Director Diane Paulus Responds to Invisible Thread Writer Griffin Matthews

Black Lives Matter   Director Diane Paulus Responds to Invisible Thread Writer Griffin Matthews
The pair worked together on the Off-Broadway Second Stage production of the musical co-written by Matthews and Matt Gould.
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Diane Paulus Joseph Marzullo/WENN

On June 4, Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus (Pippin) published a written statement on A.R.T.’s website—where she holds the post of artistic director—in response to writer-performer Griffin Matthews’ statement from earlier this week.

Paulus was the director of the Off-Broadway Second Stage production of the musical Witness Uganda (re-titled Invisible Thread for that production), written by Matthews and Matt Gould. Matthews took to his Facebook to share his experience working on that production and the numerous racist incidences that took place behind the scenes.

Matthews' statement was meant to demonstrate insidious racism in the theatre community—what he called the Amy Coopers of the world, in reference to the white woman who, when asked by a black man to leash her dog in Central Park, called the cops to report a black man threatening her. Never explicitly naming Paulus, Matthews used “Amy Coopers” as the archetype of the white person who believes they are liberal and not racist, yet acts in ways that are racist.

In her statement, Paulus apologizes to Matthews for pain caused and says that she is taking time to reflect, listen, and learn.

Paulus responded in the full statement below:

In recent weeks, a growing number of people from across the country and around the world have raised their voices in opposition to police violence and anti-Black racism in American culture. They have joined in peaceful protests, taken on powerful forces in Washington, and shared their own lived experiences to awaken and elevate the nation’s consciousness about the many ways—some overt, some less so—that racism impacts Black lives. One of those voices was Griffin Matthews.

In 2012, I received a script and a CD of music from Griffin, the creative force, along with Matt Gould, behind the musical Witness Uganda. I immediately fell in love with it and was excited to work on it with Griffin and Matt. Over the next several years, we embarked on a journey together with actors, choreographers, and designers to bring this story to audiences, both in Cambridge and New York City. Imbued with honesty, love, and a powerful message, this show needed to be seen by as many people as possible. As a director, it has always been my passionate goal to create brave spaces for artists to flourish. In a process filled with creative differences, many rewrites, and heated discussions around a subject matter steeped in the pain of racial violence, it was my responsibility to create a space where those issues were handled with the deepest care. I could and should have done better.

I am profoundly sorry for the pain I caused Griffin and any other person involved in our process. I am learning. With every new project and every new process, I re-commit myself to engaging in deeper self-reflection, to creating braver spaces for more collaborative art-making, and to listening to feedback to help me be a better artist, director, and citizen. We live in a racist world, and no one is immune to it, myself included. To transform this world, we need first to acknowledge the role we play in it. This letter is part of that process.

I also realize this process is not happening fast enough. Our entire industry, especially those in positions of power, needs to examine our practices and make changes, including at my own institution, the A.R.T. Accountability is paramount, for myself and for all of us in our field.

Over the last few days, I have taken to heart the call for deep listening, introspection, and action. As our nation grapples with the legacies of racism, we must stand up and speak out about the horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and so many more. As artists, we have the power to shine the light on the historical inequities and injustices that have always defined life in America, and we can help model and illuminate the path forward.

— Diane Paulus

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