Members of the Broadway community are pushing for change in the industry amid a national reckoning on racial inequality.
Last week, several Black members of the theater community posted statements and videos on social media, while others created their own groups to support Black members of the theater community and larger reform within the industry. These actions came after a large number of Broadway productions and theater companies had issued statements in support of Black Lives Matter, in a move seen as a start but not enough to address the larger issue.
Some institutions have gone beyond their statements, with “Tina,” for example, hosting a company-wide “truth” meeting for Black company members to air any grievances and asking other shows to do the same. Others have donated, including “Slave Play” which donated $10,000 to the National Bailout Fund while issuing a challenge to other shows, and “What the Constitution Means to Me” donating $6,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Still, many are looking for shows and industry members to take more concrete actions toward reform.
The Broadway League, which issued a statement in support of Black Lives Matter, said in a statement to Broadway News that the League plans to take further “meaningful action” on the issue.
“The members of the Broadway League are committed to taking meaningful action to address the concerns of our friends and colleagues in the Broadway community and beyond who are calling for change at this crucial moment in our society,” the statement reads. “We recognize that we need to first listen, and to be willing to have difficult conversations. Our members have been meeting with their casts, companies, and other members of the theatre community, listening to needs and concerns in order to set out a pathway forward. We welcome future dialogue with the emerging groups who have raised their voices as we all work towards lasting change.”
After issuing a statement of solidarity, Actors’ Equity held a meeting with its Equal Opportunity Committee, which discussed recommendations for additional contract language for its Black members, as well as additional support, according to a spokesperson for Equity.
Cody Renard Richard, a veteran stage manager, was one of the members who posted on social media last week, speaking about numerous incidents of racism he has faced in the industry and calling on the community to do better. His post was joined by many others, including posts and videos from director and actor Schele Williams, actor Mykal Kilgore and actor and writer Griffin Matthews.
Amid these calls for change, Richard said the initial statements from major Broadway institutions held some weight, but that many felt reactionary, and were posted hours or days after calls for support of George Flloyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It felt like most theaters, most shows, most producers responded to us calling them out and saying ‘why aren’t you standing with us?’ ” Richard said. “It felt a little bit like you’re showing up now because we had to call you.”
The statements also bristle as Broadway remains a majority-white industry. The most recent report from the Asian American Performers Coalition found that within the 2016-2017 season, 95% of all shows were written by white playwrights and directed by white directors. That season 29% of all roles went to minority actors, with 18.6% going to Black performers.
In addition to a lack of representation, as Asmeret Ghebremichael, Richard and others have detailed, the industry has not always been welcoming to people of color.
As larger institutions grapple with the issue, groups such as Broadway for Racial Justice and the Broadway Advocacy Coalition have stepped in to push conversations and aid forward.
The Broadway Advocacy Coalition, which was founded in 2016 by members including Adrienne Warren, Britton Smith and Christian Dante White, is hosting a three-day forum specifically for the Broadway industry to “heal, listen and hold itself accountable to its history of white supremacy while moving towards becoming an anti-racist and equitable space.” The group received a $50,000 donation from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids to support its efforts.
Broadway for Racial Justice, created last week by actor Brandon Nase, sprung up to address emergency financial needs for people of color within the industry, and particularly those who are not yet affiliated with a union.
The organization, which has been pushing industry members to ask their Broadway shows and institutions to take action, also aims to establish a hotline helmed by people of color for other industry members of color to call when they feel they have encountered racist behavior. Hotline leaders would, in turn, refer the complaint to the appropriate union or speak on that person’s behalf.
In the past week, Nase said his group has been in contact with others, as more Black industry members speak up and look for change.
“We need all the voices that we can get, and everybody is fighting together,” Nase said.