TheatreLAB and The Conciliation Project Merge at the Intersection of Art and Activism
Housed in The Basement at Richmond’s 3rd and Broad Streets, TheatreLAB was at the epicenter of the protests against the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police this spring. With TheatreLAB’s season cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, artistic director Deejay Gray shifted The Basement into a safe place for Black Lives Matter protesters to meet, recharge from the heat, use the restroom, and drop off or gather supplies.
The Conciliation Project, one of several theatre companies and groups of performers who regularly use The Basement, also found themselves in a unique position. Started in Seattle by VCU theatre professor, Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates in 2001, The Conciliation Project has continually produced original theatre to facilitate difficult conversations around race and racism - much like the conversations happening now as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. Their hallmark play, Uncle Tom: Deconstructed, written and directed by Dr. Pettiford-Wates, inspires the process of conciliation through the recognition and understanding of privilege, difference, and struggle, inclusive of everyone.
With a history of collaboration and a heart for equity, TheatreLAB and The Conciliation Project have chosen to join forces to create something new in Richmond - a social justice theatre company working at the intersection of art and activism. Dr. Pettiford-Wates and Gray, now artistic co-directors, plan to facilitate a fully transparent, community-driven merger process over the next twelve months, with their first production slated for July, 2021.
About the merger, Dr. Pettiford-Wates says, “The Conciliation Project and TheatreLAB have found a common purpose. The work of TCP has always been able to find a space in The Basement of TheatreLAB to challenge ourselves and our audiences, to struggle, to explore and envision a future we want to build together. It is time we consolidate our efforts, as we work to dismantle systems, breakdown walls and barriers, and create new work, re-vision old work, and Do the Work of engaging, building, and empowering our community through the making of ART.”
Gray adds, “We are living through an incredible moment in American History. Between the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic and the challenging yet empowering cultural shift launched by the Black Lives Matter movement, arts and culture organizations must look at their mission statements and ask ‘how can we meet this moment?’ With combined resources and a reinforced dedication to community support, The Conciliation Project and TheatreLAB are on a mission to become more effective agents of cultural change through the power of the performing arts.”
At their virtual town meeting on August 2nd, Dr. Pettiford-Wates and Gray laid the foundation for what the local arts community can expect from the new company over the next year. Gray and Pettiford-Wates are looking to the community for recommendations, support, and funding as they create new board leadership, refine their mission, and choose where best to focus their efforts to effect positive change. To do this, they will hold monthly town hall meetings, inviting the entire community to participate in and help transform their organization.