In what’s an indisputably challenging time for the arts, Clarence J. Fluker, a public affairs strategist, organizational change leader and equity and inclusion advocate, is upping his profile on the local theater scene. In September, Fluker was voted on to the board of directors at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, a respected D.C. company best known for original productions.
“It’s not the most normal time to be doing this,” he easily concedes, yet Fluker remains undaunted. In fact, he’s thrilled to join Woolly’s diverse, 26-person board.
“It’s a place where I can bring my ‘whole self.’ As a gay, African-American man with background in theater, LGBTQ activism, and wide-ranging experience working with nonprofits and governments, I come with a lot of relationships and ideas,” says Fluker, 41.
Away from Woolly, Fluker is director of community engagement at the Association of American Medical Colleges. Prior experience includes public engagement and communications roles in the Obama administration at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Clarence also served as external affairs lead for Serve DC – The Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism.
Still, he doesn’t take his nonpaying board position any less seriously.
“As a board member you have a responsibility to an organization to ensure that it’s moving toward its North Star. And that responsibility to keep it moving is fiduciary, moral, and a strong belief in its mission.
“And currently, the responsibility is of a larger scope – it includes the role of art, theater and culture. And to make sure that art is accessible, equitable, and representative of the people. It’s a time of change.”
He’s not the only one who’s excited about the new gig, so is his mother. She loves theater, and he has taken her to plays at Woolly when she visits from Cleveland, Fluker’s home town.
“She introduced me to the arts,” he explains. Fluker began his exploration of theater as a preschooler at Karamu House on the east side of Cleveland, the oldest African-American theater in the United States. He pursued more acting at theater camp and community theater. As an undergrad majoring in speech communication at Morgan State University in Baltimore, he did some acting, and helped with marketing college productions. “I may not be the best actor, but I can write a great press release,” he says.
A longtime resident of D.C.’s Eckington neighborhood, he first came to D.C. in 2001 to pursue a graduate degree in public communication from American University, and remained. Over the years, he’s enjoyed many local productions, but notes that Woolly’s offerings are his favorites: “I can go to Woolly and see things and people that I can relate to, things I won’t see elsewhere. Woolly pushes things to the next level of introspection.”
And before becoming a board member, he was part of Woolly’s Ambassador Program. As an ambassador, Fluker helped in deepening the company’s ties to local entities including LGBTQ organizations. And on a personal note, he introduced his mentee, a 20-something African-American graduate student to theater. “He’d never been to a play, so three years ago I took him to Woolly’s production of ‘The Arsonists.’ It was a meaningful experience. Afterward he began taking his girlfriend on theater dates.”
Looking forward to late November, Fluker is eager to see Woolly’s upcoming production of Amir Nizar Zuabi’s “This Is Who I Am,” a new two-hander about a father in Ramallah, West Bank, and his son in New York City hashing out old grudges and even older recipes. The actors will be performing and cooking in real-time via Zoom.
“It’s a play commissioned and written during the pandemic. It’s exciting and different, but you wouldn’t expect less from Woolly,” Fluker adds.