The Old Globe: ‘We Know That We Are Going To Be An Antiracist Theater Company’
Leadership changes at San Diego's Old Globe signal a commitment to community arts engagement, diversity and inclusion
The Old Globe announced three leadership changes this week. Freedome Bradley-Ballentine, who had been at the helm of the theater's arts engagement department for nearly five years, will continue that role but add a new title: associate artistic director. Katherine Harroff, a longtime engagement program manager for the Globe was promoted to associate director of arts engagement. Jesse Perez, who directs the Globe's partnership with the University of San Diego's Shiley Graduate Theatre Program, will now also direct the professional training program and join the senior leadership team.
Katherine Harroff's work stepped into high gear during the coronavirus pandemic, switching as much of their community programming to virtual, digital platforms, and doing so very quickly. But her engagement work with the Old Globe began in 2010, when she was brought on to develop their Community Voices program, which teaches playwriting basics to adults and hosts staged readings of the works.
Harroff took some years off from the Globe after the initial grant cycle expired, but was lured back by Bradley-Ballentine when he took over. "And from there, I never stopped growing at the Globe," Harroff said. "Freedome, as a leader, he just trusted me right from the beginning."
Now, with ten individual programs under their arts engagement umbrella, plus Harroff's seemingly indefatigable thirst to bring people together to make art, the Globe's community programming took center (virtual) stage after the coronavirus shutdown began.
For Harroff, it boils down to a question of who the Globe — and theater in general — is for. Community Voices, for example, thrived by empowering individuals from all demographics to tell their stories and see an institution like The Old Globe as a place that not only wants their patronage, but also their art. Transferring it to a digital space granted even more access.
"By providing something that is free, and just happens, and is live, and your friend is sharing because their friend is involved in it, and somehow you’re learning about the information that goes into making a play and all of a sudden you're like, 'Oh I can write a play!' And 'Oh, I have a space here too,'" said Harroff.
"And also because of the work that Freedome — and our institution — is doing in terms of making this equitable, diverse and inclusive. They’re gonna see folks of color on our pages all the time. They’re gonna see that we’re not one type of person or audience or thing and they're gonna start — they are starting to care about us a lot more," she said.
For Bradley-Ballentine, further legitimizing arts engagement work is significant, not just for the public, but for the theater community. His dual roles position him to bring engagement and community-based programming to be more central to the artistic vision of the theater in general.
"It is part of the lifeblood of what the Old Globe does, and how we see the creation of work," said Bradley-Ballentine. His role in artistic direction will also send him out beyond the borders of San Diego County to commission new, interesting works.
He said that the Old Globe takes seriously its vision to be "theater for the public good," and will continue to rise to meet the current needs of this moment. Not just COVID-19, but racial injustice. "Right now, all theaters — not just theaters, all cultural institutions, not just all cultural institutions, all businesses — are figuring out how to deal with this reckoning that's going on right now around race in America," Bradley-Ballentine said, and that sharing stories is a way of finding joy and light in a community.
"The death of George Floyd has impacted our organization on a very profound level. It's really made us evaluate the work that we're doing and how we are communicating that work to the larger public," Bradley-Ballentine said. "We have turned the wheels of our organization to dealing with that specific problem … What kind of theater company are we going to be? We know that we are going to be an antiracist theater company. What does that mean, and how do we get people involved in that," he said.
When Bradley-Ballentine came to San Diego, he had no idea when this work would be done. "We're getting to it now. And that is just... I can't even put the words together to describe how that makes me feel as a Black man."
They've given themselves a timeline to get this work done, and within 100 days of the death of George Floyd, the Old Globe hopes to present the work in terms of "how this affected us, and how we're changing, and how we're going to be relevant," Bradley-Ballentine said.