Creating a Culture of Opportunity for All—On Stage and Off—at Goodman Theatre

When COVID-19 forced the Goodman to suspend live in-person performances one year ago, the path ahead was uncertain. How could an organization rooted in deep human interaction and close interpersonal connection survive—let alone thrive—in this time of social distance and remote work? 

But often, it is in difficult times when artists create their most profound work. The notions of reinvention and introspection are, in a way, a birthright of Goodman Theatre, which was established on the heels of a similarly difficult time in history—the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic—in memory of young playwright Kenneth Sawyer Goodman.

The many challenges of the past year called the artists, staff and boards of Chicago’s oldest and largest not-for-profit theater to reflect on the Goodman’s impact and how it could build on its decades-long commitment to quality, diversity and community to best serve its city. Bold creative thinking inspired exciting new output—productions and programs that will outlive the pandemic—as well as an honest look inward at the ways in which the Goodman lives its values. 

Collaboration at every level of the organization brought to bear the Action Plan for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Anti-Racism and Access (IDEAA) at Goodman Theatre—a living document and blueprint of how the Goodman can use its art, assets and resources to help contribute to a more just, equitable and anti-racist American society. Read the plan, and hear from Associate Managing Director Marissa Ford and members of the IDEAA writing team about what being involved in this process means to them.

“This team worked so hard to best represent the staff and our organization's commitment to IDEAA work. We are on the verge of a new story and, as storytellers ourselves, I do not take this lightly. I am so happy that we have been able to bring all the voices represented in our organization to the forefront and am excited for the journey we are about to take together. I thank this team for their dedication in this process. It is hard work, but it is never over because we will always strive to do better.”

Marissa Ford, Associate Managing Director

“Being on the writing team for the IDEAA plan was a great joy and honor. As many theaters across the country begin to acknowledge the harmful practices our industry has upheld for many years, this plan could not have been completed soon enough. I am grateful to the other members of the writing team who labored over the document. This living document is truly just the beginning of this work, and I hope it will continue to inspire change throughout the city and field. Embracing anti-racism principles is key to the future health of our industry and our world.”

Ken-Matt Martin, Associate Producer

“Being a part of the writing team has been inspiring and a true honor. I think what meant the most to me was being part of a team—not just the writing team—but connecting with the whole staff. I believe we really worked collaboratively across all departments to develop this plan. All the goals and actions were generated from our dedicated staff, many of whom volunteered to continue this work while they haven’t been able to work in their usual capacities building the scenery, props and costumes, lighting the actors, amplifying the actors from the stage, welcoming our patrons and running our shows. We have, hopefully, managed to stay true to their voices and the ideas they brought to this plan of action.”

Amber Porter, Production Coordinator

“One of the reasons I was drawn to a career in theater administration—in addition to being a terrible actor, but still wanting to be close to the art—is my belief in our artform’s ability to transform minds and hearts, to help us understand and empathize with one another. The American theater is a young industry, by comparison with the world canon of Shakespeare and the Greeks—and there is enormous promise in that youth. We are still defining who we are, who we want to be, and how we best serve the community in which we are situated, and beyond. I’m proud of the work our Staff has done to come together and collaboratively establish this living document, our roadmap that builds on our past and looks towards our future.”

Denise Schneider, Director of Communications 

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve on the IDEAA Plan writing team, acting as a conduit for the Goodman Staff’s many bright ideas and thoughtful plans. The Goodman has always maintained a strong culture of collaboration and there is no greater evidence of that than this plan. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate on such an important project. Thanks to my fellow team members for their insights, patience and humor, as well as the entire Goodman staff for their innumerable contributions.”

Amy Szerlong, Manager of Institutional Giving 

“We often talk about the ‘Goodman family’—the staff, artists and board of the theater—but there was never a more telling example of what that truly means than the work we did creating the IDEAA plan. Folx from all across the theater, from the shops to the stages, put in great heart and effort to build a living document that reflects our shared values, beliefs and hopes for who we can truly be. It was some of the most fulfilling work I have had a chance to do. Bravo to all who walked this journey.”

Willa J. Taylor, Walter Director of Education & Engagement
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