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  • Archiving ATHE's Thirtieth Anniversary Conference Plenaries

As the ATHE 2016 Conference Committee planned our thirtieth anniversary gathering in Chicago, "Bodies at Work: Performance, Labor, and ATHE @ 30," it quickly became clear that we felt strongly that this moment in our field demanded two plenaries. Those impulses culminated in the session "Diversity in Theatre and Higher Education" on Friday, 12 August, and "Adjunct Labor Struggle, Solidarity, and ATHE as Ally" on Saturday the 13th. I am very grateful to have served on a programming committee that collectively assumed the importance of inquiry, advocacy, and activism on both topics explored through the plenaries. Thank you to the following committee members for all the critical labor that led to the conversations documented in these pages: Bill Doan, Lindsey Mantoan, Patrick McKelvey, Monica White Ndounou, Coya Paz Brownrigg, Sam O'Connell, Tlaloc Rivas, Alicia Tafoya, Willa Taylor, and Patricia Ybarra, and informal consultants Chase Bringardner and Jill Dolan.

  • Introduction to Plenary I:Diversity in Theatre and Higher Education
  • Kelly Howe (bio)

The texts that follow were presented as part of the plenary on diversity and equity. Lindsey Mantoan, Coya Paz Brownrigg, and Willa Taylor moderated that event, with onsite assistance from Tlaloc Rivas. The panelists were Jill Dolan, Donatella Galella, Carmen Morgan, Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, Lisa Portes, and Carrie Sandahl. Five of the diversity plenary panelists opted to share written versions of their contributions in this forum. For the plenary session we invited each of the guest speakers to offer a five-minute statement or provocation that addressed this prompt: "What is one question or challenge (or set of questions or challenges) you'd like to pose to the ATHE community on the broader topic of diversity in theatre and/or higher education?"

The prompt, of course, is staggeringly broad staggeringly broad. Such breadth can also conjure long histories of institutions and organizations co-opting and hollowing out diversity as a term, a dynamic that some of the panelists address here. Indeed, as the conference committee discussed this plenary, several of the committee members themselves recalled being guests on a range of diversity panels in the past. They spoke of experiencing similar conversations over and over, often with relatively little or slow-moving material impact. At the same time, the committee still felt the urgency of hosting such a plenary this year. We were also reticent to narrow the focus too much, given the many constituencies that ATHE serves in theatre and higher education. Did we want to talk about diversity in casting? In production positions? Of playwrights and roles represented across our department's selected seasons? Of our faculty or student rosters? Of departmental and university leadership? In theatre contexts beyond colleges and universities? Ultimately, we decided to pose a very open question, welcome guest speakers to focus on what they felt most strongly about, and then—during the plenary session itself—invite attendees to follow a panelist of their choice to a breakout conversation.

The plenary speakers delivered their short pieces to a ballroom so packed that the shift to breakout conversations proved a bit more chaotic than we expected. That the plenary was so [End Page 1] extraordinarily well-attended was obviously the best kind of logistical surprise, and by all accounts the breakout sessions contained rich questions and suggestions. The notes that were turned in from those breakouts have been shared with ATHE's Governing Council with the hope that our time together will leave a trace that stretches beyond these pages. [End Page 2]

Kelly Howe

Kelly Howe is an assistant professor of theatre at Loyola University Chicago and chaired ATHE's thirtieth annual conference. She coedited Theatre of the Oppressed in Actions (with Julian Boal and Scot McElvany), and is currently coediting The Routledge Companion to Theatre of the Oppressed (with Julian Boal and José Soeiro). Her writing has appeared in Theatre Topics, Theatre Journal, Text and Performance Quarterly, Theatre Survey, and Comparative Drama. She is a past president and conference organizer for Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed; a Jana Sanskriti International Research and Resource Institute (West Bengal, India) advisory board member; and a director/dramaturg in Chicago.


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