Throughout the United States, March is recognized as Women’s History Month, which highlights the contributions, inequalities, and experiences women have faced throughout history and contemporary society. It’s an important step in uplifting women of all backgrounds and ensuring their stories are amplified. This week, we spoke with A’raelle Flynn-Bolden, a theatre artist and the Staff Programs Manager at Center Theatre Group.
Flynn-Bolden knew she loved theatre from the time she was an elementary school student in Sherman Oaks. She was one of the only Black students in her class—but theatre helped her feel like she fit in. “One of the only places I felt like I could fit in was on a stage—singing, screaming—and I followed it my entire life,” she said. “I found humanhood in this work where I didn’t find it off the stage.”
But despite the universality of theatre’s themes and stories, the industry itself can be less open minded. For a time, Flynn-Bolden was only getting cast as “monsters, mothers, or men.” Despite loving some of these roles, there was more she was capable of and interested in. “I was never thought of as an ingénue or any ‘delicate’ type of character, I was resigned to either speak to the masculinity of a character or the maternal nature of something,” she said.
Flynn-Bolden has a great deal of experience in anti-racist theatre practices both at Center Theatre Group and in other organizations in Los Angeles. Along with a group of Los Angeles theatre artists, Flynn-Bolden co-drafted the LAARTS—The Los Angeles Anti-Racist Theatre Standards. Inspired by the We See You, White American Theater demands published with a national lens in 2020, the LAARTS helped bring actionable change on a local level. She has also worked with the BLKLIST, a BIPOC created and led mechanism of accountability through community oversight and transparency in the Los Angeles theatre scene. They provide searchable documentation on the statements made and progress of nearly 130 theatre companies across Los Angeles. This documentation is inspired by Victor Hugo Green’s Negro Motorist Green Book to “track where safety and value may or may not lie for BIPOC and other marginalized theatremakers, based on information that’s publicly available and by also asking institutions to share certain data that relates to anti-racism and equity progress.”
At Center Theatre Group, Flynn-Bolden is a member of the Accountability Team, which was formed to hold the company, especially company leadership, accountable for the progress of anti-racism work and other equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives. It comprises a diverse group of up to seven staff members, representing a variety of departments, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, and career levels. The Accountability Team also worked to reframe and refocus workgroup recommendations and their implementations. Center Theatre Group’s Commitments to Change were created in 2020 in response to national conversations around racial justice. These commitments were accompanied by a letter of demands from BIPOC staff members, from which many initiatives across Center Theatre Group stem.
“At CTG, you have a group of predominantly BIPOC folks and queer folks who have been given the voice and agency to have more say, more responsibility, to enact the changes that are really needed,” she said while reflecting on the work of the Accountability Team. “It’s an agency that a lot of the folks in the room haven’t necessarily gotten thus far.”
Flynn-Bolden recognizes the work of other trailblazers who have sustained this work as well. “I’m taking place in a long line of folks that have looked to bring all of us into theatre,” she said.
Her hope through all her work is to find a more sustainable theatre industry for everyone.
“I hope for a reimagining of what this art form is,” she said. “At any moment, we can break it down and rebuild it, a fearless endeavoring towards showcasing real humanity—the gritty of it, the ugly of it, the honesty of it.”
Flynn-Bolden says her work is “intimately tied” to not just her livelihood, but to the next generation.
“Whatever intersection we are, we are working to facilitate this new foundation while actively living underneath the old one. Because what choice do we have?” she asks. “I think about the other little third grade kid who’s finding their humanhood on stage. They’re directly intertwined.”