How to get more diversity on Broadway.

On Tuesday, the Broadway League held its annual meeting for its members (if you noticed an inordinate amount of Broadway producers and touring presenters roaming Times Square over the past couple of days, it’s because this is Broadway’s week of annual meetings, holiday parties, and more – perhaps it’s a good time for a reading, if you’re pitching a show?).

At the meeting, all of us members get reports from the various committees that are hard at work trying to better Broadway for all of us.  We’ve got a government relations committee (busting their bills to get us some tax assistance), a labor committee (there are over a dozen unions on Broadway and their contracts require renegotiation every few years), a business development (aka marketing) committee, an international committee, a membership committee, and more.

One of the comments that was greeted with the most head nods and affirmations from the crowd was a quote from the head of the diversity committee, the forward thinking Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, who is Executive Director of ASU Gammage.  As she wrapped up her summary of the committees activities she said, “Broadway is the longest street in America, and we need to strive to make it reflective of America.”

True that.  True that.

The good news is that this year is one of the most diverse years ever on Broadway, as reported in this NY Times article.  We’ve got On Your Feet, Hamilton, The Color Purple, Spring Awakening, Eclipsed, and more.

The times they are a changin’, and it’s good.

But there is more work to do.  A lot more work.  Especially with some of the attitudes of the “politicians” currently trumping, I mean, stumping, to be President.

So what can we do?

I’ve read a lot of articles and attended many a roundtable discussion about non-traditional casting.  I’ve been to Actors’ Equity sponsored meetings with Producers to encourage color blind casting.  And all of these initiatives have been inspiring and educational.

But for me, it goes deeper than that.

If we want more diversity on our stages, then we need more diverse people writing for our stages.  It’s literally the root of the issue.

Here’s my gardening metaphor, you ready?  If you want a different color rose, do you figure out how you can pull off the petals and replace it with other petals?  I guess that would work.  But it’s a short term solution.  It’ll give you what you want, but it doesn’t have a long lasting effect on your garden.

If you want a different color flower, and you want that flower to bloom every year . . . you plant a different bulb.  You put something in the ground that will produce the outcome that you’re looking for.

Writers, more often than not, write what they know.  Writers of color will therefore write more stories about color.  And audiences are attracted to stories they can relate to.  So audiences of color will naturally gravitate to stories that are about their experiences.

It’s a diversity domino effect.  And the first domino is the playwrights, composers and lyricists.

That’s why I’d put the bulk of our time and dollar resources into encouraging more diverse artists to get into our game.  It may not change the look of our stages tomorrow, but ten or twenty years from now, I’d guarantee we’d have the most beautiful and colorful garden on the block.

 

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.

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