Baltimore Sun

Ybarra on directing equity on and off Baltimore’s Center Stage

- By Stephanie García Stephanie García 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 communiti

Stephanie Ybarra, the artistic director at Baltimore Center Stage, is a theater veteran of more than two decades. Ybarra’s also the country’s first Latina artistic director of a major theater. She not only directs offstage with a lens toward social justice and inclusivit­y, but also curates those values on the stage.

“I believe so deeply that art in general and specifical­ly theater can be catalytic,” Ybarra said. “It can catalyze reflection, conversati­ons, action and change. I’m very interested in art and a physical space and a building that can hold the joy and the complexiti­es of our communal existence.”

In 2019, Ybarra curated the season-opening musical “Miss You Like Hell,” which was attended by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a show about an undocument­ed Mexican mother and her U.S.-born daughter. This season is filled with farce comedies such as “The Swindlers” and one-person plays like “Fire in the Mirror,” along with partnershi­ps with Creative Alliance and Art Centric for musicals such as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Dream Girls.”

At Center Stage, Ybarra has created director positions for artistic partnershi­ps and innovation, learning and social accountabi­lity, along with establishi­ng a staffwide anti-racism initiative.

No stranger to this work, Ybarra formed the Artists’ Anti-Racism Coalition in 2016 to work on undoing racism in New York’s off-Broadway theater community. She looked at demographi­c data on which playwright­s were getting commission­s, which directors were being hired, and the sizes of the theaters where the work was being produced, which affects earning potential and who is getting reviewed.

“She’s creating a space that is vibrant and forward-thinking,” said R. Eric Thomas, who calls Ybarra a collaborat­or with whom artists dream of working. “There’s constant

This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communitie­s. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short descriptio­n of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at

creative problem solving, and the work that she’s supporting challenges an audience, but not in a way that I think is adversaria­l.”

Thomas has known Ybarra for more than three years, since she started at Center Stage. “The Folks at Home,” a sitcom-inspired comedy play written by Thomas, premieres at Center Stage this spring. Thomas, who grew up in Upton, said Ybarra’s vision is exciting and, unfortunat­ely, drasticall­y different from other artistic leadership.

“The biggest sort of shift is in the area of who is onstage and who is behind the scenes, whether it’s gender parity or even more women and nonbinary people working in the theater space than cis men,” said Thomas, referring to people whose gender they were assigned at birth matches their current identity. “It’s rare and unique and exciting to be in the theater space where there are people of color who are being given opportunit­ies. And I can’t stress to you how unique it is and I cannot stress to you how special it is that she has chosen

Baltimore to make that happen.”

Ybarra has remained steadfast, despite pushback and complaints or unhappy comments from donors and audience members.

“Plenty of folks were actually quite explicit in their displeasur­e with so many people of color on stage and that that equated to an agenda like a political agenda,” she said. “Racist, sexist, homophobic communicat­ions have come our way as a result of me and my curation.”

At Center Stage, Thomas also was commission­ed to write a fairytale play set in Baltimore about the city’s history, club scene and climate change. Thomas said Baltimore is a city of great promise and artistic pedigree that often gets ignored and overlooked.

“Regional theater can so often be a photocopy of what’s on Broadway or off-Broadway,” Thomas said. “The thing that makes Stephanie and her team so exciting is that they’ve recognized that regional theater should reflect the region. They’ve really devoted the last couple of years to making that a practice that they live every day, and my career has flourished because of it.”

 ?? BALTIMORE SUN LLOYD FOX/ ?? Stephanie Ybarra, 44, is the artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage.
BALTIMORE SUN LLOYD FOX/ Stephanie Ybarra, 44, is the artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage.

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