MCC Theater is a company that has operated continuously since 1986, under the leadership of founding artistic directors Bob LuPone, Bernie Telsey, and Will Cantler. From our early days on 42nd St, through a long residency at the Lucille Lortel Theater in Greenwich Village to the recent move into our current multi-stage facility in Hell’s Kitchen, MCC’s mission has been to provoke conversations that have never happened and otherwise never would. To us, this mission has always meant building space for discussions about new, transformative ideas with a community that is engaged, vibrant and expansive. Along the way we’ve learned about new and better ways to serve the mission both in our productions and in our internal operations.
Fulfilling our mission relies upon a deep understanding of and serious commitment to diversity. Our experiences (both the successes and challenges) have taught us that a fundamental part of our progress is being a company with a workspace where a diverse staff can have productive, honest exchanges. We also have to be a company that promotes talent and topics on stage that invite the entire community into the conversation. In different ways, we have applied this thinking over the years to improve both our internal operations and our productions. But we also know there is more important work to do.
After the most recent review and discourse about our company’s development by a collaboration of MCC staff, leadership, and board members, we have launched the next stage of our organization’s development, focused even more on diversifying the work that we do. Over the next months, MCC will share additional information about the specific ideas and plans in our strategy ranging from our management to stage work. For now, though, as we return to an onstage season welcoming artists and audiences back to our home, we want to present the foundation for our upcoming efforts — core values that follow directly from our mission. They are defined below:
We believe these values for MCC are key to modeling and catalyzing positive change within the theater industry. In the coming months, you can expect to see more fruits of the work we’ve been doing to enact new strategies that are rooted in these values, and we hope to hear your feedback and ideas about how we are doing. We will continue to listen and to learn about new and better ways to serve our mission. And we are committing our time, resources and intention to following through on what we learn. Above all, we hope that you’ll see our advancements reflected in the art we make and in prompting more transformative conversations with our ever-expanding creative community.
Our mission to provoke conversations that have never happened and otherwise never would has always been at the heart of our programming and operations. By 2017, with listening and learning from our artistic collaborators, staff, Youth Company, and other community members, we renewed our commitment to expand these conversations and meaningfully diversify our programming.
Moving forward, we found that we didn’t have the tools or infrastructure to effectively support these new endeavors. In response, we engaged experts from the Art Equity consultancy to expand our cultural competency.
Soon after, we established a staff work group in 2018 to center staff voices and experiences on topics related to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in our workplace and in our society as a whole. The group meets weekly and at monthly intervals with senior leadership. Following an initial period of adjustment and trust building among stakeholders, we’ve established a solid framework to foster discussions and an agenda for change through all levels of the organization.
Among early actions was a reexamination of our hiring practices to make sure that we weren’t missing the best possible candidates by falling back on easy, traditional connections and to make sure that a variety of voices is represented throughout the staff and in decision-making as we hired numerous new full and part-time positions during MCC’s expansion and move into our new multi-theater complex on West 52nd Street.
As we opened the Robert W Wilson MCC Theater Space in 2019, we participated in the ART/NY Diversifying Our Organizations initiative. Led by the Raben Group, this 6-month program included the participation of board and leadership, and moved us closer to our goal of ensuring our new space was inclusive, accessible, and anti-racist.
In the spring of 2020, the national reckoning around the murder of George Floyd was a catalyst for critical dialogue and self examination. We were honored to open our lobby again briefly to provide a rest stop for those protesting racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death. By the fall we began working with Dr. Darnisa Amante-Jackson and DEEP Corporate Consulting Partners on multi-year training and coaching with staff, leadership, and board.
We acknowledge that building a more equitable operating model is a never ending process that requires a commitment of time, resources, and attention. Throughout the course of our journey to date, we have made some changes and adjustments to the way we fulfill MCC’s mission and within our working and collaborative culture. Some of the most significant recent changes and actions have included, though are not limited to, the following:
- Make front-end investments of time and resources to identify an expanded pool of potential collaborators on each project
- Diversify production teams and crews to foster a greater feeling of belonging for all and reduce — and ideally erase — feelings and experiences of otherness
- Invest in providing specialized individual production resources, such as intimacy and cultural competency coaches and counselors, in order to create a maximally safe and creative space
- Reconceive first-rehearsal priorities in order to create a more equitable and impactful launch for each production’s artists and run-crews with substantial exploration of MCC’s values, policies and resources
- Adjust production timelines to reduce false urgency in the production process, and to provide crews with more time for load-ins without the punishing schedules that were accepted practice for too long
- Eliminate previously traditional yet burdensome industry rehearsal practices, such as 10 hours out of 12 on tech rehearsal days
- Increase fiscal transparency with staff at all levels to foster greater understanding of and engagement with annual budgeting, decisions, and fiscal health, and as a way to support professional and skill development
- Conduct overall policy audit with staff engagement and representation, including review of employee handbook, development of salary transparency model, review of job descriptions, standardize job postings with the inclusion of salaries/range
- Explore fundraising practices through a more expansive EDI perspective informed by a curriculum of books and resources in an on-going practice
- Rebuild governance structure with the goal of expanding cross-collaborative opportunities and informed by EDI practices
- Provide teaching artists with more professional development opportunities to ensure they are well-educated on socio-emotional learning techniques and how race, class, and gender interact with education
- Remove barriers to access for students by make rush tickets consistently available for all shows with no ticketing fees for students and schools, expanding and simplifying ticket subsidy program to support schools that do not have the funds to attend live theater
- Offer community-specific performances with post-show receptions/events as network-strengthening events among the community in attendance as well as for MCC
- Expand our connection to other community and arts organizations by cultivating a relationship that extends beyond a specific show or event with long-term engagement planning and focus
- Continue to expand accessibility opportunities, which have included color-blind friendly seating charts, prime location wheel-chair seating, removable armrests, captioned performances, touch tours and pre-show introductions for the visually impaired, assisted listening devices, and large print programs, electronic marketing with descriptive text and emails with assistive-reading technology
As we continue on this journey to create a more equitable, anti-racist theater, we look forward to continually sharing the goals we set, our progress, and, of course, the art we make in collaboration with our ever-expanding creative communy.