Spotlight On: SK Kerastas

BRIDGING OUR WORLD TO FRUITION

For the 26th National Conference in Washington DC, TCG is highlighting the current recipients of the Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships and the Leadership U[niversity] One-on-One Program, the Rising Leaders of Color, and the four finalists for the Alan Schneider Director Award. These programs are unique to the field, and provide critical support and mentorship for the future leaders of our art form. In honor of our longstanding commitment to professional development across the field, we are excited to continue to host the Spotlight On Series throughout the spring leading up to the conference.

TCG: When was the moment that you decided to take a leadership role in the field?

SK: I’ll admit I have resistance to this focus on taking leadership. It puts the emphasis on one person’s action when, big picture, leadership roles are a complex negotiation of power on interpersonal and institutional levels.

Every leadership opportunity in my career has involved a sharing of power—an exchange where someone else made space for me to move into leadership. This can happen with “gate-keepers” in hierarchical power structures, this can happen collaboratively in community. There are many manifestations of this exchange. It is not a singular move.

I can identify key actions from other people in my career that have served as leverage points for my leadership – when Amanda Delheimer Dimond invited me to become Associate Artistic Director of 2nd Story in Chicago as a young artist, the many ways Bonnie Metzgar’s created space for me to break open and expand the role of Education Director at About Face Theatre, the way Tony Taccone has invited me to lead equity conversations at Berkeley Rep amidst challenging contexts, the ways TCG has continually affirmed and resourced my work, and the ways Carmen Morgan has lifted up my voice in public forums.

Upon initial reflection these all seem like top-down actions, but each of these were a mutual mixture of the “push-up” work necessary for change and an “opening” in power structures. These exchanges also modeled for me how to share power in my own leadership.

What I'm calling for here is more leaderful theatre structures, to lift up a phrase from the Black Lives Matter movement. Our culture desires, singularizes, and celebritizes leaders. We need to be aware of this because a lot of the times, this is exactly what separates us. In the moments of increased power and visibility that come with leadership, I ask myself: How can I use this to leverage change? Am I speaking truth to power? Am I creating space for other folks to elevate and evolve, or am I capitalizing off the movement?

It is a delicate balance, a process for sure. But as we move into leadership and claim change, we must be intentional about not replicating the exclusive structures that once kept us out. So, to return to my initial resistance to taking leadership. Let’s reframe the emphasis to be on giving and sharing leadership.

TCG: As an arts leader, what is your vision for the future of the theatre field, and what is your role in moving us towards the future that you envision?

SK: As a social justice theatre maker, facilitator, and administrator, my work has always spanned realms of art-making, administration, and social service. With these intersections, I have been able to maintain a steady connection to cultural artistic movement within and outside of the formal theatre field. It is a huge asset. Yet, as a theatre leader I have had to resist pressure to chose one realm – Are you an artist? (A director, writer, or actor?) Are you an administrator? Are you an educator?—when the uniqueness and strength of my work lives precisely in bridging these areas.

Many of our theatre structures exist in relative isolation to other sectors, other communities, and other art forms. Because of it, we are not set up to usher in new narratives and showcase the truth and complexity of our world. Just like with our personal identities, our theatre field cannot not thrive if we stay silo-ed. We need to open up and embrace intersectionality.

My vision for the future of theatre? We need more bridgers.
Here are some strategic actions to help us get there:

Create Leadership Structures That Embrace Difference
What would it look like to have intergenerational Co-Artistic Directors or intergenerational Co-Managing Directors? How about an artistic leadership team of three that prioritized intersectional perspectives? Or a guest artistic director residency?

Build Long-term Community
“Community” is one of those words used so much in theatre that sometimes I feel it has lost its meaning entirely. Too often it is relegated to transactional relationships, vague ideas of togetherness, or programs that are separate from the resources and framing of the “real” art. Community is something to build. To put sustained effort into, like all relationships. Community is collective.

We can create and revive long-term relationships with other arts organizations, culturally specific communities, and the artists therein by introducing funder contacts, hosting productions, sharing space, co-producing or producing their work. We can think internally too. What would it look like for a theatre to give one of its community-based programs the framing and resources of a slot in their main stage season?

Activate Allyship – Take on Equity Work
The lack of awareness around social location throughout our field is exactly why we are perpetuating oppressive (white supremacist, sexist, transphobic, ableist, xenophobic, ageist, etc.) systems, practices, and values. As culture-makers, we need to own this so that we can change it.

Theatre leaders in particular need to start doing the work—specifically the deep self-reflection involved in examining our own areas of power and privilege. We have to prioritize this as a core value of our field. We are beyond the argument that this work is valid. We need to start showing up for each other.

Watch the livestream of Beyond Orientalism that happened live in NYC on May 2nd:
http://howlround.com/livestreaming-beyond-orientalism-the-forum-fordham-university-new-york-city-mon-may-2

Watch the livestream of Breaking the Binary: Building a Trans*/Gender-Non -Conforming/Non-Binary Inclusive Theatre that happened live the Bay area on May 16th:
http://howlround.com/livestreaming-breaking-the-binary-a-symposium-on-building-trans-gender-non-conforming-non-binary

We are tied together by this artistic discipline that we all believe changes the world. We have the ability to improve our country’s artistic ecology right now. We can leverage the power of our institutions to be greater facilitators of cultural development and growth in the cities they reside in.

The future is now. We are in it.

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SK Kerastas is a social justice theatre-maker and currently a Visiting Artistic Associate at Berkeley Repertory Theatre through Theatre Communication Group’s Leadership U: One-on-One Grant, Round 2. SK served as the Education Director at About Face Theatre from 2009 – 2013 where they received a Windy City Times 30-Under-30 Award and a TCG Global Connections Grant to lead the first-ever international queer youth theatre exchange. They are an Executive Co-Chair of the Pride Youth Theatre Alliance and a member of the inaugural artEquity cohort. SK is currently collaborating with clients of Trans Health Services as one of California Shakespeare Theater’s Artist Investigator programs and is co-organizing Breaking the Binary: Building a Trans*/GNC/NB Inclusive Theatre, presented by Berkeley Rep and CalShakes on May 16th.

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Photo Credits

FIRST: Production of Hit the Wall, Chicago Commercial Collective 2014

SECOND: Workshop of Colorguard, The Ground Floor, Berkeley Repertory Theatre 2015

THIRD: Theatre Bay Area Conference 2016

FOURTH: Production of What's the T?, About Face Theatre 2013

ABOVE: SK KERASTAS

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