Statera Joins Change-Makers at Culture/Shift Conference


StateraArts leaders took some time last weekend to commune with other organizations, artists, and advocates at CULTURE/SHIFT 2018 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hosted by the U.S. Department of Arts & Culture.

StateraArts Creative Director Sarah Greenman and Advisory Board Member Martha Richards attended the 3-day conference of participatory workshops, performances, talks, interactive art-making and dialogue. More than forty-five workshops and sessions touched on timely and resonant regional and national themes: immigration, indigenous cultural rights, climate justice, public memory, cultural resilience, ethics of community-based arts, community development/displacement, and more.

Here are some of the themes and questions that StateraArts and others were exploring via CULTURE/SHIFT: What are the leverage points for shifting from a consumer culture rooted in isolation and inequality to a creator culture rooted in community and equity? How can Citizen Artists sustain presence, well-being, and hope in challenging times? How can we organize in our own communities and across the country to bolster support for cultural activity that cultivates empathy, equity, and social imagination?

You’ll find photos of our weekend below. Some were taken by Sarah Greenman and others were provided by the USDAC via their website. For more information about this convening and the USDAC, please visit

Dr. Charon Hribar leads call and response song at Friday Plenary.

Dr. Charon Hribar leads call and response song at Friday Plenary.

Creating "windows to the future".

Creating "windows to the future".

Sarah Greenman during opening ceremonies.

Sarah Greenman during opening ceremonies.

Lynnette Haozous on "What Represents Us" in public art.

Lynnette Haozous on "What Represents Us" in public art.

Ella Mendoza leads a session on abolishing ICE and white supremacy.

Ella Mendoza leads a session on abolishing ICE and white supremacy.

Makani Themba leading a plenary about the collective radical imagination.

Makani Themba leading a plenary about the collective radical imagination.

Sarah Greenman talks with Martha Richards and Jovelyn Richards.

Sarah Greenman talks with Martha Richards and Jovelyn Richards.

Performance by Ria Thundercloud from Sandia Pueblo.

Performance by Ria Thundercloud from Sandia Pueblo.

Circo Radical at closing procession.

Circo Radical at closing procession.

Closing night procession through the streets of Albuquerque.

Closing night procession through the streets of Albuquerque.

We are now StateraArts!

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Statera announced an organizational name change at their national conference last month. If you’ve been watching Statera’s social media accounts you may have already seen signs of the new name and logo. Below, you’ll find a personal letter from Statera’s Executive Director Melinda Pfundstein with news of the name change. You can still find Statera across all social media platforms at the links blow:




Melinda Pfundstein announcing the StateraArts name change at Statera’s National Conference in Milwaukee.

Melinda Pfundstein announcing the StateraArts name change at Statera’s National Conference in Milwaukee.

A letter from Statera's Executive Director, Melinda Pfundstein:

Hello Friends!

It is an exciting time at Statera, and we are thrilled to announce that due to expansion and refinement of the mission, vision, and scope of the organization, Statera Foundation is transitioning to StateraArts.

This expansion means broadening our reach from a national to international scope. This means expanding from Theatre as our foundation, to UPLIFT, AMPLIFY, and ADVANCE women* toward gender balance in all the Arts. It also means better serving the holistic woman artist in their quest for balance and rewriting the narrative for women artists from one of scarcity and limitation to one of expansion and opportunity.

This expansion means Statera sees you. Statera hears you. Statera knows that achieving gender parity in the arts requires that we all step in to make more space, think outside of the box, and practice radical listening and learning. StateraArts is making lasting change -- and all through a solid lens of great compassion and care. 

The rapid growth of Statera is due in large part to our generous donors, to the past three years of tireless work from an all-volunteer team, and finally to the generosity, vision, and mentorship of Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts, whose challenge gift of $25,000 was successfully matched. We are deeply grateful to Martha, and to all of you, who have said yes to Statera by so generously giving your time, expertise, and financial support.

Statera’s expansion includes the launch and growth of exciting programs, some years in the making and some new additions:

Statera is actively forging pathways for women artists and creating tangible resources to achieve gender parity in the arts. The real power in this work exists in the women doing it and gender allies using their power to forge or hold open doors. It is in YOU. It is your experience, your expertise, your knowledge, your artistry, your courage, your time, your authenticity. Your power. You are Statera. We are Statera. StateraArts is here to serve you. 

Yours in Statera (balance), 

Melinda Pfundstein
Executive Director

* We use an inclusive definition of women. "Women" includes anyone on the gender spectrum who identifies (either always or some of the time) as a woman. This includes TGNC / transgender and gender non-conforming people.

Statera Establishes the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award

Left to right: Sarah Greenman, Martha Richards, Melinda Pfundstein, and Shelly Gaza

Left to right: Sarah Greenman, Martha Richards, Melinda Pfundstein, and Shelly Gaza

This past month, artists, arts leaders, community organizers, theatre-makers, and change-agents from all over the world met in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for Statera Foundation’s National Conference on gender parity in the Arts. During the opening address on October 5th, Statera’s Executive Director, Melinda Pfundstein announced the creation of the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award.

This award, established in Martha Richards’ name, will be given annually to a visionary woman* who uplifts, amplifies, and advances women in the Arts. The award was established to lift up and support the work of extraordinary women and TGNC (Trans / Gender Non-Conforming) arts leaders who are creating pathways for other women leaders.

Pfundstein said during her opening speech, “Future recipients recognize and develop the potential of emerging women leaders in the arts and they actively create pathways to leadership for women artists.”

After receiving the inaugural award, Martha Richards, spoke to a crowd of 200 conference attendees. She thanked StateraArts for the honor and impressed upon those gathered that coalition-building is the only way forward for the gender parity movement.

Martha Richards and Statera’s Deputy Director, Shelly Gaza, make their way to the podium.

Martha Richards and Statera’s Deputy Director, Shelly Gaza, make their way to the podium.

TRANSCRIPT from Melinda Pfundstein’s Announcement:

I want to tell you about a very important woman in my life. Everyone needs a mentor and for the past three years, Martha Richards has been mine.

Martha has spent a 40-year career centering on the voices of women and under-represented artists. This year marks twenty-three years as Executive Director of WomenArts, a non-profit Martha founded dedicated to increasing visibility and opportunities for women artists in all genres. Prior to WomanArts, Martha served as Executive Director of Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College and as Managing Director of StageWest. She has received many honors including a 2006 nomination for the prestigious international Montblanc Due La Culture Award for outstanding service to the arts, induction into the BayPath College 21st Century Women Business Leaders Hall of Fame for her work in philanthropy, and recognition as one of three "founding mothers" of the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts. 

Martha came into my life in early 2015, just before Statera’s inaugural conference. Martha saw my potential as a leader and had the courage to develop that potential. And since our very first meeting, I have been all ears. I never go to a meeting with Martha when I don’t have a pen and paper in hand. Her ability to fuse Big Vision with practical solutions is magic.

Martha Richards

Martha Richards

Martha knows that the key to gender parity is tangible resources for women. Not only has she taught me to recognize and develop Statera’s resources, but also how to extract the most value from those resources to make the biggest impact in the gender parity movement. Martha Richards and her work is writ all over Statera. 

Martha has given me more that I can express here in this moment, but the thing that has most impacted my leadership for Statera is this: Attention to detail and organizational excellence can live side by side with absolute joy in the work. 

Martha’s mentorship has expanded in the past year to include other members on our executive team, which is why Statera has grown so quickly and taken action with such efficacy. Martha has magnified and maximized our efforts, which is why Statera is now in a position to magnify her work.

One of Martha’s greatest and most wide-reaching accomplishments was the creation of SWAN / Support Women Artists Now Day, an international holiday celebrating the power and diversity of women’s creativity. Over its 11-year history, SWAN Day has reached 36 countries with over 1900 events.

Martha Richards has changed the landscape for women artists. I cannot overestimate her global impact. This is why it is my great honor to establish the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award.

This award, established in her name, will be given annually to a visionary woman who uplifts, amplifies, and advances women in the arts.

Future recipients of the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award recognize and develop the potential of emerging women leaders in the arts and she actively creates pathways to leadership for those women artists.

StateraArts will be announcing nomination guidelines and a submission timeline for the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award in January 0f 2019.

We use an inclusive definition of women. "Women" includes anyone on the gender spectrum who identifies (either always or some of the time) as a woman. This includes TGNC / transgender and gender non-conforming people. 

Statera Mentorship: Meet the Chicago Regional Coordinators

Congratulations to Statera’s Chicago Mentorship Program, which launched its 3rd class today. The new mentor/mentee pairs are meeting tonight for a mixer hosted by Antje Kastner Studio. Then the pairs will enter a 6-month mentorship cycle. So exciting!

Since our national launch on October 1st, Statera has had an overwhelming response. We’ve heard from folks all over the country, eager to bring Statera Mentorship to their region. So stay tuned because we’ll be announcing new chapters in the months ahead! But today, Statera is thrilled to introduce you to our Chicago Regional Coordinators: Lanise Antoine Shelley, Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Susaan Jamshidi, and Dana Black.

Left to right: Lanise Antoine Shelley, Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Susaan Jamshidi, and Dana Black.

Left to right: Lanise Antoine Shelley, Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Susaan Jamshidi, and Dana Black.

STATERA: Tell us about your work in the theatre.

Susaan: I'm an actor based in Chicago and have had the privilege to work extensively in both the rich storefronts as well as larger institutions. I've worked regionally in Berkely, DC (THE ARABIAN NIGHTS) and St. Louis (FACELESS) while touring shows that started in Chicago and recently toured to London, Toronto, and Vancouver with the solo show, OH MY SWEET LAND, with Silk Road Rising. Last year I had the great privilege to bring the character of Yasmina in YASMINA'S NECKLACE to the Goodman (after a premier at 16th Street Theatre). I worked closely with playwright, Rohina Malik, for 9 years while she developed the play and character. I also love the chances I've had to work with Erasing The Distance, a theatre company that spreads mental health awareness through theatre. Additionally I'm honored to be taking part in a Local EDI task force.

Lanise: I am an actor and director. I’ve had the pleasure of working and studying all over the world.

Dana: I am mainly an actor in Chicago, and although I have started doing more TV, voice over and film work, I really do love live theater. It is my true love in terms of performance. I also really love new work and the process of putting up a new play. I also love shows. Multiple wigs is really the dream for me and one show here, a new work, I got to wear 7 wigs in one show. Living the dream. Aside from wigs and live theater :), I also worked at the Goodman Theatre here in Chicago for over 5 years and that helped me learn so much about the American theater and not-for-profit arts administration.

Christine: My theatre experience both runs the gamut and is very stereotypically Chicago-- I've done straight plays and tons of workshops and readings for new plays by local artists. I've understudied at some of the bigger houses, done experimental storefront, festivals, classics in bars, commercials, TV, films.

STATERA: Can you share about your journey to the Chicago theatre scene?

Lanise: I was lured to Chicago after a stint as a resident acting company member with Milwaukee Repertory Theater. I’ve been here off and on for about 9 years. I love Chicago! It’s the only city you can forge a fulfilling career and also maintain a high quality of life.

Susaan: I grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh and graduate from Allegheny College. After graduation I spent a couple years in Pittsburgh figuring out how I could progress my desired acting career. I didn't have any mentors I felt I could turn to, but during that time I worked occasionally as an assistant stage manager at Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theater. There I met my good friend, Kelly McMahon, who was assistant directing. We quickly became each other's champions and sounding boards. One day we were discussing my graduate school search and the director we were working with said "Don't leave DePaul off that list. It's the best." I quickly looked into it, found myself auditioning in NYC, and was accepted into The Theater School at DePaul. It was exactly what I needed and I ate everything up while I was a graduate student there. I like Chicago and stayed because I was getting work and loved the people and the vibe.

Dana: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and went to school at a small liberal arts college in New York. I graduated about 4 months before 9/11 and had thoughts of going to grad school in NYC or moving there after school...but as we all know, that day changed everything. My father also ran a large global travel company (he actually had some clients on one of the flights that day) so his business and career was drastically affected by 9/11. This sort of felt like a calling to come home and live with them in Illinois, re-charge, and figure out my next steps.

Luckily, I was able to get some part time jobs downtown and eventually move out of my parent's home within a year and live in Chicago, Boystown specifically. I didn't start auditioning right away but eventually started attending generals and smaller storefront auditions around town. I had auditioned for the School at Steppenwolf my last year of college and wasn't accepted, but like many others who don't get in their first year, was encouraged to apply again. And so I did, and got accepted and that sort of kick started my acting life here, as I was asked to understudy at Steppenwolf right out of the program...which was such an exciting time.

Christine: If I'm being honest, it was a quarter life crisis that led me to Chicago. I was living in Portland, OR, working in advertising and feeling like "this can't be it, right"? So, I did some soul searching (i.e. therapy) and realized there was a reason I took an acting class every time I moved to a new city. So, being the diligent Type A personality I am, I called up everyone I knew who was an actor or acting-adjacent and asked them a LOT of questions. Chicago kept coming up as a great place to train and cut your teeth as an actor. So, I moved here to give it a shot. That was seven years ago (almost to the day).

STATERA: What is your own most memorable mentorship experience?

Dana: I feel like my most memorable mentorship experience came when I applied to work at the Goodman Theatre as the Executive Assistant to the Executive Director in 2011. Up to that point, I had mainly been an actor here in Chicago and was questioning about whether applying to work full time inside a large theatrical institution would be a smart move for me. I called two specific women in my life who were not only familiar with Chicago theater but also helped me understand the man and theater I might be working for. We talked about the pros and cons of taking a 9 to 5 job, which would take me out of daytime auditions, and how being an assistant might change how I am seen an as actor in the community. But they also reminded me of how much knowledge I would gain from the inside and that the job didn't have to be forever. I was so grateful that they took the time to talk with me, listen and even help me craft a good cover letter! I loved working at the Goodman and wouldn't trade that time for the world.

Susaan: About 8 years ago I was asked to be part of an accountability group. We met every couple weeks to discuss what we were currently working on, shows/auditions/mailings/websites/ect., and what we wanted/hoped to be working on. It lasted about four years with the last two being only the same three or four people. We became very close and to this day they are great friends and we still consistently support each other.

Lanise: Years ago I was doing GEM OF THE OCEAN at Milwaukee Rep, all of the actors bonded from day one, and the older more experienced actors took me under their wing. I definitely seized the opportunity, asking them as many career based questions I could muster. They gave me acting tips that I use to this day, and also let me crash on their couch when I visited NYC. Even now I could call upon them and receive the same munificence they gifted me 13 years ago.

Christine: Something we hear a lot from potential mentors is "I don't think I have what it takes to be a mentor". It's so easy to look at your body of work and only see the gaps, the ways it doesn't measure up to your aspirations or the careers of people you admire. But, at our spring mixer, the room was packed with women--some just out of college, some who had been in the industry for 20 years--who were connecting with each other, supporting each other and dreaming big together. It was a much needed reminder that we ALL have something to bring to the table. You're never "too experienced" to learn something new, or "too inexperienced" to impart wisdom.

STATERA: How did you become connected to the Statera Mentorship Program?

Susaan: Minita Gandhi, who started the Chicago chapter with Erika Haaland, is one of my dearest friends. We met when we were both starting out in Chicago (at our first Chicago audition!) and our sisterhood was solidified when we worked on a show that toured for a few months. She's been discussing Statera with me from the start.

Dana: Minita Gandhi reached out to me to be a mentor during the inaugural class, but I had heard Erika's name for over 2 years off and on and it just felt like fate. Years ago, I used to host a lot of ladies nights at my home, where people would come and drink and eat and chat, and many of the attendees were artists. Some of those guests told other people about these gatherings and word got around that yes, I like wine, but also that I like bring people together who might not know each other but will hopefully become fast friends.

STATERA: What do you see as the greatest need and/or the most common need for mentorship relationships?

Christine: I think it varies so much depending on who you are and where you're at in your career, but the thing that keeps circling back around for me is the need for a sounding board. It's easy to feel isolated in such a competitive field, but I've realized that theatre artists, myself included, are hungry to share their experiences and dole out advice and support. This sense of community has enriched my experience as an actor.

Lanise: Strategizing, discipline and goal setting. I like to discuss aspirations, then see if their daily habits move them towards that goal or away from it. There are numerous small things that can be overlooked, its implementing smart habits each day (or week) to inch you along your artistic trajectory. Simply having a de-stressing routine, eating healthy high performance food, and scouting out the places that you want to work are small things people don't consider, but can prepare you for the opportunity that can change your life.

Susaan: I think the world at large is often overwhelming and the more connections we can feel comfortable confiding in or bouncing ideas off of regarding hopes, dreams, challenges, and successes, the more we can individually accomplish. We don't have to build Rome in a day, but sometimes it feels like we're behind if we don't. I think mentorship can ease the pressure from the "how" anxiety into the accomplishable step by step (and who says you can't take two or three steps at at time...not me). Mentorship is reciprocally beneficial. No one has all the answers all the time, but we are all human and want to connect and grow.

Dana: I think the greatest need for them, and this program specifically, is the structure. Some of us might have people we feel we can text, or email or FB with a question or two, but a whole program/class that is set up for a 6 month period where there are guidelines, expectations and resources to help you build your mentee/mentor so valuable. It gives both the mentee and the mentor accountability and room to breathe. It isn't like you have to get all your questions answered in an hour over coffee, you have time to go deeper into a meaningful relationship together. That's why I think this program is so valuable. I also think putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, whether or not those shoes are similar to yours or not, is helpful. To help someone else, besides yourself, move thru this business. That’s what I loved about being a mentor. Getting out of my own head and in the process, learning so much from my mentees.

STATERA: Talk to us about your leadership style and why you're called to work in this capacity for your community.

Lanise: I’ve been fortunate to have incredible guides in my life and I love seeing people win. If I can help them win, I will. I thrive on collaboration, earnest engagement, discipline, tenacity, audacity, resilience, and compassion.

Christine: I'm a talker; it's the best way for me to process my experience. I'm also an organizer and a doer. My favorite thing to do it gather people I admire and trust in a room to generate ideas, talk about goals and figure out strategies to accomplish them. Having come to acting without a BFA under my belt, I initially felt like I was at a great disadvantage, but I've come to learn that the key to success is hard work, integrity and compassion. These characteristics are accessible to EVERYONE. By spreading that message, I think we can build a stronger, more inclusive community.

Susaan: I'm definitely a connector. My natural state of being is wanting to make connections between people I meet. I'm very enthusiastic about that. I'm also a listener. A term that I personally connect with is "heritage" in the sense of shared experience. I love tapping into shared "heritage" to bring people together.

Dana: For me, I feel like one of my greatest strengths is my ability to make people feel comfortable or at ease, to make them feel seen and to make them feel welcome. I was specifically drawn to this program so that I can help get people together in the same room, talking and laughing, connecting and learning or doing a group I am excited about planning events for the mentorship program. People are yearning to share safe spaces with each other, connecting in real time and not on their phones, and I think we can help do that. I also like using my connections to help pair mentees and mentors, and it's been really fun thinking about all the amazing artists in Chicago that want to be a part of this program.

STATERA: Okay, now its time to AMPLIFY. What recent personal projects or upcoming projects are you excited about? Any links or PR you want to share with us?

Christine: I'm currently filming an improvised, avant-garde feature with a longtime collaborator and friend about a YouTube lifestyle blogger. No links yet, but I'll definitely be flooding the internet with them soon. And a short film I produced this summer, Eat You Heart Out ( is in post-production.

Dana: I am headed to Arkansas to Theatre Squared to do a Lauren Gunderson play in Nov-Dec 2018 with Chicago's very own Keira Fromm directing. I am trying to do more regional work so this is an exciting opportunity and hey, it's in the Ozark Mountains! Come down and see me: Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.

Lanise: I am over the moon to be acting in FAMILIAR at Steppenwolf this winter and directing BEHOLD THE DREAMERS at Book-It Repertory Theatre next spring.

Susaan: I'm looking forward to spreading Christmas Cheer this season in A Christmas Carol at Drury Lane and I just shot an episode of Chicago Med. I still haven't gotten my website up, so someone please mentor me!

Are you interested in starting a Statera Mentorship Chapter in your city or region? Please visit You can also reach out directly to the Statera National Mentorship Coordinators at We look forward to hearing from you!

We Are The Sea Change: Nataki Garrett at StateraCon

On October 6, 2018 Nataki Garrett, joined by Hana Sharif, addressed a room full of nearly 200 theatre-makers and arts leaders at Statera’s National Conference in Milwaukee, WI. StateraArts is proud to publish Garrett’s address here in its entirety.

Nataki Garrett at StateraCon 2018.jpg

We are the Sea Change!


Delivered at the Statera National Conference in Milwaukee October 6, 2018


Who are WE…and how did WE get here?  

Earlier this year I listened to my friend and colleague Mica Cole in a speech delivered to a room of Artistic Leaders her view of artistic leadership in the 21st century. You should read it, it’s brilliant! In it she reflects on the negatives of our country and the world, by beginning almost every phrase with the word “WE”.  She reflects on who “WE” are as if as if “WE” were one body of leaders that had already begun doing what was necessary to change those ills. It was devastating and empowering. Like, if we could reflect on what’s necessary and see ourselves doing it then “WE” might start doing it for real.  Then again, I have to wonder if “WE” truly desire change and without enough desire to spark action, can “WE” make change happen.

Who are WE...and How did WE get here?

The other week I read an article by playwright, Quiara Hudes which is a transcript of a speech she entitled: The High Tide of Heartbreak. It is an honest account of her time in this field but it reads like Dear John letter. I read it thinking, Wow, if we lose Hudes, if her heart break breaks her tie to this art because it can be more cruel than giving, then who are WE? I have to say “I feel you, Hudes.”

In the last year, I have been privileged to visit several theaters across the country. I have learned a lot from my visits. I have heard from so many boards about their priorities and dreams for their theaters. BOARD MEMBERS who are deeply invested and committed to their organizations. They feel responsible for the longevity of their organizations and understandably, they want success over risk. Most see success as profit or recognition from the commercial market of their value. Almost everybody wants a Regional Tony except those who already have it and understand the downside of what they sacrificed to get it. Many of these benevolent boards don’t or can’t hear their own rhetoric reflecting a desire to “Make the Theater Great Again”. This would be easy to do since the primary patrons of American theater both -- nonprofit and commercial -- are mostly the same older white people who seem to have a similar agenda. They overwhelmingly support stories and styles of storytelling that reflects a nostalgia for a time when only a few people benefitted from the structure of the status quo while the rest were asked to eat the crumbs of the ideal American Dream. A crumbling façade both cruel and exclusive.

Who are WE? How did WE get here? 

Since February of 2017 there have been 39-40 new Artistic Director appointments give or take. Seventeen of those are women; of those, five are women of color. Although the regional theater movement was started by a woman, almost all of the women moving in power are going to organizations that have only been run by men or have been run by men for the past 12-15 years, whose boards and stakeholders have no idea what female leadership looks like or feels like. They are moving into leadership in a socio-political climate that is growing in its division and polarization. The theater has been and mostly remains an elitist, entitled, fortress reserved for those who reside at the top of the status quo. My friends and colleagues have shared their horror stories about patrons who want to police voices that  do not fit into their white, western, patriarchal vision for so called “good theater”.

Nataki Garrett speaking at StateraCon.

Nataki Garrett speaking at StateraCon.

Earlier this year in Chicago a battle erupted when a highly revered Chicago Tribune reviewer, Heady Weiss wrote a patronizing review of Antionette Nwandu’s acclaimed play Pass Over, which revealed her bias and practice of colonizing the voice of a black woman to fit into her narrowly prescribed, generationally tied, world view.  In Denver, there was a letter to editor of the Denver Post complaining that Hamilton was racist stating: “I would love to see the reaction of our black communities if theater or film producers produced the life story of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Frederick Douglass and mounted an all-white cast.” The funny part is this man probably stood in line for hours to get one of the hottest tickets in town and possibly the hottest ticket in our lifetime and he didn’t know that the show featured a cast of all people of color?  In our theaters, I hear women and people of color express trauma from having to work or make art in all white or all male rooms in which there is no acknowledgement of how disconcerting it can be. Earlier this year while working on a project, I experienced bigotry so devastating that I had to look up the word bigot so that I could understand why nothing I said would ever engaged their empathy. I had to accept that I would never help them see what they were doing and how terrible they were behaving nor how many people they were hurting.

We live in a divisive time when at least one half of the country would love to go back to a time when women, poor people, LBGTQIA people, people with disabilities and people of color were second class citizens again. Hatred and fear of black people has caused white people to begin using 911 as a way to control us while doing ordinary things like having a cookout, swimming at a community pool and sleeping in a dorm room lounge or playing with our children in a public park, standing in a doorway to get out of the rain, moving into our apartments, selling water on a hot day or jogging. I travel for work, I have been asked a dozen times this year while sitting in a theater by some super sweet older white woman, “How did you get here?”. I usually reply, “in a car, how did you get here?” By the way, Flint still doesn’t have clean water; trans and native women are still being murdered at an alarming rate; and there are families still being separated at our border with Mexico. There are a lot of ills in this world. Seventeen women are rising into power in the American Theater in this America.


Who are WE? how did WE get here?

There is no doubt that this rising force of Women will need our support and guidance to succeed in these tumultuous times. It’s not enough to say on social media that you are happy for them. WE, in this room must pledge active support for them. They will need it if they are going to shelter our beloved field through this crazy time when our President mocks a woman for telling her survival story on television and while I deliver this speech elected politicians are appointing a bully and another sex offender to the highest court in the land. And even if these women have difficulty succeeding in their first year, we must remind the field that 30-40 years ago men in their 20’s and 30’s were given the keys and resources to start theaters and allowed to learn the job on the job failing up to success. More, these women must succeed despite the fields lack of experience or tolerance for female leadership but also because some of their organizations are in serious trouble artistically, morally, fiscally.  And worse, there are some people who believe that at least half of those women will not last 2 years.

I was told this by a man who will remain nameless, who was introduced to me during one of those theater new play festivals some of us attend yearly. It was something he and his male colleagues had been talking about since last summer when it seemed like everyone was announcing that they were leaving their Artistic Director positions. You should know something about me.  People often tell me things they shouldn’t. Usually, its white men who are emboldened to share their secrets with me. I imagine them thinking “who is she again…” and “who of any importance would she be able to tell”. Worse they are probably not thinking at all – I’m often inconsequential to them unless I’m seen as scary or angry, which to some of them is most of the time. As always, I leaned in and listened closer while he concluded by saying “…by then the boards will have no choice but to replace them with men, like they did a decade ago when all those women got jobs at theaters and non-profits and most didn’t last a year. I’ll wait until the second wave to apply.” He said it without irony or remorse, as if it were a fait de accompli. First of all, “all those women” were maybe 4 women but he was right that only one kept her job. More, this cynical idea that people are banking on half of these warrior women to fail so that they can take over, really fucks with me and ignited a powerful urge to stop this so-called second wave from happening, which is why I’m telling you all of you. Lean in and listen closer.

I believe that some aspects of living and learning under the patriarchy have given us some benefits, but this is one of those times when I give myself permission to send up my double fisted middle fingers to the Patriarchy. I give myself permission to be angry and show my anger by sharing what I know with all of you so that we can keep this revolution of women leaders going. Most of us have spent decades under male leadership. Leadership that was sometimes toxic, often condescending and always patronizing even when it was inspiring and profound. As my generation came up, Male Leadership was viewed as supreme and solid and the few women in artistic leadership were all branded as bitches and witches or hacks. We were mentored in male dominated theaters which maintained the status quo and then UPHELD tenants of the patriarchy and white supremacy even when they weren’t aware of what they were doing.

We women have a responsibility to use our leadership opportunities to evolve this industry and to evolve the theater into what it was created for. One that is inclusive, tolerant, and equal. One where equity, diversity, and inclusion are not buzzwords we toss around to prove our level of wokeness but a commitment to our highest level of engagement to save our field, our communities, and the world. We must help these warrior women build theater that becomes a wave engulfing and clearing out the negative tides we are currently facing. And to do that we must become united in shielding the women who will be leading the sea change.



1. Build a circle to strengthen our community by coming together to support each other.

I have several circles. One of my favorites is my circle of “bad asses” all women who all have been in the business longer than me who give me guidance, light the path and remind me of my strength and responsibility. They are better than mentors. They are assurance that one can stay in this field, build a powerhouse organization and make your life meaningful at the same time. I have a circle that is my net as I trapeze through this industry to remind me about self-care and self-love as I look for more ways to support my theater or work to save the world, whichever comes first.

Start by building a circle with other women, trans-women and non-binary leaders to talk about ways to support each other. It would be sad if the only time we come can together in solidarity or in support of each other is during one of these conferences. You see at times, I feel like we emulate patriarchal leadership which is isolated by design when it doesn’t have to be. I suggest that we break that design by encouraging women to do what we do best – we build community. So, build a circle specifically for your position in leadership. Reach out to other women who are in similar positions your experiences and look for ways to support each other. Look for opportunities to collaborate and lift each other up as often as possible. Break with the idea that you don’t want to be seen as aligning yourself with other women. That is a patriarchal idea that must be abolished. Build a circle for yourself then build a circle for one of the 17.  Call them! Reach out to at least one of these women and ask them what you can do to support them. Let them know you are here for them if they need you and even if they don’t need you, you are here. FOR THEM. If they still say “no thanks” then silently seek for ways to help them build their institutions. Find a way to help! look out for their blind spots and filling in where you can. And when you don’t support their visions remind them that they can do more but do it in a way that doesn’t undermine them – remember your mandate is to support – Give them a chance to risk and fail and risk and fail and risk into success - just Like the boys! 

2. Build a circle for the future Leaders

Otherwise known as mentoring. This can happen online or in person. But find a way to support the next generation of leaders. I would not be here or still be here if it weren’t for my mentors. And to be honest I would not be here if it weren’t for those I have mentored and supported over the years because my mentors paved the road but those I mentored reminded me of why I was on the road in the first place. They all continue to motivate me as I watch them rise towards their dreams.

3. Build a circle to change the current tide of divisiveness and intolerance.

Nurture your circles – one of the most cynical things about our current state of politics is remembering what it was like only 10 years ago when we had the audacity to hope and some of us had the hubris to believe the nation had crossed a threshold. I did not believe we had crossed a threshold because I was taught that good change is hard fought but even harder to keep. My parents were active in the civil rights movement and they remind me often that there were really only a few people who did the hard labor for social justice. The videos make you feel like it was a whole generation marching around and being hosed and arrested but in reality, it was only a small percentage who made the biggest changes in our country. While my generation was benefitting from those hard fought changes, there were other people who were working tirelessly to stop the tide of change and equality.

This is how we got here.

While WE were sleeping, THEY were working to solidify their investment in maintaining a status quo embedded in so called “white supremacy”. While we were celebrating one victory they were preparing for the next 100 years of their kind of victories. We cannot let their push to go backwards, succeed. We must be vigilant, stay woke, change our country and leave the world better than we found it for the next generation. This is why this leadership shift IN THE AMERICAN THEATER is so important. I am relying on these women to use their power to change the field, their communities and perhaps the world. I am relying of all of us to use our strength, power and will to HOLD THEM UP.

Who are WE?

Sea change originates from Shakespeare’s The Tempest:


Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes;

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:


Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.


It is defined in the dictionary as:

“A substantial change in perspective – especially one that effects a group or society at large”. 

Let’s make this sea change of Women Warriors leading the American Theater into the 21st century into something Rich and Strange!!!

Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell...

Who are WE?

WE are the sea change.


Nataki Garrett is a nationally recognized director and the former Associate Artistic Director of Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theater Company. She is credited with producing the most financially successful production ever in their renowned Space Theater in the 40 year history of the DCPA. Garrett also served as the Associate Artistic Director of CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP). Nataki is a Company Member at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company a recipient of the NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Directors and a member of SDC.

Nataki Garrett is co-Artistic Director of BLANK THE DOG PRODUCTIONS (BTD), an LA/NYC based ensemble Theater Company, which is celebrating its 10th year and is dedicated to developing and fostering new work by emerging, adventurous and experimental artists.

To read Nataki Garrett's full bio, please visit her WEBSITE.


Statera's National Conference Amplifies Gender Parity Movement

Statera hosted their third national conference this month in Milwaukee, WI. Nearly 200 participants gathered on the UW-Milwaukee campus. The venue was buzzing all weekend with strategy-based dialogue about creating greater parity and equity in the American Theatre and beyond. The conference was chaired by Suzan Fete and an amazing team of volunteers from Renaissance Theaterworks.

The three-day gathering, offered individual artists, arts administrators, academics, and students the opportunity to discuss both the accomplishments and challenges for women working in theater and other arts fields. As with their other conferences, Statera scheduled a fantastic line-up of speakers, multiple networking opportunities, panels, and performances to uplift, amplify, and advance women and TGNC folks as they work towards full and equal participation in the arts.


Here are just a few of the highlights from StateraConIII:


Usually a conference ends up being helpful for one of three things: 1) learning, 2) networking, 3) being heard. This is the first conference we’ve attended that was clearly curated with a values-commitment to all three. It created well-attended sessions, effective partnerships, dynamic dialogue, and interest for us in next year already. Thank you!! - Rachel Spencer Hewitt (She/Her/Hers) / PAAL

I will admit I didn’t take enough photos, but it was because I was busy absorbing as much as I could, getting catalyzed and inspired to action. Thank you so much Statera Foundation for a wonderful conference this weekend, for giving me the space to share TGNC perspectives. I am so excited for what’s next. - Kevin Kantor (They/Them/Their)

Jessica Renae  from Intimacy Directors International

Jessica Renae from Intimacy Directors International

Still reeling from the inspiration bomb that was #StateraConIII in Milwaukee this weekend. Thank you Melinda Pfundstein Vaughn and Shelly Gaza for your vision in creating StateraArts, and for all of the new friends and future collaborators I made this weekend. I have lots to process, and lots of work to do. - Marybeth Gorman Craig (She/Her/Hers)

I just spent three days in the company of the most inspiring, strong, rebellious, and loving artists and change makers I have ever met. My heart is bursting. My notebook is filled to the brim. We are the sea change. - Christine Hellman (She/Her/Hers)

Christine Jugueta , “The Red Thread: Sacred theatre, Indigenous Wisdom, and the Goddess Movement as Tools for Shifting the Leadership Paradigm”

Christine Jugueta, “The Red Thread: Sacred theatre, Indigenous Wisdom, and the Goddess Movement as Tools for Shifting the Leadership Paradigm”

Shelly Gaza  ushers Martha Richards to the podium.

Shelly Gaza ushers Martha Richards to the podium.

Statera Team with  Martha Richards .

Statera Team with Martha Richards.

Lydiah Dola (SWAN Day Kenya)

Lydiah Dola (SWAN Day Kenya)

Today is not a working day, it's a day to wake up, smell the roses and give gratitude. I cannot thank Shelly Gaza enough for inviting me to speak at the Statera conference. Special thanks also to the incredible Statera team! You ladies ROCK!!! I also have to thank my sisters Hana Sharif and Nataki Garrett Myers. Yes, you may not know this, but I've adopted you both into the family. I'm still buzzing from your speeches. Thank you for your generosity, honesty and wisdom. It was an absolute honour to share the Touchstone platform with both of you. To everyone that I connected with at the Statera conference, I will be bold enough to say that I am confident that this is just the beginning to a beautiful and radical partnership! - Simeilia Hodge Dallaway (She/Her/Hers)


The overall feeling I got from the conference was excited hopefulness...the belief that together we can accomplish anything. Not only did I gain professional knowledge that I was able to bring back to Renaissance Theaterworks in order to improve our company, I made several important connections with like-minded women committed to improving gender parity in theater. - Suzan Fete (She/Her/Hers)

“Male Allyship in the Gender Parity Movement”

“Male Allyship in the Gender Parity Movement”

Sage Martin  (left) and  Maggie Rogers  (right) “Fat Discrimination in the American Theatre”

Sage Martin (left) and Maggie Rogers (right) “Fat Discrimination in the American Theatre”

Lindsey Gardner-Penner  (left),  Jane Vogel  (middle), and  Yasmin Ruvalcaba  from Advance Gender Equity in the Arts, "2020 Call To Action: What's On Your Calendar?"

Lindsey Gardner-Penner (left), Jane Vogel (middle), and Yasmin Ruvalcaba from Advance Gender Equity in the Arts, "2020 Call To Action: What's On Your Calendar?"


SWAN Day Organizers Gather at Statera's National Conference

Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts and Co-Founder of Support Women Artists Now / SWAN Day.

Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts and Co-Founder of Support Women Artists Now / SWAN Day.

In June 2018, WomenArts announced Statera Foundation as the new organizers of  Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day 2019. As part of the transition of SWAN Day from WomenArts to Statera, WomenArts is sponsoring a gathering of key SWAN organizers on Thursday, October 4, 2018 in Milwaukee, WI as part of Statera Foundation’s Third National Conference on gender parity in the arts.

WomenArts Executive Director Martha Richards will facilitate a discussion with leading SWAN organizers from New York, Connecticut, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Kenya, and the Czech Republic.

Although these organizers have often corresponded online over the past eleven years, this will be the first time that they have met each other face-to-face. The goals of this historic gathering will be to share best practices and to find ways to increase the impact of SWAN Day. Richards, in collaboration with Statera’s Creative Director Sarah Greenman, will also moderate a panel discussion about SWAN Day as part of StateraCon on Friday, October 5th.

In a statement, Statera’s Executive Director Melinda Pfundstein said, “At Statera we have been organizing conferences and building our mentorship program because we believe in the power of women artists supporting other women artists by sharing their skills and cheering each other on. Those are the core values of SWAN Day as well. We are so grateful for Martha Richards’ vision and for the support of WomenArts. We are thrilled to be the new organizers of SWAN Day.”

At this historic SWAN Convening, SWAN Day organizers will have a chance to be a part of the leadership transition and brainstorm with Statera Foundation about ways in which SWAN Day can make an even greater impact on the gender parity movement in years to come.

“As SWAN Day starts its second decade, it is wonderful to have this burst of new energy and ideas from the Statera women,” said Martha Richards. “I have been very impressed with their skills and commitment, and I am confident that they will find ways to make SWAN Day bigger and better than ever."

Below is a video with Martha Richards, published in June 2018, about the SWAN Day transition.

Donate to SWAN Day

BIG NEWS: Statera's National Mentorship Program Launches TODAY!

Today, Statera is officially launching our
National Mentorship Program!

Mentorship is at the core of Statera's mission of taking positive action to bring women into full and equal participation in the arts. After 18 months of beta-testing and refining our regional mentorship program in Chicago, the Statera Team is ready for a national launch! 


Establishing the Statera Mentorship Program in your community is an incredibly rewarding and exciting endeavor! You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Statera has created materials and resources that will equip you with the tools you will need to create a lasting and successful program. You’ll have access to organizational systems, email templates, the Mentorship Program Field Guide, and face-time with Statera’s National Co-Directors. 

Do you love connecting people? Are you an organized person who is a part of a community of artists? Do you know others in your community who are excited to partner with you to create a grassroots mentorship program? If this sounds like you, then Statera invites you to step into the center of your vision and join us

Your leadership is vitally important to the growth and development of this program. We know that there will be questions along the way and we want you to know that we are here for you. 

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The Statera Mentorship Program is fantastic - both because my mentor has been such a steady and inspirational person and because it was amazing to feel a sense community with so many artists who come from different backgrounds. We are all out there hustling, and knowing I'm not alone makes the every-day struggles so much easier to handle. - Alison Plott, Actor: CHICAGO

Having worked as a professional actress in Chicago for the past 30 years, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to give back and help women in the business, as there was nothing like this when I was starting out.  Not only has it been an intensely rewarding experience to help my mentee in all areas of Chicago theatre I discovered the wealth of knowledge I have attained over the years and the immense value of it.  - Lia Mortensen, Actor: CHICAGO

Statera’s National Mentorship Co-Directors: Minita Gandhi (top) and Erika Haaland (bottom)

Statera’s National Mentorship Co-Directors: Minita Gandhi (top) and Erika Haaland (bottom)

History of the Statera Mentorship Program

The Statera Mentorship Program officially began in January of 2016 and has been at the core of Statera’s programming ever since. The Mentorship Program was designed for theatre practitioners who identify as women and are interested in moving beyond the very real obstacles that sometimes lie between our goals and our opportunities. Statera believes that the most effective way to grow, expand and manifest change is to work together. A flourishing mentor relationship helps both mentor and mentee organize their professional challenges, nurture their creative ideas and activate their personal gifts. 

Statera’s original executive team (Melinda Pfundstein,Shelly Gaza, andSarah Greenman) built the first incarnation of the program with the help ofJennifer Tuttle, who ran the national program until November 2016. While the program was very successful, Statera quickly realized they needed a larger dedicated team to run the program effectively. It was also clear that a scaled-back program with more structure would better suit the needs of the program participants.

In January of 2017, just a year after the launch of the initial program, Statera partnered with Chicago-based theatre artistsErika Haaland and Minita Gandhi (pictured above) to build and beta-test a Chicago regional mentorship program. The new model offers mentors and mentees a structured 6-month cycle that includes local mentorship gatherings for workshops, networking, panel discussions, keynotes, and more. The Chicago program is currently running its third class of mentor pairings and has served over 200 women to date. The innovations provided by the Chicago team now make up the template for our national program.

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Become a Mentor or Mentee

Statera's Mentorship Program is currently operating in two regions:Chicago and North Carolina. A third and fourth are slated for 2019 (details coming soon). This effort is being led by region-based theatre artists, equity advocates, and business-minded women. 

If you are a Chicago or North Carolina-based theatre artist interested in engaging as a mentor or mentee in this unique program, please sign up by clicking on a region below. The next Chicago mentorship class is enrolling today through October 8th, with an official start date of November 1st. If you're in North Carolina, sign up to be notified about our next mentorship phase. We will be opening it up to other regions very soon!

We'd love to hear from you! 

If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to our National Mentorship Co-Directors directly a We look forward to talking with you!

Writing Women Back into History Through Plays

"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the arts and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other.

Today's offering comes to us from songwriter, playwright, director, and actor Shellen Lubin. Shellen will present a breakout session at Statera’s upcoming National Conference called "365 Women a Year: a Playwriting Project".


Writing Women Back into History Through Plays


The woman’s perspective onstage? Even when we think we’re getting a woman’s story--Antigone, Lysistrata, Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Hedda Gabler, Scarlett O’Hara-- we are too often getting a man’s perspective on what that woman’s perspective might have been. 

Even that is rare. Most often, women are considered the supporting figures in men’s stories--the mothers, muses, lovers, wives. The stories are rarely theirs. So trying to find the woman’s perspective in theatre--in plays, in theatrical history--whether based on true people or purely fiction--women’s thoughts and feelings about their own lives, about living life--is not an easy task.

Plays are stories. And just like most stories, looking at them through a different lens, from a different perspective, through a different character’s eyes, at a different moment in our own lives, we may draw different conclusions.

Many years ago, I wrote a play that was based on the bible story about Jacob contracting with Laban for his daughter Rachel’s hand in marriage only to be stuck with the older daughter, Leah. But in my play the leading character was Leah, and the story is told primarily through her eyes, looking at her life as the unappreciated daughter and sister become the unwanted bride.

However, in that play, I managed to leave out Zilpah and Bilhah, their two hand-maidens who also slept with Jacob and mothered the human race. Laban gave his two daughters hand-maidens, who they then gave to their husband for sex? That means Zilpah and Bilhah were slaves. Non-whites, non-Jews, non-believers, wives, children, all are supporting figures in our history and our literature, theatrical and otherwise. 

Art by Sarah Greenman

Art by Sarah Greenman

Jesslyn Eisenberg Chamblee began 365 Women a Year: a Playwriting Project, Facebook group dedicated to adding to the stories and changing the known history. So many of us jumped on board to write plays that were not chronologies or historic documentation, but vital, dramatic moments or phases in these women’s lives. The group is entirely self-selected, and the plays are not all written by women, (but it is primarily). Equally exciting is the fact that the writers are not just from the major theatre cities, but across the country and around the world. 

The first festival of such plays that I produced as readings was at The Lambs. It was a random group of New York City playwrights, again by self-selection. Most of the plays were terrific, but not all, and I learned a powerful lesson: if I was going to put my time, energy, and passion into putting these plays before an audience, I was going to have to have a curation process.

Next go round, I did just that. For Edith O’Hara’s 100th Birthday in 2016, Susan Merson, then Artistic Director of the 13th Street Theatre (which O’Hara founded), worked with me to produce an entire weekend there of 365 Women a Year plays entitled In Her Name. The effect of the weekend on participants and audience alike was profound. Some of these women were unknown or barely known, but some were well-known women whose histories have been shared only in part. Seeing one play was illuminating, an individual aesthetic experience, but the effect of a whole day of such pieces was intense, a deeply felt collective awareness of how much we don’t know about our own history, how much has been hidden and deliberately left out--our stories, our perspectives, and, too, our voices as artists and as citizens.

This year, I produced another three-day festival of plays in March for SWAN Day and Women’s History Month, Untold Stories of Jewish Women at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: a Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Susan Merson and I put out a wider call for plays, and ending up working with 30 playwrights, as many directors, and over 100 actors. It was a challenge and a huge amount of work, but it was an incredible experience for both participants and audience, these stories of Jewish women from the bible right through to the transgender Martine Rothblatt.

We must learn to shift perspective or we as a society--as a culture--will forever be stuck in the throes of power, lust, and the wants and desires of privileged white men--as much as any Greek, Russian, or Shakespearean tragic figure. This country and most of the Western World was built on the unpaid, underpaid, and stolen labor--stolen stories--stolen lives--of too many people, families, and communities. The Northern cities were built by slaves. By the Civil War the North may have had no slavery, but all our cities were built by slaves. The cost of the day-to-day lives and the lives themselves in the building of our gentry, our upper classes, our corporate bigwigs, our elites (those whose lives our history and culture still most revere and support) is still barely known, recognized, told, or valued. These are the stories that must be heard now, these are the perspectives that must be honored, and these are the voices I want to participate in bringing to life and to audiences. 

Women have historically lived their own kind of slavery, having once been the property of fathers and husbands, the acclaim and remuneration for their most humble toilings, their greatest discoveries, and their most magnificent efforts all given to others, claimed by others, freely taken or stolen by others, and still now only slowly evolving from that reality.

As a a white Jewish woman from an upper middle class family? I have lived a life of privilege and indulgence, on the one hand, and deprivation and lack of recognition on the other. Sometimes my head spins from the confusing reality of it all.

But nothing can be changed until it is faced. It is only in our recognition of how we are both privileged and deprived that we can find empathy for all others who have suffered from much greater neglect, deprivation, and prohibition.

At this time of year, the beginning of the school year, the harvest, Rosh Hashonah, Yom Kippur, it is an especially good time to remember that the lessons come from everywhere, that our personal bible is every story which has held meaning and value for us as well as every one in which we play a role, whether a lead or a supporting character. So it is good to be attentive, as Rabbi Yisrael Salenter was the night he saw a shoemaker working late into the night and asked him why he worked so hard when it was so very late and the candle had burned so low. The reply? "As long as the candle is still burning, it is still possible to accomplish and to mend … shoes."

"As long as the candle is still burning, it is still possible to accomplish and to mend ..."

The candle is still burning.



Shellen Lubin works professionally as a Songwriter, Playwright, Director, and Actor/Singer. Her songs have been featured on radio and cable TV, in Milos Forman’s first American film, Taking Off, in numerous cabaret acts including her own, and in a one-hour special on WBAI-FM, Shellen Lubin - Songwriter/Singer. Her plays have been produced and workshopped at Manhattan Class Company, the Public Theatre, Pacific Resident Theatre, West Coast Ensemble, and more. Shellen has directed across the country, and is the resident director for the Bistro Awards. She also teaches and coaches actors, singers, and writers both privately and as a guest artist. As the Artistic Director of Untold Stories of Jewish Women, she helmed a three-day theatre festival at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in March 2018. She serves as the 1st Vice President of the Women in the Arts & Media Coalition and chair of the Women Playwrights Initiative for the National Theatre Conference. Her reflections on artistry and life have been featured in five cover pieces for Back Stage Publications (archived on her website) and are read weekly in her Monday Morning Quotes think-pieces ( Proud member of DG, SDC, AEA, and the League of Professional Theatre Women. Full bio, resume’, pictures and more: 

StateraCon Speaker Line-Up Has Something for Everyone - What's on your list?


There is something for everyone at Statera’s 3rd National Conference on gender balance in the theatre. This year, Statera is partnering with Renaissance Theaterworks and the University of Milwaukee, WI Peck School of the Arts to host the largest gathering in the organization’s history.


Statera, which has always had a strong focus on women in leadership, has announced four incredible touchstone speakers: Hana S. Sharif, Gail Barringer, Nataki Garrett, and Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway. All four are highly accomplished leaders, blazing new paths to success and acheivement for women in the theatre and film industries.

Hana S. Sharif , Associate Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage, and newly named Artistic Director of Repertory Theatre St. Louis

Hana S. Sharif, Associate Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage, and newly named Artistic Director of Repertory Theatre St. Louis

Nataki Garrett , Director and Former Associate Artistic Director of DCPA

Nataki Garrett, Director and Former Associate Artistic Director of DCPA

Gail Barringer , Producer of Episodic TV including Law & Order SVU, The Punisher, Person of Interest, and Luke Cage

Gail Barringer, Producer of Episodic TV including Law & Order SVU, The Punisher, Person of Interest, and Luke Cage

Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway , Founder and CEO of Artistic Directors of the Future

Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway, Founder and CEO of Artistic Directors of the Future

Conference attendees will be able to choose from a mind-boggling variety of topics and speakers. Conference organizers have broken these into four and five block sessions so that conference goers can choose their own track based on their trajectory in the industry (ie. Directors, Administrators, Academics, Designers, Actors, Playwrights, Audience Engagement, Social Justice Action, etc.) Take a look at the array of breakout sessions below and plan your weekend!








Statera also has two performances scheduled for conference attendees. The first is a world premier of Christine Jugueta’s musical play, The Red Thread. The second is Charlayne Woodard’s masterpiece, NEAT, performed by Milwaukee’s own Marti Gobel.



a play by Christine Jugueta

directed by Jacqueline Stone



a play by Charlayne Woodard
directed by Suzan Fete
starring Marti Gobel


There is still time to register for Statera’s National Conference. Late registration is $275 for the whole weekend and will be available until all slots are filled.

Motherhood Bias Affects All of Us + 3 Ways to Fight It

"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the arts and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other.

Today's offering comes to us from Rachel Spencer Hewitt, founder of Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL) for the Performing Arts, a collective of individuals and theatre organizations committed to family-friendly practices in the theatre. Rachel will join her colleague, Adriana Gaviria, to present a breakout session at Statera’s upcoming National Conference called "Motherhood and Leadership: Initiatives for Upward Mobility".

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Motherhood Bias Affects All of Us + 3 Ways to Fight It


Imagine a world where your needs weren’t an obstacle to production but an opportunity to improve the system. A culture of “yes” that made space for new solutions and functionality. A system of diverse individuals who thrive on interconnected responsibility and quality of productivity instead of isolated responsibility and quantity of hours.

When presented as theory, these ideals seem progressive, appealing, and for many - life changing. We can unite behind these ideals. When presented in reality, the fears of misidentification and limited resources divide us. We forget we’re asking for the same things in different forms.

We cannot forget.

As more essays and initiatives and dialogue break the silence on motherhood, I’ve been challenged as an advocate for mothers, even directly, that the “motherhood” conversation could be taking space from women who choose not to have children. Their voices begin to feel unheard.

I believe them.

Here’s why - a truth anyone reading this piece will likely already understand is that the space given to women is already too small and therefore easily over-occupied. It is this fear that threatens to divide us: we don’t want to lose what little space we have left. 

This obstacle illustrates the misunderstanding of why we fight for the “motherhood-in-theatre cause”. Like our term “feminism,” language itself threatens to limit the discussion and reduce the purpose. We cannot allow it. In the motherhood fight, like the fight for feminism, motherhood is the banner presented by a specific demographic fighting for ideals that benefit everyone. To see how, let’s first explore how the motherhood bias adversely affects everyone, especially non-caregivers and then identify ways to combat these adverse effects:


1.     Misogyny Feeds on the Domestication of Women
Whether a mother or not, current social constructs maintain that women belong in secondary positions, at best, positions of contained leadership, while a man belongs in the lead. On the path to professional leadership, the infamous “glass ceiling” illustrates that this social construct directly informs our professional structure. As a result, when a woman’s position remains secondary professionally, so do the woman’s needs. In the professional world, women are expected to lead in secondary positions because our society pushes the expectation further, expecting women to become mothers and classifies mothers as the secondary, domesticated role. We perpetuate this archaic hierarchy by viewing theatre professionals who are mothers as domesticated beings. The mother, then, seeking professional status, becomes an easy casualty of misogyny because the needs of domesticated beings are professionally irrelevant, and, therefore, the structures have no obligation to change accordingly.

Excluding the needs of mothers from the conversation about women’s needs in the workplace by labeling it a domestic issue diminishes the number of women calling for structural overhaul of the workplace. The number of women whose needs are then determined as professionally irrelevant directly impacts gender equity, promotion, and representation.

How we fight it: Consider the needs of mothers as professionally relevant and necessary in the fight for gender equity, promotion, and representation.

How this helps everyone: By considering a mother’s needs as professionally relevant, gender-specific calls for social and professional structural overhaul increase in number, representation, and diversity of impact.

2.     The Motherhood Expectation of “Divided Commitment” Inhibits All Women

If you are not a caregiver, have you ever been asked the question in any form, “Will you have kids?” “Don’t you want kids?” “Don’t you think you’ll regret not having kids?” or even had that expectation casually or silently present in an interview or professional environment? More common than not, these inappropriate and invasive questions and expectations still permeate our work culture and feel reductive, dismissive, and ominous in terms of professional promotion. They expect you to eventually divide your commitment.

Art by Sarah Greenman.

Art by Sarah Greenman.

Professional culture still allows us to equate motherhood with divided commitment, therefore allowing us to project a divided commitment on all women because of their potential motherhood whether they become mothers or not. This expectation wouldn’t exist if motherhood itself weren’t seen as an inherently divided commitment in the first place. No one has the right to investigate your motherhood plans and motherhood should be allowed in conversations of accessibility without the discriminating expectation that the woman in question will eventually lack professional capability. The personal reality of motherhood does not prescriptively affect professional commitment. Expectations of divided commitment, however, can inhibit it, so we must eradicate the expectation.

How we fight it: Advocate for mothers to be seen as professional individuals capable of  complete agency and leaders of their own level of personal commitment and professional goals.

How this helps everyone: If the reality of motherhood is not allowed to discriminate against a woman’s personal commitment and professional capability, then the expectation of motherhood no longer has the power to discriminate against all women in these ways as well.

3.     Work-Life Balance Viewed as the Pursuit of Working Better - Not Less - Impacts Everyone
The bias against professionals seeking work-life balance claims that they simply can’t meet the standard or want to work less. While some professionals desire and have the right to directly reduce their hours, not all professionals - mothers included - seek the reduction of work when they ask for adjustment of work. Thanks to developments of technology, progress in studies of efficacy, and emphasis on quality over quantity of hours, work-life balance has emerged as a primary topic for workplace restructuring. In many fields, including the theatre, mothers refrain from asking for creative solutions that may make work more efficient and accessible out of fear. This fear is echoed by many groups seeking change necessary for inclusion. From creating access for differently abled employees to decreasing race discrimination in employee evaluations to accommodating motherhood, finding new and improved methods of work can improve access and productivity for everyone by designing a system that fits the people working within it.

The mother’s needs contribute positively to this discussion in that they often include adjusting to different levels of physical mobility, considering the impact of an institution on outside individuals, and flexibility of function and execution to better fit the individual fulfilling the role. Even simple work-culture recommendations that positively affect everyone, as well as mothers, include telecommuting options, early schedule release for productions and projects, and including brunch and daytime in-hours networking events (instead of exclusively evening).

How to fight bias: Support motherhood accommodations according to legal rights as well as individual needs of mothers working in the institution.

How this helps everyone: The systems of the institution are then built in consideration of access needs as opposed to being maintained in conflict with access needs. Access and accommodation must become inherent principles when creating work-related systems for everyone.


For theatre to sustain its social impact, relevancy, and progress, we must consider how we view, include, and promote mothers. Motherhood is a valid lifestyle with professional impact and is deserving of professional rights, dignity, and accommodation. When we fight for motherhood, we fight for the unification of all professionals with access needs. Prioritizing access affects everyone and increases our power to influence equity, diversity, and efficacy.

Rachel Spencer Hewitt

Rachel Spencer Hewitt


Rachel Spencer Hewitt is the founder of Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL) for the Performing Arts, a collective of individuals and theatre organizations committed to family-friendly practices in the theatre. PAAL's mission is to empower and advocate for the parent-artist, both employee and freelance, in collaboration with theatre organizations in order to raise awareness of parent artist obstacles in the theatre and create work-life balance interventions, healthy work culture, stable protocols, and accessible pathways to employment.

Rachel received her BA in Drama from Trinity University and MFA in Acting from the Yale School of Drama. She earned her equity card understudying and performing at the Yale Repertory Theater. Her professional acting resume includes Broadway Debut in tony-nominated King Charles III at The Music Box theater, regional theater and off-Broadway productions, including the Paula Vogel/Tina Landau New York premiere of A Civil War Christmas. She recently moved to Chicago and has founded a national online community and resource initiative to highlight, identify, and create dialogue on motherhood in the theater arts on her blog

All Sizes Fit All: The Case for Normalizing Fatness Onstage

"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the arts and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other.

Today's offering comes to us from Maggie Rogers, Literary Manager and Dramaturg for Washington Ensemble Theatre in Seattle, WA. Maggie will be at Statera's National Conference this October leading a breakout session with her colleague Sage Martin entitled, "Fat Discrimination in the American Theatre". 

Note: “All Sizes Fit All: The Case for Normalizing Fatness Onstage” by Maggie Rogers, originally appeared in American Theatre online, 16 January 2018. It is used here with permission from Theatre Communications Group.”


All Sizes Fit All: The Case for Normalizing Fatness Onstage

American theatre must embrace all body types, and stop shunning and shaming fat performers and their stories.

By Maggie Rogers

It is time to talk about the elephant in the room: me. I’m the elephant. I’m the fat girl playing the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet senior year of high school, because as a fat girl you only play grandmas or other “undesirable” characters. I am the fat girl who sits behind the rehearsal table as an assistant director trying to keep her mouth shut while wondering why all the characters of lower status and even lower intelligence levels in the show are fat. I am the five-year-old girl in the audience who searched for anyone onstage who looked like me in terms of size. And most importantly, I am the fat girl who was told the only way I could go to the college of my dreams was if I lost 50 pounds (in case you were wondering, reader, I didn’t). I knew, even at a young age, that what they were asking of me was absurd and hazardous for my mental health.

Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers

Before we move forward: Yes, I use the word fat. This is my identifier. Some people don’t like this word, as it has been used as a weapon against us big folks for as long as we can remember (and yes, I have been called fat to my face by complete strangers in public more times than I can count). Don’t get me wrong—I still have my Arya Stark-esque list of people who called me fat in grade school that I recite to myself every night before I fall asleep. The only difference is that now my relationship with that word is coming from a place of love within myself as opposed to allowing it to hurt me. But this act of loving myself didn’t happen overnight and is not without trauma.

As a fat theatremaker, I dedicate an immense amount of my time focusing on developing a more body-positive theatre culture. Recently in Seattle, I directed a workshop of Amplitude (or Such a Pretty Face) by Sage Martin, a new play about navigating the world as a fat woman. During the workshop, a common shared experience kept coming up in the room. There are a few familiar phrases, often repeated by fat actors and directed toward them, no matter their age or race. They include but are not limited to: “I auditioned for that college and they told me I would be perfect if I was smaller”; “You are great but we don’t think you will be able to keep up with the physical workshops”; and (my favorite), “We can’t hire you because the stock costume for [insert name of yearly holiday show] will not be able to fit you.”

So just based on my size, you somehow know:

  1. That I am physically unfit for any type of movement.

  2. That altering a costume is too much to ask.

  3. That I will only be good at acting if I lose weight.

Imagine for a moment that you are constantly being told you are not good enough because of how you look—and this is not just in theatre but every day of your life. You see people pointing and laughing at you when you are feeling fly as hell in your cute crop top. You feel them violently shift in their seat next to you on an airplane because they got stuck sitting next to the fat person. This is pure hatred from people based on you solely existing as a person of size.

Now imagine you have all this social baggage and trauma, and then you go into the theatre, a space that prides itself on being inclusive, but you are met with the discriminatory condition, “If you lost X amount of weight, you would be great.” What is being said to me, in all these spheres, is that I do not belong here as I am. That I have nowhere to exist. What really hurts is the lack of acceptance in what is supposed to be a safe space.

“If it hurts this badly, why don’t you lose weight?” Good question, stranger in the comments section. Because that is not who I am. I am a large, loud, in-your-face woman—I will not alter myself to make you comfortable. This type of insidious thinking and language against anyone breeds eating disorders and image issues. It is detrimental to someone who is already in a vulnerable position by making theatre: by taking risks, accessing your emotions daily, and having the courage to leave a piece of yourself onstage.

The stigmatization that runs rampant in our country isn’t just in the arts, obviously. Many companies refuse to believe that fat people are able to do physical work, or think that patrons will get the wrong image of a business if a fat person is behind the counter (I was once fired from a retail chain because I wasn’t “the right image the store needed”). Telling someone they were not hired, cast, or accepted to a school because of their physical appearance is criminal. It’s discrimination.

Ultimately my question really is, in a space that strives to be progressive and equitable, why are we still adhering to poisonous social conformities? I know that I am attractive, funny, and talented. Why don’t you? I am genuinely asking heads of theatre programs, directors, teachers, casting directors, and even audience members across America: Why is weight an inhibitor to you? Size is not even something commonly found in character descriptions. There is no excuse.

To be clear, this is not just about accepting fat actors—it is about deepening storytelling to encompass the whole of the American experience. We live in such a diverse country filled with endless shapes and sizes. By only representing smaller bodies onstage, you are doing a disservice to audience members who are not a size 0 or who don’t have six-pack abs. Fatness crosses every race, creed, and culture, and you want to tell me the only people that are worth seeing onstage are thin? Please. You can get on board with helicopters landing onstage, witches flying through the air, and puppets, but not a size 22 playing a lead?

We need to normalize fatness onstage and not heroicize people for casting a fat person as a sort of token. It’s time to take us beyond the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet, Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, Helen in Fat Pig—i.e. shows where being fat is considered unattractive, or fatness is a plot point, or where loving a fat person is considered taboo.

American theatre, I challenge you: Call back fat actors for lead roles where their weight is never mentioned. Put a person of size in the sexiest role in the play. Dig deep within yourself and discover those uncomfortable feelings with size you may have and try to make sense of them.

Give us fat theatremakers a chance. They may crush your expectations (pun absolutely intended).


Maggie Rogers is a Seattle based director, dramaturg, and fat activist who proudly hails from Louisville, Kentucky. She is the Literary Manager and Resident Dramaturg at Washington Ensemble Theatre, a company member with The Horse in Motion, and the Resident Dramaturg for Cherdonna Shinatra's compnay, Donna. Before moving to Seattle to complete the Literary Apprenticeship at Seattle Repertory Theatre, she obtained her degree in directing from Columbia College Chicago and graduated as the class Valedictorian of 2014.

Statera Mentorship & Kimberly Senior at The Goodman

Last month, the Chicago Chapter of the Statera Mentorship Program hosted a conversation with renowned director Kimberly Senior. As a fierce advocate of women and emerging artists, Kimberly shared her experiences and facilitated a dynamic discussion on the necessary role Mentorship plays in our lives. The gathering was co-hosted by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. 

Although mentorship can be seen as an act of kindness or generosity, I view it as a necessity, a responsibility. If we are to continue to make work, to tell stories, or even survive another 50, 100, 1000 years, we need to raise up this next generation. So how do we do this? We hold open doors.
— Kimberly Senior


Statera Foundation works to connect theatre women interested in moving beyond the very real obstacles that sometimes lie between our goals and our successes. The most effective way to grow, expand and manifest change is to work together. Statera Foundation is here for you. 

Here are some photos from the event:



Kimberly Senior is a freelance director and the director of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar. Most recently Kimberly made her HBO debut with Chris Gethard: Career Suicide, which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Kimberly was awarded the prestigious Alan Schneider Award at the 2016 TCG Conference. She is also a 2013 Finalist for the SDCF Joe A. Callaway Award. She is the recipient of the 2016 Special Non-Equity Jeff Award for her Chicago career achievements as a trail blazer, champion and role model for emerging artists.

 In Chicago, Kimberly is a Resident Director at Writers Theatre and an Associate Artist at TimeLine Theatre. Her work has received multiple Joseph Jefferson nominations. Kimberly founded Collaboraction Theatre Company in 1997, spent ten years as an associate artist at Strawdog Theater, eight years as an associate artist at Chicago Dramatists, and six years as an associate artist at the much beloved Next Theatre. In addition, Kimberly served as the first board president of The Hypocrites many years ago.

 As an educator, Kimberly spent ten years as both an administrator and Resident Artist with Steppenwolf for Young Adults. In addition, Kimberly either ran programs or taught for Court Theater, Northlight Theater, Redmoon Theater, Roadworks Productions, Victory Gardens, Metropolis, Act One Studios, and Acting Studio Chicago. She served as adjunct faculty at Columbia College where she teaches Chekhov, Dramaturgy and Text Analysis. Kimberly has also taught numerous classes at DePaul University and University of Chicago. She is the recipient of Columbia College's 2010 Excellence in Teaching Award. Kimberly has served as Program Director and as a dramaturg for Steppenwolf's First Look Repertory of New Work and continues to develop new plays with the Ojai Playwrights Conference.

 New York Credits: Disgraced (Broadway); Chris Gethard: Career Suicide (Judd Apatow presents); The Who and The What, and Disgraced (LCT3); Discord (Primary Stages); Engagements (Second Stage Uptown). Regional Credits: Sheltered (Alliance Theatre); Support Group for Men, Disgraced, and Rapture, Blister, Burn (Goodman Theatre); The Scene, Marjorie Prime, Diary of Anne Frank, Hedda Gabler, and The Letters (Writers Theatre); Other Than Honorable (Geva); Sex with Strangers (The Geffen Playhouse); Disgraced (Mark Taper Forum, Berkley Repertory Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre); The Who and The What (La Jolla Playhouse); Little Gem (City Theatre); Want and The North Plan (Steppenwolf); Discord, 4000 Miles, and The Whipping Man (Northlight Theatre); among others. Film/TV: Chris Gethard: Career Suicide (HBO); Upcoming: The Niceties (Huntington and McCarter); Buried Child (Writers Theatre); Support Group for Men(Goodman); Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Milwaukee Rep).

Kimberly is the incredibly proud mother of Noah and Delaney. She is a member of SDC.

Adventures in Artslandia: an Interview with Statera's Sarah Greenman

As Statera Foundation wraps up their $25,000 fundraising campaign and continues preparations for their National Conference in Milwuakee, Statera's Creative Director, Sarah Greenman, takes a short break to talk with Susannah Mars in the newest episode of Portland's Adventures in Artslandia Podcast! 

Bringing women into full and equal participation in the arts is Statera Foundation's mission. How do we do it? In this interview, Sarah talks about Statera's methods, the national gender parity movement, the falsehoods of the scarcity mindset, coalition building, and how Statera Foundation is impacting the national arts scene! So grab a cup of coffee and enjoy this interview with Statera's Creative Director! 


Statera's Melinda Pfundstein Gets Personal

Dear Friend,

Statera Foundation is growing by leaps and bounds and all thanks to supporters like you. Your generosity has allowed us to host two national conferences with a third this fall, create pathways for women artists to succeed and thrive in their work through our professional mentorship program, and now to extend our reach from the national theatre scene to the international arts scene with the addition of International Support Women Artists Now (SWAN) Day. 

There are many things that get me up in the morning to do this work, among them to forge new pathways not readily available when I was coming up in the business. I do it for a brighter tomorrow. I have three daughters and I want them to see themselves represented in art. I want them to see stories and artistic expressions that honor their experiences as being as beautifully complex and as valid as their peers’, who are boys; and I want their perception of normal to be one of inclusivity and beautiful diversity, where there is enough space for all of us. Our mission is not to tear anything down, but rather to create more space for more of what is working to balance our arts.   

WomenArts has given Statera a $25,000 matching challenge gift to be met by June 30th. We are well over halfway there, and we need your help. If you could give $100, $500, $1000, $2000, or $5000, your impact will be doubled, and I promise we will continue to put your generosity to work in creating a more balanced arts landscape, with more opportunity and better pay, toward a more inclusive industry for women in the arts.

There are two ways to make your tax-deductible donation: 

  • Send a check, payable to Statera Foundation to 755 S. Main St. Suite 4 #281, Cedar City UT 84720
  • Donate online at (Statera pays 3% for this service) 

Your gift designates you as an advocate for the arts and ensures the continued vibrancy of Statera’s unique programming, including the launch of our Diversity & Inclusion Training this fall. Whether you consider yourself an art maker or an art lover, this work is for you. Thank you for your invaluable support! 


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Melinda Pfundstein
Executive Director

Statera Seven: Suzan Fete

Statera Seven is a series about women in leadership and the path to promotion. Statera poses seven questions to past and current Artistic Directors, Managing Directors, and other women in leadership roles in the American Theatre. Statera is sharing their stories and insights in hopes of finding new ways to shift the leadership gender imbalance of America's nonprofit regional theater companies. 

Today we're interviewing Suzan Fete, Founder and Artistic Director of Renaissance Theaterworks, a 25-year-old Milwuakee-theatre dedicated to promoting the work of women onstage and off. 


STATERA: The research on Women's Leadership in Resident Theaters presented by The Wellesly Centers for Women (WCW) and the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in 2016 found that there was a glass ceiling and "pipeline issue" facing women in theatre leadership. How have you improved professional development for those seeking leadership positions in the arts, particularly women and people of color?

SUZAN FETE: Renaissance Theaterworks (RTW) is the nation’s second oldest professional theater company with a commitment to gender equity and we are Milwaukee’s only women-founded women-run professional theater. Founded in 1993, our mission clearly states our commitment to providing roles for women –on stage and off. Over the last 25 years RTW has given opportunities to more than 800 theater artists and technicians; 75% of these have been women. Our staff is and has always been all women. The make-up of RTW’s board of directors ranges between 80-90% female. I am most proud of the many vital “first-time” chances we have given to women to help them advance or refocus their careers. For example, we have encouraged several local actors to try directing –Laura Gordon, for instance, directed her first show for RTW in 2004 and now she directs all over the country.


STATERA: What is the most important single decision you have made in your journey? 

SF: To believe in myself and trust my instincts. There are always so many voices telling you what you want is impossible, or that the “better people” do it differently, it can be really hard to have faith and patience. Who cares what the “better people” think and who are they anyway?!

STATERA: Statistics suggest that women apply for jobs only if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men apply when they meet only 40%. Has this been true for you, and how do you advocate for your experience and qualifications when they are not explicitly spelled out in a job posting?

SF: I have seen plenty of evidence of this throughout my life.  But it has not been a pitfall for me personally, I’m not sure why. My personal mantra has always been “Oh, how hard can it be?” This has really gotten me in trouble at times. But it is essential to risk and fail boldly. Failure must become your friend, without it success is impossible. Creativity demands courage and patience.

STATERA: What roadblocks did you encounter on your path to this position and how did you navigate? 

SF: In 1993 five women (Myself, Marie Kohler, Raeleen McMillion, Jennifer Rupp and Michele Traband) founded RTW because of the lack of leadership roles available to women in professional theater.  We created our own opportunities. We weren’t able to pay ourselves for a while, but now RTW has six paid staff positions. 

Renaissance Theaterworks was founded in 1993 by Suzan Fete, Marie Kohler, Raeleen McMillion, Jennifer Rupp and Michele Traband.

Renaissance Theaterworks was founded in 1993 by Suzan Fete, Marie Kohler, Raeleen McMillion, Jennifer Rupp and Michele Traband.

STATERA: If you had $10 million dollars of unrestricted funds, how would you spend it to improve the American Theatre?  

SF: I wish it could be ten times $10 million! I would love to create several Art Hubs across the country. Each hub would have an active and authentic relationship with their community. Each would contain at least three theaters in varying sizes. We could foster the work of new playwrights –particularly women and people of color. We would broaden our range of work and cultivate the next generation of theater artists. And we could pay everyone a living wage!

STATERA: Professional mentorship is a core part of our mission at Statera Foundation. In that spirit, what is the best piece of advice you have ever received, and from whom?

SF: “Don’t be afraid to put yourself in situations where everyone looks to you for answers –you will have no choice but to rise to the occasion.”  Tom Fulton Acting Teacher Cleveland Ohio 1988

“Just do it already!”  My mom pretty much all my life.

STATERA: In what ways are you thriving in your leadership role?

SF: I love my job!  I am so blessed.  I go to work every day with the brightest, most dedicated women I know. We work as a team to create outstanding theater that is relevant to our community. I turned 60 this spring and most of the RTW staff is half my age, working with these energetic and enthusiastic young women helps to keep my outlook youthful and positive. I may never retire!


Other Statera Seven Interviews: 

NATAKI GARRETT - Associte Artistic Director of  The Denver Center

JENNIFER ZEYL - Artistic Director of Intiman Theatre

BRENDA DEVITA - Artistic Director of American Players Theatre

About Suzan

Suzan is the Artistic Director and a Co-Founder of Renaissance Theaterworks - Milwaukee’s only women-run, women-founded professional theater company.  Since its inception in 1993, Renaissance (RTW) has been committed to creating roles for women theater professionals onstage and off. RTW produces three main stage plays and one staged play reading in the ninety-nine seat Broadway Theatre Center Studio Theatre in Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward. Twenty-four years of debt-free operations, rave reviews and a passionate audience base speak to RTW’s success.  

Other RTW successes under Suzan’s leadership include:

♦    Finalist (12 out of 1500) in the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Play Festival 2016

♦    First successful International Cultural Exchange: sending our production of NEAT to Isithatha Theatre in South Africa – June 2013.

♦    Initiation of the Diversity Series in 2010, with a 3-year commitment from RTW to dedicate 40% of annual programming to the voices of people of color, resulting in a 900% increase in attendees of color.

♦    Recognition in for our leading role in helping women initiate and expand their careers in theater, September 30, 2010.

♦    Two Milwaukee Magazine awards for Best Play of the Year: BOSWELL’S DREAMS (2005) and MIDNIGHT AND MOLL FLANDERS (2000); additionally, the American Association of Theater Critics nominated RTW’s COUNTING DAYS as Best New Regional Play;

♦    From 1993 -2015, RTW produced 59 full productions and staged 33 readings employing more than 700 local theater professionals, more than 65% of whom were women.

Suzan has 30 years of experience as an actor, director, and producer in professional theater.  Suzan has a degree from University of Illinois and lives happily in Wauwatosa WI with her husband Jeff.

Statera Foundation Chosen to Lead International SWAN Day

Statera Foundation has been named by WomenArts as the new organizers of SWAN Day / Support Women Artists Now Day.

This year, Statera Foundation joined forces with WomenArts to co-organize SWAN Day 2018. This exciting partnership allowed Statera leadership to walk side-by-side with WomenArts in creating a marketing campaign, managing the SWAN Day Calendar, communicating with SWAN Day participants, supporting special web content, and overseeing SWAN Day media.

“As SWAN Day starts its second decade, it is wonderful to have this burst of new energy and ideas from the Statera women,” said Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts. “I have been very impressed with their skills and commitment, and I am confident that they will find ways to make SWAN Day bigger and better than ever."

Statera's immediate plans for expansion entail a SWAN Day convening at Statera's 2018 National Conference in Milwaukee on October 4th, broader marketing assistance for future SWAN events, and support webinars for SWAN Day organizers detailing how to build local community partnerships and coalitions for greater positive social impact.

For the past three years, Statera Foundation has focused on increasing opportunities for theatre artists who identify as women. With the addition of SWAN Day programming, Statera now expands their support and advocacy to women artists everywhere. Statera’s Executive Director,  Melinda Pfundstein, says “SWAN Day is a perfect fit for Statera’s mission and allows us to extend our reach to support and lift up women in all art forms and all around the world."

Pfundstein continued, “At Statera we have been organizing conferences and building our mentorship program because we believe in the power of women artists supporting other women artists by sharing their skills and cheering each other on. Those are the core values of SWAN Day as well. We are so grateful for Martha Richards’ vision and for the support of WomenArts. We are thrilled to be the new organizers of SWAN Day.”

Martha Richards has joined Statera Foundation's Advisory Board and will remain connected to SWAN Day efforts in a mentorship capacity. Richards also recently announced a $25,000 matching grant to Statera Foundation to support SWAN Day 2019 in addition to their current programming.

Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day is an annual international holiday designed to showcase the power and diversity of women’s creativity. 2018 saw the launch of an official SWAN Day Instagram account ( using #SWANDay. If you haven't yet, please check out the Full List of 2018 SWAN Events from 2018. We've highlighted a few below:


Sara Osi Scott (left) and Sarah Nansubuga (right) at SWAN Day Baton Rouge

Sara Osi Scott (left) and Sarah Nansubuga (right) at SWAN Day Baton Rouge

Jackie Vanderbeck, Artistic Director of Sing for Your Seniors and an active member of Statera Foundation, hosted a Women’s Playwright Symposium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in honor of SWAN Day 2018.


SWAN Day Chicago 2018 featured a SWAN photo booth.

SWAN Day Chicago 2018 featured a SWAN photo booth.

The fifth Annual SWAN Day Chicago celebrated women artists in the Windy City and featured the mixed media talents of Katrice Buckley, Tarynn Jackson, Jaelen Isis, Tyler Clark, and Zitiali Yunuhem. DJ Gemini Jones provided the soundtrack for the evening’s festivities.

ILA Creative started SWAN Day Chicago in 2014. This year’s showcase was a fundraiser for SkyArt, a non-profit visual arts organization for the youth of Chicago’s southside.

In a city where arts programming for youth is scarce and rarely funded, SkyArt makes a huge impact in the Chicago community.


SWAN Day Los Angeles 2018

SWAN Day Los Angeles 2018

The Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (LAFPI) hosted an afternoon of micro-reads at the Los Angeles Samuel French Book Store to celebrate women playwrights for SWAN Day Los Angeles 2018.


The Musicki Centar Rezonanca (Resonance Music Center) in Bosnia & Herzegovina

The Musicki Centar Rezonanca (Resonance Music Center) in Bosnia & Herzegovina

The Musicki Centar Rezonanca (Resonance Music Center) presented Red Shoe Night, a SWAN benefit performance of music and poetry for their friends  with cancer, in Konjic, Bosnia & Herzegovina.  This was the first time that the Resonance Music Center has participated in SWAN Day, and they are the second SWAN group from Bosnia and Herzegovina.


SWAN Day New York 2018

SWAN Day New York 2018

Ten top film groups joined forces to do a SWAN Day screening in New York of Winnie, an award-winning documentary about Winnie Madikizela Mandela by British filmmaker, Pascale Lamche. The collaborators were:  NY Women in Film and TelevisionSAG-AFTRA, the School of Visual Arts Film DepartmentFF2 MediaImageNation Cinema FoundationWomen in the Arts & Media Coalition (WAMC), African-American Women in Cinema (AAWIC), Women Make Movies (WMM), HerFlix., and the SVA Theatre.


Dancers at SWAN Day Milwaukee 2018

Dancers at SWAN Day Milwaukee 2018

SWAN Day Milwaukee, now in its third year, invited women artists to explore their artistic and spiritual connections to nature, and how these roots nourish one’s work, activism and daily living. Dozens of new artists were included in this year’s opening celebration. The art exhibit is currently open and runs through May 31, 2018 at the Urban Ecology Center, 3700 W Pierce St, Milwaukee, WI.


Performers at SWAN Day Kenya 2018

Performers at SWAN Day Kenya 2018

The theme of SWAN Day Kenya 2018 was Closing the Gap: Connecting Artists. Over 70 female artists participated in the day-long festival this year. SWAN Day Kenya was coordinated by Sophie Dowlar. Please take a look at this fantastic video about their 2018 festivities.


Martha Richards & SWAN Organizer Jennifer Hill at SWAN Day CT 2018

Martha Richards & SWAN Organizer Jennifer Hill at SWAN Day CT 2018

Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts, attended the 2018 SWAN Day Connecticut music festival on April 14th to congratulate Jennifer Hill who has organized the event for eleven straight years!  SWAN Day CT 2018 was a fabulous six-hour music showcase featuring Jen TaylorThat VirginiaMurderous ChanteuseNan RoyAudio JaneLaini and the WildfirePatti RothbergVivienne LaFlammeDJ BreakaDawn, and more. 

Since its inception 11 years ago, there have been events in almost 40 countries, and WomenArts estimates that over 10,000 people participate in SWAN events every year. The official date for SWAN Day 2019 is Saturday, March 30th. Are you hosting or organizing a 2019 SWAN Day event? Make sure you submit it to the SWAN Day Calendar!

Do you have questions about SWAN Day? Reach out to Statera Foundation directly at

Please help us make the next International SWAN Day the biggest and best one yet by making a gift to Statera Foundation today.  Remember - your gifts will be matched by WomenArts up to $25,000.

Support Statera's 25K Matching Campaign TODAY

Statera Foundation is positive action for women in theatre. Our mission is to bring women into FULL and EQUAL participation in the American Theatre.

That is why we are thrilled to announce that WomenArts has come forward in support of our mission to offer Statera Foundation a matching challenge gift of $25,000. If we can raise the full amount by June 30th, your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar. 

Support now and your contribution will be doubled!


As cultural arts budgets are slashed across the country, it is imperative for us to seek a larger portion of our support from individual donors like you. Our fundraising campaign runs for the entire month of June, but you don't need to wait to donate. In fact, Statera has already reached the $10,000 mark because of early donations from our biggest supporters! 

We need your help to match this $25,000 grant. Please consider a tax-deductible donation. Not only will your contribution be matched, dollar for dollar, but it will ensure the continued success and vibrancy of our programming. Join us!

Two ways to give:

  • Send a check, payable to Statera Foundation, 755 S Main Street. Ste 4, #281, Cedar City, UT 84720
  • Donate online at (Statera pays 3% for this service)

Thank you for your invaluable support.

Together we can do GREAT things!


WomenArts offers Statera a $25K Matching Gift

We are thrilled to announce that WomenArts has come forward to offer Statera Foundation a matching challenge gift of $25,000. If we can raise the full amount by June 30th, your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar. 

Support now and your contribution will be doubled!

Statera Foundation is a national nonprofit that takes positive action to bring women into full and equal participation in the American Theatre. We work to achieve gender parity through our National Conferences and our innovative Mentorship Program, Our successful programming provides strategic pathways for theatre artists, arts administrators, and arts organizations to adopt equitable hiring practices and tell stories that reflect the full scope of humanity.

We hold WomenArts in the highest esteem and are humbled by their faith in the future of our organization. Statera is uniquely positioned to make a lasting impact on the international gender parity movement in the arts. What's our secret? It's YOU - the Statera community that propels our work and strengthens our potential reach and impact. 

We urge you to contribute
what you can before June 30th
to meet WomenArts' matching gift. 

As cultural arts budgets are slashed across the country, it is imperative for us to seek a larger portion of our support from individual donors like you. Our fundraising campaign runs for the entire month of June, but you don't need to wait to donate. In fact, Statera has already reached the $10,000 mark because of early donations from our biggest supporters! 

We need your help to match this $25,000 challenge gift. Please consider a tax-deductible donation. Not only will your contribution be matched, dollar for dollar, but it will ensure the continued success and vibrancy of our programming. Join us!

Two ways to give:

  • Send a check, payable to Statera Foundation, 755 S Main Street. Ste 4, #281, Cedar City, UT 84720
  • Donate online at (Statera pays 3% for this service)

Thank you for your invaluable support. Together we can do GREAT things!

Shakespeare in Prison with Frannie Shepherd-Bates

"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the theatre and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other. It is here that we join in a circle of mutual trust and support to share our thoughts and self-reveal on our own term and in our own voices. 

Today's offering comes from Frannie Shepherd-Bates, founder, director, and lead facilitator of Shakespeare in Prison (SIP), a program of Detroit Public Theatre.


Shakespeare in Prison

by Frannie Shepherd-Bates

“I can’t tell you how much I love Shakespeare. It’s so accurate to our experience here – he uses the perfect words. I’m so glad I found this.”


February 7, 2012

Programs Building: Auditorium

Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility

Ypsilanti, Michigan

I stand on the stage, smiling, shaking warm hand after warm hand — fifteen of them. I’m trying not to show it, but I’m terrified — not because all of these hands belong to people convicted of felonies, incarcerated at Michigan’s only women’s prison, but because I’ve never done anything like this before, and I’m not totally convinced that I can. Maybe half-convinced. Maybe.

What if I’m not as sensitive as I think I am? What if I say or do the wrong thing and alienate these women — or get shut down by the facility? What if this doesn’t work the way it has for other artists? This could last two weeks. Or it could last for years. Or today could be it.

I sit down on the steps that lead up to the stage so we’ll all be on the same level. I introduce myself.

I’m a theatre artist with a knack for directing, teaching, and working with Shakespeare. I’m not a scholar. I love it, I don’t fear the challenge, and I’m pretty good at breaking it down.

“What are we going to do?”

“How is this going to work?”

“What is Shakespeare?”

I tell them that I have some ideas — that I’ve researched other prison theatre programs, but most of those have been done with men, and, you know, I haven’t ever done the work myself. “So I don’t know what this looks like, really,” I say. “I’m hoping you’ll help me figure it out.”

I promise to show up consistently. I promise that I will never bullshit them. I promise to be patient,  flexible, and enthusiastic. And realistic.

Then one of them asks what I’m doing here. In prison. Why am I not afraid of them?

“Because you’re people,” I reply. “And we all make mistakes. We all make bad decisions. It doesn't have to define us. It doesn’t define you. I’m here because I believe that theatre has the potential to effect huge change. And I’m hoping that that’s what’s going to happen for us.”


Shakespeare in Prison has evolved since those early days, but the spirit remains the same. Our work empowers incarcerated (and now formerly incarcerated) people to reconnect with their humanity and that of others; to reflect on their past, present, and future; and to gain the confidence, self-esteem, and crucial skills they need to heal and positively impact their communities. And we use Shakespeare to do it.

We work over the course of a nine-month season to explore, rehearse, and perform one play by Shakespeare. We begin with ensemble-building, reading, discussion, and dipping our toes into performance. We cast our play collaboratively. We rehearse and rehearse and rehearse until we perform. Then we analyze how it all went, take a break for a few months, and start back up with a new play.

The program’s structure is more or less set at this point, but it can still be messy; even rocky. That’s an understatement to describe that first year and a half, as we worked together to figure out what we wanted from this program and how we could get there. I quickly learned that this was going to be much harder than I’d thought — but that it could also be more breathtaking and inspiring than I’d anticipated.

I’d promised not to judge; to be patient and flexible. I learned what that takes in such a chaotic environment, working with so many people who hurt so badly, and I learned to keep my biases and frustrations at bay. Because they weren’t helpful.

I learned that people’s potential to radically alter their lives — their very identities — is innate; universal; nearly unfathomable. And I learned what a powerful tool Shakespeare can be in service of that.

“I feel liberated,” one woman said at the end of our very first meeting.

“Being on stage is a whole new high,” said a woman recovering from heroin addiction, less than two years into a four-year tenure in the ensemble.

The insight shared by these women — 141 in the last six years — was so striking and so frequent, right off the bat, that I began writing down as much of what they said, verbatim, as I could.

“Everybody needs something different, and we all get it. It’s hard to explain because it’s a feeling; sometimes there aren’t any words.”

“This whole process reminds me of the best part of who I used to be before I came to prison. The darkness can overwhelm… This is my light. Not only can I be that girl again, but I can be better. Whatever we’re feeling, it’s okay here.”

“This is my favorite thing that I do. I love the process... It’s nine months of something I never thought I could do. This is my family. You will bare your soul because Shakespeare is timeless. This is a safe place. These are my best friends.”

“I feel like I’ve changed so much in prison. I don’t like to meet new people – I’m still friendly, but I have my guard up. But I told my therapist when she asked that there is one place I feel safe: Shakespeare.”

“Prison didn’t help my self-esteem, but it did get me clean. After this, I have self-esteem, self-worth, accomplishment – I believe in myself on a lot of different levels. Hearing people say I’m good at something… I feel like I can live a different life and be the person I want to be. It seemed like a dream before – the last time I felt like that was when I was a kid.”

Theoretically, I’d believed that we would all be able to see ourselves in Shakespeare’s archetypal characters and situations; that that would give us insight into ourselves, our lives, and the world around us. That was — and has been — true. What I didn’t realize was just how profound that could be—- and how little input it would take from me for people to go there. Themselves. Sometimes in as little as twenty minutes.

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People with limited education. People who’ve sold their bodies. People who’ve struggled with addiction, or mental illness, or both. Who’ve committed acts of desperation, or who’ve just made really, really bad decisions. People who’ve killed other people. People who’ve suffered trauma so severe that I can’t even speak of it, let alone fathom it. Who’ve inflicted such trauma on others.

People of color. Indigenous people. People across all spectrums of gender identity and sexual preference. People who’ve lived their whole lives in economic hardship. People who’ve been told their whole lives that they’re stupid. That they’re worthless.

For whom being a woman usually means you’re “less than.” For whom being a woman can be dangerous. For whom being a woman often feels like the very reason you’ve made those terrible decisions; why you’ve been locked up. Why you identify with men. Or why you fear them.

And it all ends up having an enormous influence on the way our ensembles understand and stage Shakespeare. Which is often far different from how we on the outside understand and stage it.

These women have taught me that when the politics of representation are removed (because they live in a place where 98% of the people around them are of the same biological sex), there isn’t usually a reason to alter the genders of Shakespeare's characters. It’s always been an option, but we’ve literally never done it. Our ensemble members have always felt that doing so had the potential to alter the story to a point where it wouldn't have had the same meaning for them.

“I don’t know… I really click with Iago. But, you know… I love like Othello, and I hate like Iago. That’s the thing about this group. At so many points, it just shows me myself. I never thought I would be using this… but I use it in real life.”

Were you married to an Iago? Or have you been Iago — and does gender play into that? Realizing that you relate to such a character means that you are seriously analyzing parts of yourself that are far from pretty. On the flipside, realizing that such a character is within some of your ensemble members might give you insight into the Iagos in your life. It won’t absolve them — Shakespeare certainly doesn’t absolve Iago — but your new perspective might help you understand, process, and heal from your past. And it generally does.

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When we talk about making theatre accessible, we’re usually talking about providing discounted or free tickets to see plays, or educational programs, or talk backs. There’s nothing wrong with any of that (far from it!). Our work is less traditional. It’s more Theatre of the Oppressed than Royal Shakespeare Company. But it isn’t really either. It’s kind of its own thing.

Plays have directors; classes have teaching artists. In Shakespeare in Prison, we who come in from “the world” are definitely artists, but we don’t direct or teach. It’s not a class. We’re not experts. We facilitate; we guide. There’s no hierarchy. It’s “painfully collaborative.” And that’s part of its value. All barriers are removed (that aren’t imposed on us by the facility). All bets are off. So we’ve got to really own this material. And, my goodness, we sure do.

Shakespeare is, hands down, some of the most accessible theatre there is, provided the guidance is compassionate, free of judgment, and open to interpretation — even to being wrong. I’m increasingly impatient with the notion that Shakespeare is a rarefied thing; that we should sideline it because it’s been around for a long time and was written by a white man. That, because of those things, “marginalized” or “at-risk” people won’t relate to or enjoy it. I don’t buy it.

“Shakespeare should be for everybody. It is for everybody. “

Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t seen and heard what I have. Our own bias and privilege can get in the way of seeing not just what theatre can do, but what Shakespeare can. The people I’ve worked with have found this not only frustrating, but exasperating, and even offensive. Why shouldn’t people like them (adults and children) have access to this simply because others assume they don’t need it or won’t like it? Or won’t understand it? These are phantom barriers. They aren’t real.

That’s not to say that it isn’t challenging. Doing Shakespeare is a point of pride. It gives you something to prove. It’s something you call home about. It’s something your kids can brag about; maybe it’s the first time they’ve ever been proud of you. It’s got caché. It’s a club. It’s a family.

It gives you the drive to pay it forward. To other prisoners. To your family on the outside. To others in recovery. To people serving life sentences who desperately need the new perspectives — the new worlds — that Shakespeare offers.

“It’s not that I want to be in Shakespeare. It’s that I need it. I can’t do this time without it.”

Sometimes the work leads our ensemble members to become theatre artists, but, more often, they gain confidence that propels them to do things that seem to have nothing to do with Shakespeare, or to pursue more education. Because they did this — which no one would have thought they could do — they believe they can do other things that seemed impossible. They develop new identities or reconnect with past ones. In doing so, they are not simply “rehabilitated.” They are activated.

We like to say, “You bring to it what you bring to it. And you get out of it what you get out of it.” It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from. Empathy knows no class, color, education, or gender.

“I’m here for murder… Beforehand, my mind was saying, ‘It’s wrong! It’s wrong! You shouldn’t do it…’ In one half of my mind, I’m like Macbeth, seeing it’s wrong… But my dumb ass did it anyway. But the thoughts of guilt didn’t go away.”

“Richard feels his pain. I identify with him in that way because when I was little, people would say mean things [about her skin color; she is very dark skinned], and that’s why I know how to fight. After a while, I just took it. But then I started amplifying it majorly. And I would sit and think about how I could hurt you. If I felt not dominant, not number one, if you were stronger than me, then I would attack you physically. And that’s how I feel Richard is. I see him holding in things that have hurt him and amplifying it out onto everyone else. And he doesn’t tell anyone.”

“It sucks because [Buckingham] gets it, like, a minute too late… As an addict, I saw people who almost had it but missed it, and they died. I can relate to looking at that reflection and saying, ‘Damn, I did all that?’”

“It’s like going from the suburbs to the middle of Compton. [Anne] just took the other option. Now she feels guilty, but at least she didn’t go to jail. She had to do something so she didn’t end up in the slums.”

People are people. And people are complicated. When you remove the barriers between yourself and others; between yourself and Shakespeare — specifically Shakespeare — new ideas, worlds, and experiences open themselves to you.

“I feel like Shakespeare was in prison. All this is the same shit we go through all the time--the intrigue, the lies, the people, nobody taking responsibility for their actions…”

“Things I didn’t think were in me, I could see within myself and in the characters. Seeing things in different ways has helped me become a better woman. When I came here, I was really angry and didn’t care about anything but myself. Now I see things differently.”

“I never thought I’d be smart enough to sit and have this kind of discussion about a book like this.”

“[Sonnet #35 is] the best thing I’ve ever heard… Because, to me, I think the poem was written at a point when this person said, ‘No more’… Everybody makes mistakes, but it doesn’t define you.”

“Shakespeare is my mothafuckin’ NA. It’s my AA. It’s a place where I can be me. The theatre is my home.”

“It feels so cool when you can answer Jeopardy questions, and it’s because of this class.”

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Augusto Boal said, “I think anyone can do theater. Even actors. And theater can be done everywhere. Even in a theater.”

When we theatre artists recognize that our way of making art is not the only way (even when radically altering its forms); that we who are privileged enough to do this work professionally do not have a monopoly on understanding it; that we may have prejudices that inform our work even as we strive toward equity, inclusion, and representation; then we can begin to see the incredible power that this material has, just as it is. Without anything on it. “Don’t. Add. Shit. To. Shakespeare,” one of our ensemble members recently said.

When we shake off the strictures that prevent us from seeing the power of Shakespeare — these four hundred year old words written by a white European man, but not belonging to him — to uplift and empower the most marginalized among us, we can be liberated as much as any prisoner.


April 3, 2018

Programs Building: Room 154

Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility

Ypsilanti, Michigan

“Frannie, can I ask you a question?”

“You bet.”

“Does this — when you come here, does this feel like work?”

I pause, letting the question sink in. “You know, I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that.” I pause again. “I guess it depends on how you define ‘work’. If we’re talking about going to a job and punching the clock: no, it absolutely doesn’t feel like that.” Pause. “But this takes a lot out of me, for sure. I always want to bring all the energy, patience, and authenticity I can. I have to be fully present every single second. And that takes a lot of effort.”

I look at the woman sitting next to her, who’s watching me with that careful look I’ve seen so often on her face — measuring my words and affect, the beginnings of a smile just barely crinkling the skin around her eyes and lips.

“But no, this definitely doesn’t feel like a job. I never feel like I want to take a day off just for fun. I never think, ‘God, I really don’t want to be around these people today.’”

“You really love this.”

“I really do.”



Frannie Shepherd-Bates is the founder, director, and lead facilitator of Shakespeare in Prison (SIP), a program of Detroit Public Theatre. She began SIP (under the auspices of Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company, which she led from 2008-2014) as its sole volunteer facilitator and administrator, personally handling every aspect of the program. Since those early days, Frannie has worked with the women’s ensemble — and now the men’s as well — to develop the structure, objectives, and pedagogy of the program; developing a culture of warmth, openness, professionalism, and dedication. In 2015, the program moved from Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company as it dissolved to Detroit Public Theatre as it was founded. As a freelance director, sound designer, and teaching artist, she has worked with more than a dozen southeast Michigan theaters and schools. Frannie has won numerous awards for her artistic and community work, and she has been featured in local, regional, national, and international media.