On the cancellation of the 2020 Rob Guest Endowment and the events that led to it;

No one likes getting criticised, especially when they are attempting to do good work. 

I certainly don’t. 

But if you are serious about wanting to grow, to live as full a life as you have the potential to, you need to listen to criticism – especially when  the exact same message is coming from a multiplicity of voices. 

And when you screw up, because the world has shifted and you didn’t clock the shift, you have a simple response available; 

I’m sorry for what I did. I will improve. Here’s how I intend to. 

And then you go do that. 

You’re not reduced by taking on criticism and changing because of it. You (and everyone around you) is enhanced by it.

But if you double down, never really take on what the criticism was about, never really think about who was hurt and what they need to hear, what they need to see from you in the future, if you make choices to have all the drama go away without really thinking “what did I do here?” you won’t resolve the original mistake. 

You might even compound it.

Here’s what I know – 

Lots of talented young people of all backgrounds submitted for this prize. 

Because of biases that the judges aren’t aware of (I hope!) a group was chosen that doesn’t represent the cultural makeup of our community.

The reckoning came as a shock.

The response was slow, misguided and further inflamed the issue.

The result is huge upset for every single person connected to this; the musical theatre community, POC and their allies, the semi-finalists, the panel, – everyone.

It didn’t have to be this way. There were so many opportunities to “correct course”. To maybe even have this be a great outcome in a shitty year. To show that we can all talk and listen and push our way to an outcome that enlarges all of us.

But that didn’t happen. Instead the Rob Guest Endowment gave up, citing concern for the mental health and wellbeing of the 30 semi-finalists.

Which is not really an outcome that serves anyone. 

It also implies that being held to account is damaging. It’s uncomfortable, sure, but not damaging. 

I also want to make one thing clear about prizes and the idea of “the best”. 

They are ALWAYS subjective. They are ALWAYS symbolic.

You can argue that your criteria for “merit” is THE criteria until the planet finally chokes us to death, but it won’t change the fact that the person next to you thinks something completely different.

Therefore every time you give a prize, you are making a symbolic choice. You are saying “this person is talented as I define it”. You are not merely pointing at the most talented person, the one who “deserves” it. You are bringing everything you believe as a human – including your biases – to that choice. (What you often mean is “I like them” or, more insidiously, “I feel comfortable with them”.)

Therefore you have a responsibility to consider what it means when you define “talent” and “the best”.

What has particularly infuriated me during this ongoing saga is the fallacy that not enough talented POC entered this year.

They did. I saw the videos. I’ve hired them before. They were there THIS YEAR.

Yes, more outreach should occur in the future. 

Yes, the panel should be diversified to overcome biases.

But, YES, the current team needs to admit that ALREADY THIS YEAR THERE WERE ENOUGH POC OF EXTRAORDINARY TALENT TO BE SEMI-FINALISTS.

It is not right that POC who entered the 2020 competition should be made to feel that the panel wished they could choose diverse performers, but they just weren’t there.

It is not right that POC should be made to feel that the reason the 2020 competition is being cancelled is because they, and their allies, were calling this out. 

What IS right is that so many people in our community – especially young performers who have more at stake when they voice their anger than anyone else in this debate – have made it clear that this is not the way we want to move forward as a community.

So that gives me hope.

And what I will do is what I said I will do the day the semi-finalists were announced; do better as a director and writer at opening up opportunities for POC in our country.

Published by bryantandfrank

Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank make musicals. And other things. www.bryantandfrank.com www.mybrilliantcareermusical.com www.deanjamesbryant.com

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