To our Beloved Nongenue Family,
We want to start this letter by acknowledging our relative silence (by Project Nongenue standards) on our current political moment and the state of Black livelihood in this country. Our lack of official response has been, in part, due to our core members pouring their resources into demonstrating with Black Lives Matter LA. This has also been because, as a majority white company with majority white leadership, we are wary about how much virtual, physical and mental real estate we want to take up at this moment when Black voices should be elevated at all costs. That said, in case there was any doubt, we wanted to make a few things very clear:
At Project Nongenue, we know that our radical, queer and feminist culture does not in any way lessen the fact that we are a majority white company, led in large part by a white woman. Our existence as a company with those demographics inherently supports white supremacy and fragility. This is a reality we sit with and must own - even as we make work about race with BIPOC collaborators, company members and administrators.
With a queer white woman as a leader, we know white feminism lives in the room, despite our active attempts to dismantle it.
We are in a constant struggle with the inherent racism of classical theater, especially Shakespeare, and the way violence against Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies has been normalized, perpetuated, and even glorified in the creation and production of these texts.
At the heart of Project Nongenue is a dream to use historically oppressive texts to liberate - to take stories which have shaped our racist, sexist, transphobic, xenophobic, homophobic, and ableist society, strip the hatred from the power, and claim that power as our own. Because of the damage these texts have already done throughout history, there is a way in which we will never succeed in that mission. This is why, as a classical theater company, we centralize an active ambivalence about classical theater itself. What do we gain by continuing to produce texts which have invisibilized and violated our own identities and those of BIPOC at large? What do we lose? Does the good of interrogating these texts outweigh the inevitable resurfacing of their historic oppressions? These are questions without simple answers - nor should they be. They require deep thought, deep work, and committed action.
As we have thought critically about our place as a theater company in this time, and in our attempt to reconcile our engagement with the ugliness of the past with our dreams for a free and just future, we have found this quote from activist and writer James Baldwin helpful:
To accept one’s past—one’s history—is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.
With all of this in mind, and knowing this is only a beginning, Project Nongenue is moving forward with these commitments:
We will be taking a third of the proceeds from our winter production of What You Will and donating them to Black Lives Matter LA and The Classical Theater of Harlem. We have a responsibility to use the resources we have, however small, to uplift others who have been doing the work for much longer than PNG has existed.
We will be having ongoing conversations about how we can organizationally, artistically and individually continue this work in conjunction with and in support of BLM and other anti-racist organizations
If you are a white or non-Black person who wants to join in fighting for Black safety, wellbeing, community, love, and joy, please consider engaging in one or more of the suggested actions below:
Write your elected representatives (Find them at https://myreps.datamade.us/)
Engage actively with Black narratives and theater (James Baldwin! Suzan-Lori Parks! August Wilson! Zora Neale Hurston! Octavia Butler! Audre Lorde! Lorraine Hansberry! To name just a few!)
These resources are current as of writing! Please make sure to follow the organizations/organizers listed to get up-to-date info on actions, petitions, and events.
We believe, as artists and theater-makers, that it is our duty to strive for justice. And it is our honor to fight alongside you.
Project Nongenue Leadership Team