One Jump Ahead: Broadway Makes Strides to Bridge Racial Equity Gaps

In response to the great, cultural emphasis being paid to national racial inequities, the Broadway Advocacy Coalition (BAC) announced the launch of Reimagining Equitable Productions (REP), its newest program conceived in effort to invite racial equality to the rehearsal rooms and performance spaces of the American Theatre.

Inspired by its Theater of Change course at Columbia Law School, BAC created a process by which individuals may address their own equity biases and engineer personal goals for equality they can workshop in collaboration with others in order to generate holistic insights to close cultural blind spots, as REP creator Leia Squillace feels the time has finally come to put into action the visions of equity we’ve imagined, acknowledging that change occurs subtly and is not achieved easily.

According to TheaterMania.com, BAC will begin working with the companies of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and Company, and Disney Theatrical Productions will work with BAC on a customized pilot process with members of the companies of Aladdin (Broadway), Frozen (Tour), and The Lion King (Broadway & Tour).

Co-founder and President of BAC Britton Smith believes equity within a production is sustained by setting a standard for inclusion and cooperation the first day of rehearsal and reinforcing these values by keeping casts and crews accountable.

Certainly the REP program is inspired by new studies that suggest that the $15 billion Broadway industry stands to suffer further financial blows after the financial hardships already associated with going dark this past year if changes to the diversity of its largely white and male leadership and workforce aren’t soon seen by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) audiences and theater professionals, as significantly highlighted by the “We See You, White American Theater” manifesto published in July last year.

That piece, written by a theater community upset by these disparities, calls for theater leaders to consider it “an act of service to resign” if they have served in roles for more than 20 years. Perhaps inspired by this very sentiment and his hope that Broadway will make sincere strides to bridge these equity gaps, James C. Nicola, artistic director of New York Theater Workshop (the original home of theater smash Rent), recently announced his 2022-effective resignation after heading the program for 34 years, and said of his replacement, that he would “love to see someone who has the trust and faith of all the constituencies of the community,” according to The New York Times.

Nicola’s resignation occurs after William Carden stepped down last year from his position as artistic director of Ensemble Studio Theater (EST), to which he has belonged since 1978. EST announced its plan to restructure senior leadership to include more BIPOC voices, which will involve critical analysis of power dynamics within the organization, a more equitable hiring plan, and other “action steps toward dismantling structural racism and oppression” led particularly by the theater’s BIPOC artistic community, according to a statement made by Arts, Equity & Justice Facilitator and Consultant Rebecca Kelly G reported by Playbill.

Of the initiative, Carden said, “If we are going to become the just and equal community we aspire to be, we have to address and change the implicit racism in the structure of our theatre, and we will be doing that as part of this process.”

It remains to be seen what impact these changes and directives will have on Broadway’s future. Hopefully they will help to further inclusion goals and diversify not only those who work and are represented on and around Broadway, but Broadway audiences as well, and aid in growing lasting financial as well as cultural enrichment to the institution.

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