Accountability Statement - August 2020

 

Gritty City Repertory – specifically myself, Lindsay Krumbein, as Executive Artistic Director, and the GCR board - has been publicly called out for treating concerns poorly and reaching no resolution.

We would like to present this accountability statement in response to the statement made by Kehinde Koyejo on the Living Document of BIPOC Experiences in the Bay Area Theatre Companies.

This statement includes a progress report of how we have addressed the concerns that Kehinde has raised.

The Start

In July 2019 Kehinde called and told me that she needed to talk with me about a big problem. She had been working with an advanced actor on some audition prep, and the actor had expressed that she was very upset with me, and specified 4 concerns. Kehinde shared the actor’s concerns, and added that the entire ensemble felt the same way, and that everyone was about to quit Gritty City Rep.

 

The 4 Issues Expressed by Kehinde and My Differing Version of Events

 

1. Ensemble members were disturbed by Lindsay’s laughing "Nigga/Negro Salt" response to an ensemble members question about how the title of GCR's new play, "Black Salt," came about.

 

I made a mistake and told an inappropriate story to the youth ensemble. Here is the story I told. My partner and I were out at a restaurant. We got terrible service, and, as we often do as an interracial couple, we began to “joke” and comment about how it was about race. When they finally brought our drinks, the drinks had black salt around the rim, and my (Black) partner said, “Oh look, we got the Negro salt.” The minute I got to this part of the story it got all quiet and I knew I had made a mistake. I did not address it in the moment. This was another mistake. Instead, I awkwardly tried to wrap up the story – where black salt came from and why it was interesting. I neglected to address the discomfort until later, during a restorative justice circle.

 

2. Students were met with blatant racism when Lindsay took an all youth-of-color ensemble to view theater in Ashland, Oregon without any other POC adults who could have supported, advocated and protected the ensemble, as well as properly hold a safe space for everyone to debrief and process that particular experience with racism.

 

I have taken groups to Ashland in the summer for 5 years. Our assistant artistic director Alex Trono and/or my partner (both BIPOC) have always travelled with us. Also, many ensemble members have gone to the Ashland Summer Seminar for Juniors with GCRep support in applying and getting there and back (I drive them and pick them up). We have casually spoken on many occasions about the racism we have encountered in Ashland. Once our taillight was smashed. We get looks. The youth hostel owners accused us of blasting music while we were quietly reading a script. Ensemble who have attended the Summer Seminar have also talked about the experience being great but tough as there are always very few BIPOC participants. Each time we travel to Ashland we meet with an actor of color and get a talk, as well as seeing several shows. In the talks, the challenge of being Black or Brown in Ashland always comes up explicitly and we are able to discuss and ask questions. I definitely agree that I should have done a more formal job of providing a clear picture of what Oregon might be like based on our past experiences. I take that feedback, and if I take another group, we will do a formal circle and discuss prior to going. 

 

3. A former GCR ensemble member left Gritty City one week before opening of Taming of the Shrew (a role she was very excited about playing). She was having a hard time emotionally and shared with Lindsay that she was having thoughts of suicide. Lindsay brought me on through my company The Artist SelfCare Guide, LLC to provide personal guidance to this ensemble member for 30 days. I saw her make a transformation into self-love and value and helped her make choices that brought her closer to her goal of being happy. It was later brought to my attention that the reason she left GCR was because she refused to take any more verbal abuse from Lindsay. I was also made aware that this was not the first time a GCR ensemble member decided to leave because of being verbally abused during the rehearsal process.

 

I am a tough director. I run rehearsals more like a coach than a director in a lot of ways, have high expectations, and want constant hard work and focus. Sometimes I go overboard and that’s not good. I do not yell at individual kids but I do yell at the entire group sometimes. I agree that it’s not helpful to yell at people or lose my temper. I own that and take that feedback. In terms of the actor who quit the week before Taming of the Shrew:  we had a terrible rehearsal – the whole ensemble unfocused, putting no effort into their run through, missing all their notes, etc. I ended up yelling at them for about 5 minutes – things like that sucked, and why the hell wasn’t anyone acting or picking up cues and did they think anyone was going to want to see a crappy performance like this and what the hell were they doing, then I stomped out to get some air. However, the actor in question was solid that night, and knowing she was particularly fragile, I had made a point of telling her several times during the rehearsal that she was doing well. She did not show up at rehearsal the next day, and never responded to any calls or texts. I had tried to be supportive of her struggles over the prior months of rehearsal in various ways, including making sure she had space to take breaks and get emotional support in rehearsals, spending one-on-one time together, and encouraging her to speak to a counselor. I also paid Kehinde to do a few sessions of one-on-one mental health support with her. However, ultimately, she still quit after that tough rehearsal, and it was a wake-up call for me that I needed to better control my temper, especially working with youth who might have previously experienced trauma.

 

4. A GCR member visited Lindsay’s house for Halloween and Lindsay's 6-year-old daughter says that the reason GCR member doesn't know how to carve a pumpkin is because she "grew up poor".

 

The actor in question spent time outside of ensemble with myself and my family. That year she came over before Halloween to carve pumpkins (and also after on many occasions, including Thanksgiving). She and my daughter were working on pumpkins together, and the actor told my daughter she had never carved a pumpkin before. My daughter, 6 years old, asked if that was because her family was too poor to afford pumpkins when she was little. The actor answered no, it just wasn’t a thing they did. I find it shocking that the actor was so deeply offended by this that she hung onto it for months. My daughter loves this person (and her brother Robert) deeply.  She knows that their mom died when they were little, and that they didn’t have a lot, and that their family struggled. This was a child trying to put together pieces in her mind. I can’t even believe this came up and it is unacceptable to have my child brought up in this context – as an organizational issue.

 

My Response to Kehinde’s Initial Call

I called Robert Paige, the actor’s brother, and a veteran BIPOC actor/elder in the ensemble, and asked him if he knew what was going on – was everyone quitting? Was his sister super upset with me?  He hadn’t heard anything but said he would call her to inquire. We discussed what I should do, and his suggestion was that I should reach out to the ensemble individually for one-on-one conversations.

 

I made the phone calls and shared with each that I loved them, that I made mistakes, that I wanted to be a good leader, and that I was totally open to and appreciative of hearing about my mistakes so that I could do a good job. That I knew I had growth areas and I wanted to work on them. I said that telling that stupid story about “Negro salt” was inappropriate, and I apologized. Each one of them said it was not a big deal and they were not worried about it. I paused and said that it was okay to be upset with me and that I would work on being more mindful of my language. I also told them that I felt that I yelled too much and needed to work on controlling my temper. One actor agreed and said it was too much and I should work on it. Another said that I did yell but she was used to that and it didn’t bother her. Two said they thought I was just the right level of strict and that I pushed them to do their best work. The rest said they didn’t think I yelled too much. I reiterated that no matter what they said, it wasn’t appropriate for me to lose my temper, that I knew I needed to work on it, and that I was committed to doing so. Then, for those who had attended Ashland, I inquired as to their experience there. The common response was that yes, of course it was racist and we all had noticed and discussed the racism, but that they had had a great time regardless.  They also knew that one actor in particular hadn’t had a great time and was really bothered by the way we were treated as a group.

 

My Second Call with Kehinde

I called Kehinde and let her know what I had done, and the responses I had received. She was angry. She told me I should not have called the ensemble members individually. She told me that none of them were going to tell a white woman the truth. She told me that they were just telling me what I wanted to hear. She told me that everyone was going to circle up, and that she would lead a healing circle, and I was going to be quiet and listen and that the ensemble was going to tell me the truth and I was going to sit there and hear it. I let her know I needed some time to reflect and I would be in touch.

 

My Follow-Up

I contacted Rob and shared with him the results of the phone call. I felt very undermined. I didn’t believe that I had no relationships with these kids. I had spent multiple years and 100s of hours working with them, and I didn’t believe that Kehinde was closer to them after doing one 1-hour workshop at a rehearsal. I was very shaken, however, and worried that I might be wrong. I asked Rob if he would follow up with everyone individually and have a private talk to see if there were issues the actors weren’t sharing with me. He did this over the next few days, and reported back that everyone he talked to said the same thing to him that they had said to me.

 

My Conversation with the Actor Who Was Upset

Meanwhile, the actor in question finally answered her phone, and we had a conversation. First, she insisted that I had not said “Negro salt” but that I had said the n-word. I was actually quoting my partner in the story and that’s not what he said. This made our conversation problematic from the beginning as I was unwilling to admit to saying something I had not said, and that made her angry. Also, she said that the n-word and Negro were the same thing and that neither should ever come out of a white woman’s mouth. She said I was being defensive, and I think she’s right. Additionally, she framed the Ashland trip as something I had tricked her into attending because I needed kids to go. This was frustrating to me, as this trip is not something that provides any benefit to GCR – we spend money and time on it – it’s a trip for theatre enrichment and community building and intended for those two purposes. That was challenging to discuss as well. I was willing to acknowledge and apologize for not preparing her for the atmosphere in Ashland, but she framed it as something I purposefully did to harm her, which was confusing to me. She also said that all I ever did was yell at everyone all the time and everyone wanted to quit but only stayed because they loved theatre. I spoke at length with our other directors, Casey and Rob and Alex, who have all been at nearly every rehearsal for years to check on this, and they adamantly disagreed with this characterization, while still agreeing with the fact (which I continue to acknowledge) that I do lose my temper sometimes and yell too much and should work on that. I am engaging in personal development work to be able to better engage in these types of challenging interactions in the future. 

 

My Next Contact with Kehinde

The next time I talked to Kehinde she was still angry with me and said that she talked to the actor, who did not like how our conversation went, and reiterated all the things she had said prior about what needed to happen. She also said she had started to consult with others who she felt were community elders that were trusted by the ensemble. She said that they would all lead a circle so that the youth could tell me the truth. I did not understand the assertion that these women had a trusted relationship with the ensemble because there had been no interaction beyond them having seen shows and generally supporting the work. I decided to continue to consult others.

 

My Next Follow-Up

I called Robert to request advice. His advice in terms of his sister was to give her some time and space. Also, he thought that it was important to clear the air with the whole ensemble, and suggested we hold a restorative justice circle to get everything out in the open. He had done many through his community organizing work and said that one of the major precepts was that the leader be a neutral party, and that given Kehinde’s response to this situation, he felt she would not be a neutral leader, and that I should hire an outside restorative justice consultant. I also contacted Dr. Mayra Padilla, a BIPOC friend, Gritty City Rep advisory board member, and the Dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Equity at Contra Costa College. I shared with her all of what had transpired. Like Rob, she advised that we hold a restorative justice circle. I asked if I should invite Kehinde to attend. She said that it would be best not to have her participate in the initial circle in order to focus on issues identified solely by the students, without her influence. Robert agreed. I asked Robert and Mayra if they could each provide some referrals for a BIPOC restorative justice leader. Both did. One name that came up on both lists was Reuben Roberts. He was highly recommended by both. I contacted Reuben and he agreed to support us in this endeavor. 

 

Restorative Justice

Reuben and I talked on the phone for about 2 hours. I shared with him everything that had transpired. He also interviewed each ensemble member separately by phone. I texted Kehinde to let her know that I had hired an outside restorative justice leader and that he would be supporting us in addressing these issues. She texted me that I was selfish and egotistical to do this, and that she was the only who could resolve this because the actor had come to her, and that I didn’t care about the youth, and that she was going out to the community about this. I shared her text messages with Mayra, Reuben and Robert so that they had full insight and could provide advice about how to respond. Based on her texts, all three advised that she should not participate in the circle. I called most of the ensemble member’s parents and talked to them about what was going on, and what we were planning to do. Out of anxiety, I avoided calling one parent who I knew had a relationship with Kehinde, and instead, left it to Robert to speak with her. That was cowardly, and a mistake on my part. At the end of August, we held the circle. Below is the post-circle write-up by mediator Reuben Roberts.

 

August 28th, 2019

Reuben Roberts

The RJ Circle

Circle Outcome Write-Up:

 

Gritty City Repertory Youth Theatre

Oakland, CA

 

It was brought to my attention through a mutual resource, that a restorative justice facilitator was needed to repair some harm that had been done among members of the Gritty City Repertory Youth Theatre collective. Executive Director, Lindsay Krumbein reached out to me in hopes of finding an RJ practitioner that would not have a biased opinion, and create a safe space for everyone to be transparent with open dialogue. I immediately began my prep work by reaching out to each participant independently and hearing how they might have been impacted by the conflict.  

 

In my findings, not everyone had the same feelings towards the conflicts that occurred. In terms of Lindsay yelling during sessions, the majority of the group were not bothered by it. Some of them actually said it was ok, and took it as a motivational initiative for them to perform better. Of course, there was an incident where one person actually quit because of it. We were able to address this issue during circle, and come to an agreement that Lindsay would be more mindful of how she responds to the class. This empowered the young people to hold Lindsay accountable and call her out whenever they feel she may be crossing that line. 

 

Another conflict that occurred amongst the group was a trip that took place in Ashland, Oregon. For the folks that were taken on this trip, they definitely experienced some form of racism or discomfort. Besides the obvious feeling of dirty looks, for the most part, a few of them expressed that they really had a good time at the festival. Lindsay admitted that she didn't exclusively explain or prepare folks for what might happen if they participated on this trip. There were no bad intentions and everyone was able to acknowledge it during circle. 

 

The last thing that we spoke about was the name for the next play that came to be "Black Salt" and the story that was told behind its creation. In my findings, again, most folks were not bothered by the title of the play and understood the message behind it. The incident that occurred in which Lindsay was accused of saying the "n" word meaning nigger/negro. One of the participants made it clear that she said negro and never said nigger. In circle, a few expressed their sentiments towards the issue. Saying the word negro can still come off as offensive, coming from a white person or someone who is not Black. Lindsay was able and willing to take accountability for her actions, as well as, repair any harm that was done. Especially the harm that was done to her for being accused of saying the "n" word with the "er". This is when I noticed that everyone was engaged except for one individual who had checked out of the conversation.

 

There was one particular actor in the ensemble who is the main reason why I was called upon to facilitate this RJ circle. I took into consideration her feelings when we spoke one on one beforehand. My goal was to discover if how she felt towards Lindsay was a mutual experience that was shared by all the other members of the ensemble. Her point of view was not aligned with everyone else that participated in the circle. This evidence also led me to believe why she decided to check out once everything came to the surface. Obviously, there is some personal stuff between this actor and Lindsay that should be addressed in private. I am willing to offer my services to facilitate that conversation. I am also willing to include any board members who wish to be there in support of finding a positive resolution to this conflict. I do not believe it was appropriate to bring up any personal issues that transpired outside of the ensemble in respect to the other youth participants.

 

In closing, to whom it may concern, it is imperative that we are able to resolve this issue in a restorative manner. We can all agree that the impact of this program has such a huge influence on the development of our youth. It is our responsibility to take action when harm is done and not allow our judgement to be clouded by partial information. I would love to see that all things have been repaired and relationships can be mended with this opportunity. 

 

Sincerely and Truthfully Dedicated,

Reuben Jerome Roberts

The RJ Circle

 

After the Restorative Justice Circle

At the next rehearsal, the actor attended but would not hug me, speak to me, look at me, engage with me. Afterwards, I called her. She said she didn’t like my responses, and she doesn’t like my thought process, but she still wanted to do the play. I asked if she was willing to sit down with myself and Reuben (and her brother if it would make her more comfortable) and have a mediation so we could get to a better place. She said no. She said this was the best it was going to be. I told her that community building was a huge part of the ensemble, and it was not going to work to have her in the ensemble if she was not able to at least try to talk with me and try to work on repairing our relationship. She said that was fine and did not come back. All the other actors chose to remain in the program and stayed to rehearse and perform the next production.

 

Board Meeting

Kehinde began to share emails of her view of what happened with the board (which she posted on the living document) and called an emergency board meeting. I asked Reuben Roberts and advisory board member Mayra Padilla to attend, as they had participated significantly throughout the situation. Kehinde was upset and angry throughout the meeting. We had asked her to come with a request – whatever it was she wanted to happen - but she refused and said she wanted to hear from others before she made a request. She yelled at Reuben and interrupted him on many occasions when he attempted to share his observations from the restorative justice circle. She did not seem to have a specific request other than the desire to reiterate what she had already stated in her email. She ended up shoving a copy of a pre-written letter of resignation at each board member (which she also posted on the living document) and leaving an hour early. 

 

After Kehinde left, the board discussed the need to identify culturally responsive processes for ensemble members to air grievances with someone other than staff, since there is potential for a problematic power structure with a white executive artistic director and a company that serves nearly 100% BIPOC youth and professional artists. The board will add research around “snowcapped” organizations as an upcoming agenda item moving forward so as to make further suggestions for improvements.  As another follow up to the board meeting recommendations, Reuben Roberts was asked to create a procedure that we could present to parents and youth the next time we launched a new season of GCRep. We also talked about Alex and Robert both supporting and checking me in terms of my temper at rehearsals, and some procedures we could add to create more space for any youth feeling overly pressured, tired, or struggling. We added “take-5” to rehearsals – at any time anyone could just say “take-5” and step out with no explanation needed - and also started adding closing circles for check-in that Robert leads. These procedures helped the next rehearsal process to go smoothly and positively. 

Since then, to both formalize and grow our systems of accountability, we have hired Reuben Roberts to serve formally as Gritty City Rep’s on-call Restorative Justice Liaison. He has created a welcome letter that will be provided to any staff, contractor, or youth participant who joins Gritty City Repertory. This letter specifies our desire for a transparent, anti-racist and culturally responsive environment, as well as clear procedures for the safe, supported articulation of any issue that may come up in the future. Any grievance will go directly to Reuben, who will then go through a series of steps outlined on the restorative justice page of our website to ensure the situation is addressed in a timely, appropriate fashion. We feel this is a positive way to address and normalize the reality that conflicts do occur, and that we are committed to a healthy, transparent, robust response. 

 

Sincerely,

 

Lindsay Krumbein, Executive Artistic Director, GCRep

 

Alex Trono, Assistant Artistic Director, GCRep

Robert Paige, Resident Artist & Board Member, GCRep

 

Dr. Mayra Padilla, Advisory Board Member, GCRep  

 

 

Reuben Jerome Roberts, Restorative Justice Liaison, GCRep

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