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January 21, 2015

Diversity Plan for L.A. Stages Draws Praise and Questions

A group of Los Angeles theater leaders is promulgating a plan to push greater race, gender, and age diversity in Southern California stages' hiring and productions, the Los Angeles Times writes. Several prominent local companies have voiced support for the proposal, which calls for at least 51 percent of the region's theater staff to be racial minorities, women, or people under age 35 by 2019, but legal experts say implementing it could violate anti-discrimination laws.

Backers say area theaters should reflect the country's changing demographics and that the 51-percent figure is not a quota but a benchmark that carries no consequences for groups that fall short, although the effort does encourage arts granters to fund only theaters that meet the target.

Some legal experts said the plan could transgress state and federal laws on hiring bias, particularly for theaters associated with public universities. "It's fine to encourage people of all ethnicities, races and gender to apply ... and to be more diverse in your storytelling and casting," said Roger Clegg, president of Washington think tank the Center for Equal Opportunity. "But when it comes to hiring, firing and promoting, with an eye on skin color or gender or how old someone is, that's not something that falls within the law."