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Paige Hernandez brings vision for equity to Everyman Theatre

Multidisciplinary artist Paige Hernandez is the first woman of color to have an artistic leadership role at Everyman Theatre.
Multidisciplinary artist Paige Hernandez is the first woman of color to have an artistic leadership role at Everyman Theatre. (Paige Hernandez / Baltimore Sun)

Between co-directing “The House That Holds Us” on Zoom for Everyman Theatre and reading five plays a week online, Baltimore native Paige Hernandez, stayed busy during the first months of her new job.

Hernandez, a multidisciplinary playwright, director, choreographer and actress who fuses theater, hip-hop, dance and education, became an associate artistic director at the theater in June.

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She is the first woman of color in an artistic leadership role since the company’s founding in 1990, according to Vincent Lancisi, Everyman Theater’s founding artistic director.

Her job is to enhance the theater’s accessibility locally and nationwide, as well as help with youth engagement with an eye on art equity.

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Hernandez, 39, says she’s been questioning what collaboration looks like virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, a challenge that she finds both nerve racking and exhilarating.

She says American theater is going through a challenge of its own, begrudgingly taking on equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives in recent years.

“All the third eyes [enlightenment beyond ordinary sight] are open and there’s so much awareness and awakening,”Hernandez said. “I’ve been used to that progress, moving as slow as a snail, and now I’m actually seeing it move in a way where I can’t even keep up with it.”

As a playwright and performer, Hernandez has been commissioned by Wolf Trap Foundation for the Arts for a participation play called “Havana Hop,” the Smithsonian’s Discovery Center for “All the Way Live,” a hip-hop inspired performance and the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts for several projects.

Original works through her production company, B-FLY Entertainment, have been about a coffee shop as it fights gentrification and inter-generational Cuban women expressing themselves through salsa dancing.

Having performed in more than six countries, Hernandez says her work reflects Baltimore, a hometown ripe for appreciating different cultures and a whole spectrum of experiences.

“Being abroad, I saw that my story worked pretty much everywhere,” she said. “I owe that to Baltimore, and everybody in Baltimore should know that their stories matter.”

Since “The Children’s Hour” in 2005 — her first acting job at Everyman— she has acted in four productions and became a resident company member in 2017. Hernandez also directed “Proof” and all three shows of the “Queens Girl Trilogy.”

Her time now will be split between her work as a freelance artist and the new role as associate artistic director.

“It came to me that making her an artistic associate wasn’t enough,” said Lancisi, when reflecting on the recent protests for Black Lives Matter. “It was time to change the lens of how we curate our plays and how we create environments so that we can be as accessible and as inclusive and as anti-racist as humanly possible.”

Lancisi, who hired Hernandez, says she infuses every project with “a joyous spirit that is filled with love.”

In August, Hernandez took part in a partnership with the Baltimore City Office of Equity & Civil Rights for a virtual Fair Housing Film Festival. Playwrights, actors and Baltimore residents collaborated on original monologues and performed scenes from classic plays that explore pride, place, home, and prejudice.

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With Everyman’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Justice Committee, Hernandez participated in a workshop on anti-racism training in June. The committee has met weekly since. Hernandez has done similar work with artEquity and Theatre Communications Group, training artists in trauma, accessibility awareness and anti-oppression best practices.

Hernandez directed two pieces in “The 51st State” for Arena Stage, which is set to premiere September 16. Her original series “Paige and Friends” will air digitally through the National Theatre in D.C. in October. For Everyman, she is involved in digital projects premiering this fall.

Dawn Ursula, who has acted with and been directed by Hernandez, said while all 16 members of Everyman’s equity committee “know how to work smart and hard, [Hernandez] knows how to work smarter and faster with the same aimount of intensity and integrity.”

Lancisi says Hernandez has always been a leader and mentor, even as a resident actor. As a director, she forged relationships that inspired BIPOC and young women to find their voice and flourish as artists. Hernandez says she measures equity at every stage of the artistic process.

“My vision for this position boils down to awareness as well as a mindfulness around the way that we approach the art, commission the art, perform the art and engage with the art,” Hernandez said. “Through all of those different verbs, you’re able to point to how we interact with our audiences, with the youth, with our artists, with our staff in a way that inclusive and something that all of those different communities can support and really feel at home at.”

Stephanie Garcia is a 2020-21 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project, a national service program that places emerging journalists in local newsrooms. She covers issues relevant to Latino communities.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, the group that commissioned a play by Hernandez was incorrect. Havana Hop” was commissioned by the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Arts. The article also was updated to provide information about Everyman Theatre’s fall season, which was not included in the earlier version. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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