My story begins like that of so many others in the United States. I was raised in a single-parent home of moderate means in the heartland of America. As a young Black dancer in the Midwest, New York City seemed like a world away, but it was a world that I knew I wanted.
So, in 1992 when I won the “Miss Hal Jackson’s Talented Teens” pageant, a trip to New York was a dream come true. It was on this outing that I had the chance to see my first Broadway musical.
New York was everything I imagined it would be: the lights were bright, the buildings were tall and the streets were busy. As the contestants and I made our way into the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, my excitement was overwhelming. Five Guys Named Moe was the musical that would forever impact my life. Up until that evening, I knew that Broadway showcased some of the world’s most extraordinary talent, but I was not prepared for what I was about to see. Everybody on stage looked like me. The sense of pride I felt watching this show surpassed any other. The audience — made up of all races, ages and genders — was smiling, laughing and clapping. The arts had made us one. I didn’t know it at the time, but this moment would be a catalyst for my crusade in arts and equity.
While life does take its turns — and I began to pivot — one thing remained true. I needed every person to experience Broadway, the arts, the way I had at 16. As I start this new role with the Broadway League, I find myself reflecting on the duality of the majesty of Broadway and the reality of many people like me.
Representation matters. Equity and access matters. As the League’s first Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Director, I want you to know that you matter. We hear the voices of the industry and the community and want to work alongside you in moving the needle towards change. Broadway is returning, but it won’t look or feel the same, and that is a good thing because returning to old traditions will continue to shut some out.
Honestly, for many years the League hasn’t done a great job of communicating about our actions or even our new programs, but that’s why this role was created: to listen to our members and the community, serve as a resource, expand our existing slate of programs and provide even greater access to all. People need to know that our commitment is not just talk.
It’s been over a year since the public racial reckoning, and I look at what the League has done during that time. For instance, we required all Broadway League leadership and staff to attend unconscious bias and anti-racism training, including the board and members of all standing committees, covering over 200 leadership roles and staff. With Black Theatre United (BTU), we signed the “New Deal” agreement, which requires more transparency and accountability throughout the Broadway industry. These actions are the start of educating and recentering the League’s EDI initiatives.
The issues facing Broadway are not unlike those being faced across industries. The League has 19 initiatives that are either solely EDI-focused or have EDI components attached. These initiatives cover three key areas: audience development, community engagement and workforce development.
We believe that by partnering with government offices, schools, colleges and organizations, we can create a pathway to the arts for audiences and workers alike. For example, Broadway Bridges is a partnership with the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers to bring every NYC public school 10th grader to see a Broadway show.
In the past three years, over 46,000 New York City public high school students and chaperones have participated in Broadway Bridges. Our goal is to reach the 70,000 tenth graders enrolled each year. With nearly 70% of this student population identifying as a person of color, providing a chance for these students to see a show is how we begin to change the landscape of Broadway, lighting a spark of love for live performance; it is how we can show these students that Broadway is for everyone.
With seven shows written by Black individuals arriving on Broadway this year, we are already shifting the landscape by creating a new normal. We hope we will no longer have to say “the first”—because this will become a part of Broadway as we know it.
Many League members have hired diversity directors this past year. This effort is intentional, and the industry is united and committed to challenging the status quo.
While the League strives to change the landscape, we commit to increasing our involvement within various communities through expansion of our established engagement initiatives, ¡Viva! Broadway and Black to Broadway. We’re developing plans for Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) affinity groups and more. Our intention is to strengthen relationships within underrepresented communities and celebrate these leaders of Broadway — on stage, backstage and in the audience.
Opening up opportunities for fellowships at League member offices is another way we’re opening career pathways for the next generation of theater professionals. By providing hands-on experiences for those who are young and young at heart, they can be taught that they do not only have to be on stage but can be behind the scenes making a living in stage management, producing, marketing and other parts of our field. There are careers in this industry for those who are currently not represented, and we want them here. The League recognizes that diversity must occur across all areas of Broadway, and fellowships are just another avenue to help make this happen.
As Broadway begins to reopen, I am optimistic about the future. And to the 16-year-old me who was captivated by the oohs and ahhs first heard in an audience three decades ago: Guess what? You were right; you do belong here!
Gennean Scott is Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the Broadway League.