I was recently introduced to an organization called Black Theatre Girl Magic by way of a collaboration between it and Mad Cow Theatre. The two groups are working together on a five-part series of “plays and conversations for an antiracist tomorrow” called Theatre Sparks. I was connected with Caila Carter, BTGM’s managing director and from there, the below interview was born.
We talked about the who, what, and why of BTGM; her dreams for the group, and the low-down on getting a front-row seat to a performance. Read on to get the scoop. 👇
Pulptown: First things first, what is Black Theatre Girl Magic?
Caila: Black Theatre Girl Magic (BTGM) is a Black women-led organization that seeks to promote and advocates for justice/equity in the performing arts by eliminating the systemically racist, sexist, gendered, and ableist barriers of entry into the various facets of performing arts and entertainment.
Pulptown: Who started Black Theatre Girl Magic?
Caila: BTGM was founded by Mandi Jo John after noticing the culture and overarching feeling of scarcity/competition present at auditions for predominantly white shows compared to the overarching feeling of community and support present at auditions for shows that center black people and black stories. We’ve all noticed it, at some point or another. Mandi Jo decided to act on it, and the result has been a beautiful and diverse community of Black and Brown women from all corners and aspects of the Arts Industry.
Pulptown: How old were you when you realized the need for BTGM?
Caila: On some level, I think I’ve always known there was a need for BTGM. I’m a relatively late bloomer as arts careers go, knocking on 30s door when I landed my first role in a stage play. A big part of the reason for that was the lack of representation. I never really saw myself in widespread popular media, outside of roles relegated to stereotypes, so I never really considered the arts as a viable career path. I forced myself to choose the more practical path, but if you were to ask 6-year-old Caila what she wanted to be when she grew up, the answer was easily ‘professional singer’.
Pulptown: What is your hope for BTGM in 2020? My hope for BTGM is to continue the work of building an organization that always recognizes and emphasizes the inherent value marginalized people have in an industry, and a world at large, that devalues us. So many of us turn to the arts as a safe haven and it legitimately saves lives, but far too many of us still have to fight to be seen; truly seen, and not commodified or tokenized. So many people find themselves on the outside of that openness and inclusivity, all of whom deserve better from this industry. BTGM wants to be an active part of making our industry live up to its ideal of being a welcoming and inclusive space for all people.
Pulptown: I saw you wrote an open letter to the white American theatre world about BIPOC representation. Tell me what prompted the letter, what good has come from the publicity, who you hope reads it.
The open letter, penned by our Founder and Executive Director, Mandi Jo John, was birthed out of a sense of urgency stemming from the moment of racial reckoning we find ourselves currently in, both individually and collectively, catalyzed by the senseless murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Suffice it to say, incidents like these aren’t new. Black people, and especially black artists, are intimately familiar with this pain and trauma. Furthermore, being at home and furloughed due to COVID-19, as many artists are and were in that moment, we found ourselves unable to divorce the systemic racism prevalent in so many of our countries institutions, from the racism and racial inequity that is so pervasive in the arts, both as an institution and as a community.
When you’re working every day, sometimes multiple jobs daily, it becomes very easy and often necessary to compartmentalize the things that you don’t have the emotional or mental bandwidth to process. The COVID-19 pandemic took that excuse away from us. There was no work for most of us and so there wasn’t much to avert our collective gaze from the racialized horror visited on Black and Brown people in this country. We wanted to speak up, but we also wanted to hold these arts organizations to account for their statements of solidarity, because words ring hollow without decisive and intentional action. The Open Letter basically told them, “We hear you, and if you’re serious about doing better, this is what we need from you. Here is where you can start.”
Pulptown: Fill in the blank: If ___________ (insert media source) covered BTGM, my life would be complete.
I don’t know about Mandi Jo, but if BTGM were covered by The Atlantic, my life would be complete.
Pulptown: The pinnacle of success of BTGM will be when…
…an industry exists where we aren’t needed. This sounds super idealist, but how wonderful would it be to create and shape an industry culture that outgrows the need for our advocacy.
Pulptown: Fill in the blank: If the reader walks away with only one takeaway from this interview, let it be…
…that they recognize the inherent value and dignity that their lives have and to never concede any ground on that. Recognizing this has helped me to navigate this industry and advocacy with grace, and compassion, but it also gives me fire to fight for better for myself and others when necessary.
Pulptown: Where can people see BTGM in action?
BTGM is currently partnering with Mad Cow Theater in Orlando, FL to produce Theatre Sparks: A virtual series of free plays written by Idris Goodwin. The fourth of five plays, titled Black Flag, will broadcast this Saturday, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m. on Black Theatre Girl Magic’s Facebook page with the remaining play, Act Free broadcasting Oct. 17.