Hello! Thank you for electing me to serve as an
Eastern Principal Delegate for AEA's National Convention.
My first year as delegate and our union's first Convention showed me many things; how powerful our membership is when we organize to make our needs heard, how much of our governance structure is inequitable, and how much work can be accomplished when we rise through the ranks to make change. I thank you for your voices.
Let me tell you a bit more about me and what I’m advocating for:
Who I Am
My name is Kimberly Chatterjee, and I am a cis, mixed-race, South Asian-American actress of color originally from Fremont, California. I am the only practicing artist in my family -- though I like to think that everyone in my family has a particular flair for the dramatic. I have loved the theater my entire life, even when I didn't see myself in it. I have come to learn that like most powerful forces in our lives, we must criticize the things we love, in fact because we love them.
As a South Asian-American in this industry, I have experienced both tokenization and invisibilization: I have received the most visible critical attention of my career as the “token person of color” in white productions, while also having repeatedly been reviewed as having been part of “an all-white cast.” I have felt the trauma of institutionalized white supremacy, and also unequivocally benefited from my proximity to whiteness. These are contradictions that many of us in this industry and this country are grappling with, and they must be interrogated in order to repair harm and heal.
In the past this mix of invisibility and complicity has led me to believe I am not essential or useful as a voice on an institutional level. But I now want to use the perspective I have from this foothold in two worlds as a conduit for difficult, vulnerable conversations on racial justice, accountability, and safety in our union.
[Some lighter things: I could eat sushi every day for the rest of my life and be happy, I listen to Parks & Recreation every night to fall asleep (thank God for Leslie Knope) and I might love dogs more than people.]
Where I've Worked
I moved to New York in 2010 to study for my BFA from NYU’s New Studio on Broadway and a BA in English & American Literature. New Studio is one of the most diverse musical theater programs in the country both in students and faculty, and presented a world of casting possibilities that I hoped to see reflected in the professional industry.
I worked my first professional job (and earned my first EMC points) with The Classical Theatre of Harlem in their production of The Tempest with Ron Cephas Jones. I spent the next two years working at The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival as a conservatory member, understudy, and a principal, officially joining the union in 2017 with their World Premiere co-production of Kate Hamill’s Pride and Prejudice with Primary Stages. I have also worked at Playwrights Horizons, The Folger, The Guthrie, The Wilma, Northern Stage, Shakespeare in the Square, New Dramatists, Live & In Color, Playhouse on Park and Wheelhouse Theater Company in the NYC premiere of Aaron Posner’s Life Sucks. I have worked LORT, Off Broadway Standard and Mini, Guest Artist, Showcase, and Staged Reading contracts, and in both plays and musicals.
I have been an AEA member for 3 years; and I have spent those years navigating white spaces and engaging in candid, empathetic conversations around racial and systemic inequity in the theater.
What steps are we taking as a union to empower newer, younger (and therefore more vulnerable) members to get involved and learn what powers they are entitled to?
What systems are in place to allow members to speak up when they have experienced racial profiling and microaggressions? What systems are in place to protect that actor's job and safety when they speak out against racism, sexism, and abuse?
What mechanisms exist for underrepresented voices to know what room they are walking into when they accept a job? How can they know if they are walking into an unsafe space?
Great strides were made in the Off Broadway contract negotiation in 2016. In 2019, I still had to go into credit card debt in order to perform in an award-winning Off Broadway show. How can we say we want a more inclusive work environment when we are asking folx to choose between paying rent and working on a union contract in New York City?
TRACKING COMPLAINTS AND ALLEGATIONS AGAINST CHRONIC ABUSERS
As we have learned from the #MeToo movement, there are many valid but unofficial whisper-networks about abusers in our industry. Equity must protect its members from consistent abuse. We must develop an internal mechanism for tracking complaints of chronic abuse within the industry. Filing reports that do not get tracked by the union does nothing to prevent a continual abuser from having unfettered access to our community and vulnerable folx.
PROVIDING ACCESSIBLE, THOROUGH INFO OF WHO IS IN THE ROOM
Knowledge is power. The union must give actors the ability to research and investigate if a creative room will be a safe space before entering it. This can be accomplished by publishing the names of the full creative and production team (lighting designers, stage managers, etc.) in audition calls, appointments and updated as folx are hired. Additionally, when offered a role, BIPOC actors should be able to ask if there are other BIPOC folx in the cast and have the union’s support in the inquiry.
MANDATORY ANTI-RACIST TRAINING
This is truly the very least the union can do to attempt to mitigate the racism, microaggressions, and institutionalized racism that BIPOC artists --especially Black artists-- face in this industry. It is our responsibility to address institutional racism and white supremacy, and it is not an opportunity to demand folx relive their trauma for our education. Training should be required for every production, and institutions should have mechanisms in place to allow the artists in the room to check in with an authority figure throughout a production to discuss concerns and complaints.
MAKE THE DELEGATE POSITION ACCESSIBLE TO ALL MEMBERS
Having meaningful policy ideas does not necessarily correlate with the number of Equity contracts you have worked. To require a contract minimum in order to run for delegate excludes members with valuable skills, insights, and ideas to contribute. Requiring a petition with at least 17 signatures from members in good standing already does much of the work of weeding out folx who may not understand the responsibility of the position -- we do not need to add more gatekeeping measures to participate in making change.
I have supported the organization, codification, and dissemination of statistics, letters, and other information as a part of the grassroots campaign for national arts funding Be An #ArtsHero Campaign.
I have convened members of white theatrical institutions and had forthright, compassionate discussions around their harmful hiring practices, their blindspots, and their gatekeeping.
I have acted as a backdoor casting director when productions “simply cannot find” actors of color. This has shown me firsthand the lack of accountability in the casting process when attempting to hire folx from outside the cis white community.
I have developed these skills out of necessity, and will use them to add my voice to the chorus of artists advocating for change, inclusion, and a livable wage. As a POC who has also upheld white supremicist systems, I am specifically committed to supporting and uplifting policy put forth by and in service of the Black community in AEA and at large.
If there’s one word I would use to describe Kim Chatterjee, it’s “integrity”; she has it in buckets. Kim is a fearless advocate for justice, a compassionate communicator, and a consummate listener. She is a true activist, who thinks deeply and broadly about the issues and is unafraid to speak truth to power. I know that she will work tirelessly to strengthen the union and improve the lives of theater workers. I absolutely whole-heartedly endorse her as AEA delegate; with Kim in the convention, we will move unerringly towards a stronger, more inclusive, and more equitable union.
Be An #ArtsHero co-founder
Kimberly Chatterjee was one of the first people to see what the Be An #ArtsHero campaign was attempting to do and she graciously reached out to ask if she could help. She jumped in with us and took on a ton of work and did it incredibly quickly! Because of Kimberly's efforts and labor, we were able to put together fifty state specific folders full of graphics, tools, and 50 customized letters for Arts Institutions to get out to their subscribers. We have been seeing some of the most amazing Arts institutions in the country using Kimberly's words and template to engage their subscribers and get them to pick up the phone and take action to save the Arts economy and the 5.1 million Arts workers in it from catastrophe by calling their senators. Suffice it to say, Kimberly is an #ArtsHero and a more than worthy delegate for the AEA convention! Vote for her.
Where most people search to satiate the masses, Kimberly Chatterjee fights for the least common denominator. She's a warrior of real change, starting from the most disenfranchised, and has the rare skill of self-sufficiency when it comes to educating herself and others. There is no better person to represent the diverse group of artists in this union than her.
(aka Katie Young)
Kimberly Chatterjee is a leader. She listens to those around her, she advocates for perspectives that may not be getting the attention they deserve, and she is a skillful, proactive problem solver. This is exactly the sort of leader we need fighting for our members at the Convention. Her ideas for the convention demonstrate her commitment to building a more inclusive union that protects its members. These are just some of the reasons that I whole-heartedly endorse Kimberly Chatterjee for the position of Eastern Principal Delegate.
The industry won’t change if we don’t put new voices at the front of the line. We need diverse perspectives and policy backgrounds not for the sake of optics, but because we are comprised of a diverse member base.
I believe the path to change requires doing your homework and listening with empathy. It also requires the courage to speak up, lead with vulnerability, and own up to your mistakes. I will relish the opportunity of bringing our manifold intersecting perspectives together to create a convention full of rigorous discourse, nuanced policy, and powerful ideas.