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[UPDATE: Friday, the Chicago Sun-Times issued it own statement in support of longtime critic Hedy Weiss: read it here.]
Last week, after Chicago Sun-Times critic Hedy Weiss's review of Antoinette Nwandu's Pass Over sparked an Internet uproar and drew thousands of signatures on an online petition, Steppenwolf Theatre artistic director Anna D. Shapiro and executive director David Schmitz issued a statement on behalf of the company accusing Weiss of "deep-seated bigotry." They also promised that "an official institutional response" would follow.
Steppenwolf believes in working for positive, systemic change through the Chicago theater community. As such, we have begun a positive dialogue with stakeholders including ChiTAC, the Sun-Times and League of Chicago Theatres. In the meantime, Steppenwolf will retain its policy related to comping critics for our productions.
The last week has been a challenging one for the theatre community in Chicago and beyond. Local reviews of Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Pass Over sparked controversy and reactions ranging from pain, shock and outrage to staunch defense of the right to freedom of speech.
In a heartbeat, more than 3,500 artists in our community signed a petition created by the new Chicago Theatre Accountability Coalition (ChiTAC), calling on the theatre community to cease inviting Chicago Sun-Times theater critic Hedy Weiss to productions.
As a result of the petition, many theaters, including Steppenwolf, paused to evaluate our values and beliefs and share them through impassioned conversations on social media.
Just as Steppenwolf believes in working for positive change through the Chicago theatre community, we believe in action. As such, we met with the artist leadership of ChiTAC as well as the editor-in- chief of the Chicago Sun-Times. Through open dialogue and mutual respect, a path forward is emerging.
Our meeting with the ChiTAC leadership was powerful and urgent. We share a desire to effect systemic social change and to fight racism and bias in our community just as we do in our country. Our meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times was equally important, as editors were receptive to what Steppenwolf and others see as ongoing issues in terms of coverage of the arts, and particularly, theatre in the city. We are pleased the leadership of the Chicago Sun-Times embraced an invitation to meet with ChiTAC and the League of Chicago Theatres.
Recently, Jackie Taylor of Black Ensemble Theatre said, “The way to deal with it (racism) is to confront it. Human beings must talk with each other, respectfully, openly, honestly and fearlessly. Having that conversation is not easy. But we cannot move forward as a human community if we do not communicate with each other.”
We join Jackie in calling for an ongoing, community-wide dialogue about racism in our field and an experience-sharing process for artists, administrators and critics.
Steppenwolf leadership is eager to participate in this dialogue, and will offer whatever resources we can to aide and further the discussion.
The theater community in Chicago deserves nothing less.
We look forward to working together to create meaningful change. The future of Chicago theatre depends on it.
Anna D. Shapiro, Artistic Director
David Schmitz, Executive Director