A group of prominent Broadway composers, music directors and musicians have banded together to create more opportunities for musicians of color in the theater industry.
The group, Musicians United for Social Equity, or MUSE, launched this week with an online directory of BIPOC musicians, as well as orchestrators, music directors and more for hire. The goal with the directory, as well as planned music assistant fellowships, is to build a more diverse pipeline of talent within the industry and change the makeup of leadership within Broadway’s music departments.
Kenny Seymour, a musical director, arranger and orchestrator who has worked on shows including “Ain’t Too Proud” and “Memphis,” and Stephen Oremus, a musical director, arranger and orchestrator who has worked on shows such as “Kinky Boots,” “The Book of Mormon” and “Wicked,” serve as co-chairs of MUSE. Founding members include Alex Lacamoire, Georgia Stitt, Michael McElroy, Tom Kitt and Jason Michael Webb.
This joins the efforts of other groups trying to create pipelines to diversify the industry, including the Cody Renard Richard Scholarship Program for aspiring stage managers, directors and designers and the Black Theatre Coalition, which seeks to increase employment opportunities for Black theater professionals by 500% by 2030.
The idea for the directory came as MUSE members noted an underrepresentation of Black and brown artists within theatrical music departments. In addition to the challenge of breaking into the often insular industry, musicians within the field face the hurdle of being typecast for certain shows, Seymour said.
“I think it’s either a lack of opportunity for some musicians or artists that want to get into this field, but then I also think it’s a mindset,” Seymour said. “A consciousness shift has to take place where certain people or certain ethnicities are not only just called for one particular show, but just thought of as regular musicians.”
The directory is still in its early stages, but has thus far been compiled with help from the Maestra Music, a group established by Stitt that supports women in the music industry and has created its own directory, as well as personal outreach.
As part of the group’s launch, MUSE will offer a detailed look at its founding values and upcoming events in a panel discussion Saturday afternoon.
Once the theater industry resumes, MUSE plans to offer a music assistant fellowship program in which BIPOC artists will be connected with Broadway shows and receive supplemental funding from the group to round out the “notoriously underpaid” job, Oremus said. The music assistant position is a critical inroad to the industry, he said, as those hires often go on to conduct that show and others, and eventually take on musical director positions.
“That right there is an access point,” Oremus said.
Thus far, the group has established partnerships with Artists Striving to End Poverty, BerkleeNYC and Maestra Music Inc.
The group also plans to offer mentorship and personal apprenticeships as well as master classes and other educational components.
“To have the ability to learn from professionals in that field who do look like you and know that that is an opportunity and that is a reality is very powerful,” Seymour said.