A new BIPOC fellowship continues Main Street Theater’s efforts toward equity and inclusion

Shannon Emerick, Elizabeth Barnes, and Jacob Sanchez in Jane Anderson’s “Mother of the Maid” at Main Street Theater, Feb. 5 – 27, 2022 / Photo by Ricornel Productions

In the past two years, against the backdrop of racial reckoning and a global Black Lives Matter movement, national efforts by BIPOC artists have called for American theaters to be more representative, equitable, and anti-racist, and recent studies have examined the lack of diversity among Broadway writers and directors.

Locally, veteran actor Candice D’Meza, with the support of fellow theater professionals, called for Houston theaters to reflect the community, asking for 40% Black, Indigenous, People of Color representation both on and off stage.

Main Street Theater is one local company that has since been assessing its relationship with communities of color and increasing efforts towards equity.

“We always prided ourselves on being open and inclusive, but during the last half of 2020, it became clear to us that we didn’t really have that many actors of color in our circle,” said Rebecca Greene Udden, Main Street Theater Artistic Director.

“In conversations with local artists of color it became clear that, no matter how welcoming we were, artists of color did not see a place for themselves here,” Udden said. “So we set about to change that.”

In July 2021, the company hired Sloane Teagle in a newly created position of Artistic Inclusion and Community Engagement Director – a role that reaches out to artists of color and also leads the historically white staff in examining how it can be more inclusive, according to Udden.

Last week, Main Street Theater announced a new, paid BIPOC Fellowship in directing, design, and stage management, which Teagle will oversee.

Individuals may apply online through April 1, 2022. 

Three fellows will be selected for the program, which will run May through September 2022. The BIPOC fellowship includes:

  • a $1,000 stipend
  • hands-on experience in either a main stage or theater for youth production
  • cohort meetings, led by Artistic Inclusion & Community Engagement Director, Sloane Teagle
  • mentorship from Houston-based theater professionals
  • opportunities to develop leadership skills and a network for future work

“Historically BIPOC artists have not received equitable opportunities and access to work with established professionals,” said Teagle in a press release.

That, combined with the fact that production positions can be harder to come by, means that BIPOC artists have traditionally had fewer opportunities to lead and shape stage works.

A company like Main Street Theater may hire 200 actors over the course of a season but only 10 or 12 directors, according to Udden – in the past tending to rely on talent they were already familiar with.

“If we are going to diversify these strata of our production teams, we need to invest in early-career professionals to give them the experience and seasoning they need,” said Udden.

When asked about the potential impact of the fellowship, Sloane Teagle told Houston Arts Journal in an email:

“I hope, first and foremost, that it will nurture up and coming BIPOC directors, designers, and stage managers as they learn and grow and make professional contacts. I hope it will make those artists confident that they have a place in the Houston theater scene … I also hope this fellowship will introduce Main Street Theater to new BIPOC artists for future consideration.”

The company says it plans to offer the fellowship annually.

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