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UM hosts Alabama Conference of Theatre fall summit

Dozens of theatre educators from across the state gathered at the University of Montevallo on Saturday, Aug. 24, as they sought out ways to make theatre and arts education more inclusive and diverse statewide.

UM hosted the Alabama Conference of Theatre fall summit at Reynolds Hall throughout the day, and participants took part in several events aimed at strengthening Alabama’s theatre education programs.

“Our Department of Theatre is a leader in the state for generating mindful dialogue around topics that matter in the arts in higher education,” said Dr. Steven Peters, dean of the UM College of Fine Arts. “Diversity is certainly one of them and it is a core value we embrace in the College of Fine Arts. In large part, we can measure the creativity and health of our departments by how diverse they are.”

A morning diversity panel moderated by UAB Department of Theatre Assistant Professor Roy Lightner focused on brainstorming ways to make theatre more accessible to everyone in the state, and featured the following panelists:

-Kristy Meanor with the Wetumpka Depot Players’ Penguin Project

-Red Mountain Theatre Executive Director Keith Cromwell

-Carlton Bell II, director of Birmingham Black Repertory Theatre’s “Choir Boy” production

-UAB Department of Theatre Professor Karla Koskinen

-Black Belt Community Foundation Arts Program Officer Dr. Allison Upshaw

The panelists encouraged the group of educators to partner with marginalized groups and organizations in their communities to ensure everyone has equal access to theatre and theatre education.

“We all have this gift of storytelling, and we need to listen to our communities and tell their stories,” Cromwell said. “When I listen to a community, I try to meet with that community’s leaders and ask ‘How can I help you tell your story?’ We need to ask ourselves ‘How can we gracefully give the gift of storytelling to bring that community’s issues to the stage?’ We should look for opportunities to inspire conversations and ask ourselves how we use our art to inspire those conversations.”

Bell said diversity in a production’s casting and subject matter can foster greater connections with underserved demographics.

“Let’s look at our work and try to not show the same thing over and over. Let’s not always focus on one type of person,” Bell said. “We need to try to show the complete spectrum of our communities.”

Panelists also urged the theatre educators to tout the $8.7 billion yearly impact the creative services industry has on the state’s economy.

“We have not had a seat at the economic table because we have not reframed our narrative,” Upshaw said. “We need to say ‘Here’s how we can help generate even more money,’ and suddenly we will be viewed as professionals who contribute significantly to the state’s economy.”