Arizona Theatre Company Welcomes New Associate Artistic Director

Published: Friday, July 24, 2020 - 12:54pm
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Chanel Bragg
Chanel Bragg in the KJZZ studios.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: The coronavirus pandemic has shut down or limited many aspects of our lives, including arts events like live theater. But that hasn't stopped the Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) from preparing for the future and moving to increase diversity on and off stage. Chanel Bragg has joined ATC as its new associate artistic director. She's the highest ranking woman of color in the company's history and is an Arizona native. I spoke with Bragg earlier and asked what expectations her new boss, artistic director Sean Daniels, has for her.

CHANEL BRAGG: What I'm really grateful for Arizona Theatre Company is really trying to not just talk about it, but actually be about it. To say that they want to focus on diversity and inclusion and immediately ratify that in their casting practices. So I appreciated being brought on not just as a woman, right, but as also the first black person to occupy a role that's in senior management in the history of the theater's existence. I also appreciate that he has admired the work that I've done in the community that has been very focused on diversity and inclusion. But also I have been a director and a producer for the last 10 years, and I am very grateful that those projects have allowed me a pretty solid foundation. And they saw that. And one of the great things also about Sean is that he wanted to celebrate my educational accomplishments, and immediately was like, "OK, for the press release, you know, make sure you tell them what your master's in." Because he wanted to make sure that I knew that I wasn't just hired because of the color of my skin. That I, that it was a, a thought out, hired process on if he thought I would be a good fit, number one. And also because of my background and because of my history locally.

GOLDSTEIN: From having interviewed Sean Daniels before, he has said that one of the turning points for him was actually going to see a show at Arizona Theatre Company. How important is that, that aspect of a local vision, a local experience, and almost feeling like you have some idea of what the community feels and what the community might want?

BRAGG: Well, personally, I think that being someone that has been in the community for as many years as I have been and understanding that each theater, right, has their own audiences that they typically target. There was an alienation from Arizona Theatre Company, at least in Phoenix for, in previous administrations. And so — and it wasn't that, that there wasn't a belief in the talent here, but a lot of the talent that was cast was cast from out of town. It's like if you were, it felt as if if you were from New York then you were considered the better hire. But I actually think that, you know, Broadway is just geography and that we have extremely talented individuals — I mean, I like to think I'm one of them — that also resided here and that do good work here. And so I would love, and under Sean's tutelage, right, like, that's already shifting greatly. Already there's been a, a large shift in making sure that we're very community-centric. So with me, I do hope that I can help further push that directive and support my partner, because Sean is incredible, and already has, is forward-thinking in that manner. But I also want to hold us to that standard. You know, accountability is important. And I want to really focus on, "OK, that's great. But how are we showing that? How we continuously giving opportunities at home?"

GOLDSTEIN: When I think about diversity in all aspects of our lives, but certainly in the artistic community, as you mentioned, being the first black person in leadership at Arizona Theatre Company. And that brings with it a lot of opportunity, but a lot of pressure as well. And I wonder if I can ask you about, from the diversity standpoint, as far as getting maybe different playwrights, maybe different actors who are people of color, who haven't gotten the opportunity perhaps that they should in the past. But on top of that, and I wonder about this when organizations try to be more diverse, is there a best way to do this so it doesn't look like "We're going to put on a play where there are black people and we're going, and that's what, we're gonna count that as diversity." I hate to say that — I hate so that doesn't sound too silly.

BRAGG: No, it's right.

GOLDSTEIN: But sometimes it feels that way. Sometimes like, "We're gonna get some people to come in the audience because people are gonna look like them." And I know that's part of it, but it has to be so much more, doesn't it?

BRAGG: It does. And I'm glad that you really said that, because there is a very big difference of being an inclusive theater that stands on the tenets of being like, welcoming to everyone. And then there's a difference between being an like, anti-racist theater. And those are two very different things. You know, we want all theater to be inclusive, but I feel like now is the time where that needs to be more definitive. Like not only are we inclusive, not only are we color consciously casting, not only are we thinking outside of the proverbial box or whatever that is, but we are making a clear cut stance that we are [an] organization that is anti-racist, right? That is anti any kind of, against any programming that does not support that. And for me, there needs to be a bold stance. Yes, I agree with you that we, you know, people can get caught up in the, you know, minutia of, "Oh, well, we're trying to make sure that we do black shows during Black History Month," right? And I want to get away from that narrative as fast as possible. Yes, I'm grateful for the highlighting of Black History Month. But I think that we need to, with our directive, keep pushing our agenda, that if it is inclusive, that it doesn't matter where our programming is.

GOLDSTEIN: That is Chanel Bragg. She is the new associate artistic director for Arizona Theatre Company. Chanel, congratulations. Good luck and stay well. Thanks again for the time.

BRAGG: Thank you so much.

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