Discover — actively look for voices that don’t sound like yours and faces that don’t look like yours to include in your organization. As the leader of an artistic organization dedicated to social justice, part of my charge is to find work that engages and ignites the spirits all aspects of our community. I search the world for such work and the artists who can make that work a reality.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Karla Hartley.
Karla Hartley is currently the Producing Artistic Director of Stageworks Theatre in Tampa. She has directed designed, stage managed and performed in countless shows in the area and across the country for the last 30 years. Diversity and inclusivity are at the heart of Stageworks’ mission and Karla is proud to do this important work.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I was born and reared in Tampa and am the product of a middle class Southern Baptist family. Summers were spent traveling the country in a motor home with my parents sisters and grandparents. My father worked his way up from loading trucks to co-owner of a laundry and dry cleaning supply company. My work ethic is a credit to him. My mother was an accountant and always modeled independence and self-sufficiency for me and my two sisters.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck was eye opening for me. The book starts by saying “life is difficult” — a truism that stunned me in its simplicity.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
The other phrase in the book that was revelatory to me was “Love is not a feeling. Love is an action”. I remember that every day and try to move through my life, both work and home being mindful of what actions I can take that will better myself and the people around me.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is cultivating a team the capitalizes on collective buy-in. Each member of the team should be ‘rowing toward the same shore’. That means clarifying the goal and explaining the strategies by which we will all be working. It also means recognizing that my idea is not necessarily the best in the room. I am always open to collaboration and experimentation. If everyone on the team feels their voices are being heard and respected, the team will thrive.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I try to maintain a meditation practice to start the day. I may listen to music that I find inspiring. But the key for me, in meetings or speeches, is offering my words and thoughts with authenticity and a generosity of spirit. People know who you are being emotionally dishonest and they will respond accordingly. It helps that I have a real passion for what I do. I think the arts are a vital part of every vibrant society and will fight for arts infusion in all sectors.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
From the moment someone first described Good vs. Evil in terms of White and Black, this struggle has been brewing. The notion of “Good” being represented by white and “Bad” being represented by black is pervasive in society from euphemisms to colloquialisms. This deep-rooted idea set up the basics tenants of systemic racism, has informed behavior throughout the ages and still affects attitudes and opinions today. There seems to be an innate need in some to make themselves superior to others. That, paired with a general selfishness and a growing unwillingness, on the part of everyone, to genuinely consider other’s perspectives has brought this struggle to a zenith that will, hopefully, change our society forever.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
Every season we produce a play that addresses social justice. These plays are the most important produced events every season. We put honest societal challenges in front of our audiences and make them see lives that, while different from their own, have a commonality that we can’t deny. There was a woman who had come to the theatre and had seen a play about a mother’s struggle after losing her son to violence. She pulled me aside afterward and said, “I knew things like happen, but I never felt it deeply until today.” That is why we do what we do.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
The voices in the room must be diverse. Ideas, dreams and innovation can only be valid when everyone’s ideas, dreams and innovation are included in the conversation. Different points of view are informed by different backgrounds and experiences. Progress is only made real when we all move forward together.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Discover — actively look for voices that don’t sound like yours and faces that don’t look like yours to include in your organization. As the leader of an artistic organization dedicated to social justice, part of my charge is to find work that engages and ignites the spirits all aspects of our community. I search the world for such work and the artists who can make that work a reality.
- Listen — once the voices are in the room, do more listening than you do talking. As a younger artist, I remember being in a rather heated discussion with an artists of color who was a few years older than I was. She said, ‘Are you listening to me?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘You are hearing me but you are not listening.’ That stopped me in my tracks and I realized I was so busy preparing my next point that I wasn’t listening to the points that she was making. Every day I try to not just hear, but to actively listen.
- Immerse — spend time learning about the backgrounds and experiences of all the people who are working to make your organizations mission a reality. I have made it my business to learn about cultural holidays and other religious, secular and personal moments of significance, whether it was learning the depth and meaning of Kwanza or remembering anniversaries, birthdays or remembrance days. The things that are important to my co-creators must be important to me.
- Involve — all my co-creators must be passionately involved. I have no illusions that mine is the best idea in the room. We must all be rowing toward the same shore. Each new cast that comes in for rehearsal and each new person hired to help move our organization forward engage in conversations about ideas and are told, in no uncertain terms, that their vision, thoughts and ideas are honored.
- Celebrate — we find something to celebrate every day — both successes and failures. Just today we learned that we didn’t receive a grant that we had anticipated being awarded. After taking a few moments to be rightfully disappointed, we took the opportunity to celebrate the fact that, despite not getting the additional money we had hoped for, we are stable, positive and always moving forward.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I have all hope and optimism that we can come together to make plans, listen to ideas and foster the creativity and innovation we need to conquer and adaptive medical and societal issues that burden us at the moment.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Sarah Paulson, for sure. And if Holland Taylor made it a 2-for-1, I might faint. They are both ridiculously talented and live joyfully and openly. I could rest happily.
How can our readers follow you online?
@stageworkstampa on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as well as stageworkstheatre.org
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!