An open letter to the Trinity Rep Community regarding the November 14, 2021 Providence Journal review of A Christmas Carol

November 19, 2021

Dear Trinity Rep Community, 

On November 14, 2021, the Providence Journal ran a review of Trinity Rep’s production of A Christmas Carol. This review contained a number of elements that were problematic from an equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism perspective. Trinity Rep has responded with a letter to the editor that, due to space constraints placed on submissions by the Journal, addresses just one issue – criticism of the theater’s land acknowledgement, which we detail below. In addition, Trinity Rep has written directly to the reviewer and editor to specifically identify the other elements that were in violation of the theater’s content guidelines, designed to protect our artists and staff from harm caused by unconscious bias.   

We understand that theatrical criticism and art criticism are subjective. We respect that reviewers will form their own opinions and do not expect that folks will all enjoy or understand every production or every aspect of a particular production. The elements that we have taken issue with have nothing to do with the artistic quality of the production, but rather the lack of knowledge on the part of a white reviewer and a white editorial staff. Our historical moment demands that greater attention is paid to the subtext of the writing; that if a production is making a concerted effort to center BIPOC voices, that effort is respected; and that stereotyping is avoided.  

As we have brought forward in our letter to the editor, in the review, the critic refers to “an opening monologue – inviting people to remember Native American tribes once populated the state, mentioning slave trade connections and urging support for people of color” as a “layer being added to Dickens’ message of humanity and kindness that feels forced.” 

That “monologue” was Trinity Rep’s land acknowledgement, developed with Native elders over the past several months and expanded to incorporate acknowledgement of Rhode Island’s participation in the Triangle Slave Trade, and will occur in some form before each of Trinity Rep’s performances going forward. It reads as follows: 

“We acknowledge the lands where Trinity Rep stands in Downtown Providence today as once the lands of the Masswascut-The Land between the two rivers, and the territory of Meshanticut, which are the ancestral homelands of the Narragansett, Pokanoket and Nipmuc people. 

“We also acknowledge that as contemporary Rhode Islanders, we hold the legacy of this state’s economic foundation through its participation in the triangle slave trade. We encourage you to research and personally acknowledge these legacies, and support our contemporary Indigenous and Black communities in actionable ways.” 

Director Joe Wilson, Jr. has chosen to weave Trinity Rep’s land acknowledgement into the opening of the show. Charles Dickens’ original story of A Christmas Carol is, after all, filled with social justice commentary – Ebenezer Scrooge is haunted by his life-long neglect of his fellow humans, and Dickens enjoins his readers to examine their participation in injustice at “the most festive time of the year.” 

Dickens embedded the need for this very kind of illumination of past wrongs in his ghost story of Christmas. At the end of stave three, when we meet the most jovial of all of the spirits, Christmas Present, Scrooge notices two children clinging to his robes. “This boy is Ignorance, and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all, beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom unless the writing be erased.” Willful ignorance of past harm is antithetical to the spirit of A Christmas Carol, and therefore, these “additions” are a gloriously Dickensian part of our current production. 

Trinity Rep’s mission is to reinvent the public square with dramatic art that stimulates, educates, and engages our diverse community in a continuing dialogue. We are committed to equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism. And we believe in the power of theater to create change. If the spoken land acknowledgement feels “forced” or creates discomfort, it’s worth looking at why. 

We hope that the Providence Journal will take this as an opportunity for growth and change, and we are open to further dialogue with them about the matter. 

Language or actions rooted in hate, whether intentional or not, have no place at Trinity Rep. We do not tolerate racism, discrimination, or harassment of any kind, including microaggressions. Should you have questions or comments, we invite you to reach out to us directly or contact Trinity Rep via the form at the bottom of this page.

Thank you.

Curt Columbus
Artistic Director

Jennifer Canole
Interim Executive Director