Author Note: Italics indicate memories or reflections.
I always joke about my life in theater being various acts of serendipity getting me to where I am now. And I can chalk that same ideology up to my life as a producer. I’ve always been producing, without even having the vocabulary or education on what it was. But truthfully, I don’t think many young creative producers do.
Producing is not usually taught at an undergrad level and the textbook producer is someone who only invests money in a project. As a creative producer you often have to fill the role of midwife for artists, helping their vision come to life. It gets complicated, so I won’t completely dive in.
When I was asked to write about my role as a producer in theater, especially in this moment of time, I just had questions and no answers.
In order to make sense of everything, I had to understand how I got here, so I followed my stream of consciousness, the pattern of anxiety that exists in my head. Memories, and single lines about my lived experience began to flood this creative space. I then had to examine the various roles I’ve come from in the world of theater.
Every experience has transformed me and the ways in which I create, but each part has also unearthed pains that I never articulated because I didn’t have the vocabulary or the space to claim these feelings.
But by doing the unpacking I’ve come to realize that each of these experiences has defined my values as a producer.
Access has always felt like the biggest barrier between me fully existing in the world of theater. For me, coming from a background of low income, there is this nagging feeling that follows me around, telling me that I don’t belong here.
I am invited to a work party, surrounded by investors who I’ll someday have to form relationships with. There is a small vibration in the air, a teetering. Wealth controls the room. A never-ending competition of name dropping.
Someone spills their drink on me. In place of an apology, they ask, “Who are you?”
There is a disparity when we think of who has access to theater. Theater is expensive, and classist. You have to know someone, to know someone, to get your foot in the door. And this structure thrives on a system where access is only granted by the money you have and can give.
Access is then directly playing into the existing systems of power. It’s no secret that those who make the decisions in theater are almost all white people. The intersection of race, and class are having a clear conversation. If you do not have access to positions of power you also do not have access to the money in which to afford the work you want to create, witness, and support. This system thrives on the vicious cycle of opportunity or lack thereof.
I attend a theater conference in high school. I take a seminar about marketing yourself as an actor. It is led by a white woman who goes around the circle talking about appearance and how each of us should “identify” for casting opportunities. When it comes to me, she says I am not an ingénue - but instead I am the “anti-hero.”
She tells me to never reveal my cultural roots, don’t reveal that I am Hispanic or white, use my ethnic ambiguity with casting. I don’t know what that means. But if that’s what I have to do to get the part, of course I’ll do it. I am 17, and I don’t question it.
In the current world of American theater, especially commercial producing, you have to invest in work that is marketable. What has been defined as marketable is white, and to stray from these stories is to be defined as “brave or bold” when in fact to tell these stories is to actually center the voices that are both the most common and most underrepresented.
As a producer I value transparency in how I work. I have made it my mission to produce work centering young creative voices of color that do not have the access or the platform they deserve. This is my grounding and guiding principle as a producer.
Setting A New Standard
I have always found myself frustrated at the existing power structures in a working room. The actors are often the only people of color in the room. And more often than not, the ones making the executive decisions are not people of color. This perpetuates a cycle of white supremacy culture.
I arrived a bit late to a rehearsal and walk in to see a white man in my seat. No previous discussion as to who he is, why he is there. I am later told that he was brought in to provide insight for the piece I had been molding for quite some time.
I feel a jarring hesitation as I debate pulling up a chair to reclaim my space.
When I provide my notes, there is a look of bewilderment from this random man. He is shocked that I have the audacity to do my job, to go against his vision.
He continues on, not listening to any of the feedback I provide, not giving the sign off until my white collaborator confirms it. I hold my tongue, trembling in anger by my lack of confidence. I am startled and I feel blindsided.
We all have different lived experiences, and within that we have our own, often unnoticed, cultural blind spots. I have them, and often have to confront them in every space I encounter.
We are all human and flawed but it’s in this awareness that we should be able to create and maintain better spaces.
I collaborate as a writer on an adaptation of Khafka’s Metamorphosis for my senior project. When the maid from the original story comes up, I am cast in this role. It is later suggested that “she should be Hispanic.”
I push back but no one hears me.
We experiment with the maid being “different” as this entire piece’s creation is an exploration of the fear of difference. In this exploration of difference she keeps getting re-cast as various immigrants.
If I am part of the team that is writing this story, what does it mean for me to allow a collaborator to reiterate this trope?
I walk out in a fake hijab to try a “bit” as the middle eastern maid. Only then do they realize it’s problematic. I shouldn’t have to place a singular side character of color into my piece as an effort to reach a POC quota in the final work of my college career.
While I am grateful for the mentors in my life, I have never had a mentor that I felt truly reflected who I am. Maybe that’s why I continue to question my role in it all. At that time, I felt something was wrong, but the space and my lack of agency did not allow for me to challenge it.
Value; awareness of blind spots, having the courage to address my own and create the space for discourse and varying perspectives.
I have always loved theater but for so long I couldn’t understand why I felt removed from the community. Not understanding why, I couldn’t and still have trouble claiming my space.
I am grateful for every opportunity and how they have shaped me, but I am also frustrated by these events and that is okay. My gratitude and frustration can co-exist. I am giving myself permission to grow by defining the two as equal parts.
These failures have shaped my identity and my values that define the work I am doing and will continue to do as a creative producer. But I think it’s time to stop allowing artists of color to be failed, in hopes they can turn it into progress.
 Term coined from Mara Isaacs
 If the casting actually allows that
This essay was commissioned in collaboration with SideLight, an ongoing series of curated essays from a contingent of the next generation of artists and arts leaders. As the theater and entertainment industry rebuilds and reimagines, these pieces speak directly to our present, yet also seek to envision our future.