion becoming the foundation of our policy and planning.
In addition to my work as an actor, I’ve been a writer, a panelist, a guest-lecturer, and a consultant working tirelessly to promote a diverse and inclusive industry. I am uniquely equipped with the experience to help usher us into a future that supports a diverse membership.
In an era of necessary progressive scrutiny, my unflinching commitment to inclusion will be an invaluable resource for our union. I look forward to the opportunity to bring that expertise to our council. We are ALL stronger together.
I was born on Long Island, NY; grew up in Washington, DC; went to school in Madison, Wi; and have called Chicago my artistic and physical home for twelve years now.
Though Chicago is an office city, the Equity actors who work here know that it operates much like a liason area with a close physical proximity to our staff. The art community’s understanding of the union and its commitment to solidarity are fractured by the presence of a large and robust non-union theatre scene. “We’re a city of grit, a city of storefront theatre. A union gets in the way of our ingenuity.”
What we’re continuing to learn is that unions provide the type of worker protections and accountability that are central to the vulnerability necessary to make art. Strengthening union solidarity is one of my continuing goals as a member.
My Equity Card: Oh man! I had been at my points for over a year and a half. One show had found a concession from Equity that allowed them to hire me non-union. Others had given me non-union offers and then rescinded them when they were reminded that I had to turn.
I auditioned for a new play at a small, Latinx-focused theatre in Chicago: Teatro Vista. They offered me a non-union contract (why did this keep happening) and then had to pull the offer when I reminded them I would have to be union. Two weeks later, the Artistic Director of the company came back to ask me if I’d still do the show if he found the money.
It was one of the most inspiring interactions of my career and formed a strong foundation for my union membership. Producers can care. They can go the extra mile. If this small, culturally-specific company could find a way, no one else had an excuse.
How/Why is Equity and this work important to you?
PEOPLE matter to me. I’m a person who advocates for the health, safety, and benefit of people before the art because art doesn’t exist without…people.
The work that we do in this union ensures that you are protected. Whether it’s from harassment, overwork, underpayment, unsafe work conditions, or any number of other dangers we work to ensure stage managers and actors have access to the basic tools necessary to do our jobs.
Without that protection, I’ve been personally witness to the ways in which society and organizations devalue and demean the artist “in service” of the art. It is vital to always remind ourselves that fair treatment should never be sacrificed for the entertainment of others. I’m proud to be a member of a union that understands this.
Is there anything else do you do in the world (volunteerism, side hustle, civic work) that informs your worldview and the experience you will bring to the Council room?
I run a free self-identification database for actors in Chicago to connect with directors and casting professionals looking for specific identities. From inception to implementation, I started the database as a resource focused on increasing our ability to diversify our stages. The database contains over 400 performers and has been queried over 300 times since its formation.
I am also in the middle of an interview process to work for a progressive GOTV campaign in Milwaukee so, hopefully, while our union election is in full swing, I will be working to increase voter turnout in a state that could be the pivotal in our upcoming presidential election.
What is a Fun Fact or something most people don’t know about you?
My mother was a District Court Judge in Suffolk County, NY (the first Black woman) and my father was her campaign manager.
The first thing I do whenever I walk into a person’s house is search their bookshelves. I love to see what people read.
I hate popcorn…and mayonnaise. *Shrugs*
Where/What is your happy place?
My happy place is, either in bed with a good speculative fiction book (read The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin if you have not. Currently reading The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu.) or out on a packed dance floor with 90s-00s hip-hop.