The day before Christmas Eve I had an uncomfortable, discriminatory experience while attending a recent production of the Fulton Theatre’s White Christmas. I attended the musical along with my cofounder of the Lancaster Changemakers Collective, Brian Graves, as guests of a member of the Fulton Theatre’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) Committee.
To outline the situation, the committee member who invited us had our tickets. We were having trouble contacting them before showtime but waited in the hall near the entrance. Before approaching the people who were scanning tickets, we had checked into the box office and communicated the situation – they were adamant about not letting us enter to find our seats.
Initially, I was understanding about the protocol and not wanting to grant us entry; lacking proof of tickets was a valid reason. But it’s interesting that a few moments later a white man who rushed in late, looking confused and vague about his situation was promptly allowed to enter the theater without any inkling as to where he was going.
As you can imagine my confusion and frustration about this. My only conclusion was that we were young people of color and looked “untrustworthy” of finding where we needed to be and didn’t “look” like we belonged there in the first place!
Thankfully, the lovely young woman at the box office who we initially interacted with did a reprint of our tickets and we promptly found our seats. Although when we approached our section, the ushers failed to show us to our seats and didn’t give us a program until we asked for it. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the show but my overall experience was tainted by the sheer discomfort and disrespect I was met with by the staff.
If you’re a frequent theatergoer, you know it isn’t out of the ordinary for someone to pick up tickets for a group at the box office or be shown exactly where your seat is. These may seem like mundane and insignificant gestures but microaggressions are often nuanced situations such as not being trusted or simply being dismissed.
The IDEA committee was established in the winter of 2020 when it was trendy to be inclusive and have #BlackLivesMatter in your instagram bio. The mission of the committee is to “build relationships and foster inclusiveness by taking an intersectional approach to diversifying our – staff, volunteers, and community stakeholders.”
Lancaster City, where the Fulton Theatre is located, is a certified welcoming city for refugees and densely populated with Black and LatinX people. If after TWO YEARS you aren’t able to properly train volunteers and/or staff on how to interact with theatergoers of diverse backgrounds, then why are they interacting with community members?
If we take a moment to dive into the Fulton Theatre history, it’s interesting to see that the main building was designated as a “National Historic Landmark in 1969 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.” This includes federal funding for historic preservation of a designated site. Funding that I am sure went into the $9.5 million for reopening and expansion of the space in 1995.
The Fulton Theatre’s fickle attempts at trying to “[recognize] the presence of social injustice, and systemic racism in the theatre and arts” is quite literally performative. The Fulton Theatre clearly has done nothing concrete to actively dismantle its prejudices, ironically while casting Black actors in a production with historically white roles.
If you didn’t know already, the Fulton Theatre is a registered nonprofit with quite a large budget. In 2020, their operational costs were over $6 million with a net income of $1,642,523. There was also an allotted $300,000 to their Ex Officio at the time, Mark Rabinowitz. An added benefit of being a nonprofit is the exemption of property taxes. This means the 684 seat theater, two story atrium, fully renovated lobby, employee offices, lavish apartments, rehearsal and dressing rooms on the Fulton complex are not federally taxed.
And with all this money there is somehow no room to compensate community members that serve on the IDEA committee nor is there adequate funding to properly train volunteers and staff, to interact with the diverse community they occupy.
I would love to connect and plan the ideas I have on how the Fullton can cultivate a safe environment for more people of color, so that this doesn’t happen again. It is disheartening, to say the least, that such a historic establishment as the Fulton Theatre has continuously failed in building turn inclusivity and dismantling systemic racial issues.