New Deal for Broadway: New York theater luminaries agree on reforms

Following an industry leaders summit hosted by Black Theater United earlier this year, a coalition of Broadway theater owners, producers, union leaders, creators and casting directors agreed to a new agreement including a series of reforms for the industry to ensure equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility.

The New Deal for Broadway outlines short-term reforms — to be implemented before Broadway reopens this fall — and long-term over the next few years.

“Just as we are all committed to creating safe environments free from discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying, we are committed to creating environments that are fair, diverse, inclusive, accessible and where everyone has a sense of belonging” , indicates the document. The focus is on members of the black theater.

The changes range from the abstract – “push for more diversity” – to the specific, such as artists with visual impairments being offered audition materials in Braille and the Shubert, Nederlander and Jujamcyn channels having at least one of their theaters named after a black artist. (Jujamcyn already has the August Wilson Theater).

“We had meetings for six months with everyone in the industry and we practically formed this together. We knew what we wanted and what we wanted to change,” LaChanze, Tony Award winner and founding member of Black Theater United, told The Associated Press (AP) on Monday ahead of the release of the document.

Theater’s line 45th Street in New York, U.S., May 13, 2020. (AP Photo)

“This is the floor. This is not the ceiling. This is just the beginning for us. We hope this document will have a ripple effect throughout our industry for everyone else in the community.

The directors and writers have agreed to emphasize diversity factors – to include members of underrepresented communities – in all new contracts they work on and “will never again bring together an all-white creative team on a production” . The producers agreed to expand the talent pool to more diverse candidates.

One thing the groups all agree on is that they will each adopt “an EDIAB policy” – which stands for equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility and belonging – and post it on websites, theater lobbies and audition rooms, making it clear to everyone before rehearsals begin and enforcing their training. But what that exact policy will be is yet to be determined by each group.

“Each organization is going to create its own policy that we will monitor to make sure it’s consistent with the New Deal,” LaChanze said. “It is not us who write what will be the policy. We’ve set guidelines on what it should include, but each company must provide the exact language.

The New Deal for Broadway has been endorsed by many of Broadway’s largest organizations and individuals, from The Broadway League producer group to the Actors Equity Association and Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Local 798 labor organizations.

The biggest theater owners – the Nederlander Organization, Jujamcyn Theatres, Shubert Organization and Disney Theatrical Productions – are on board, along with casting agencies like The Telsey Office and Tara Rubin Casting, as well as playwright Doug Wright, director Michael Greif, director-choreographers Sergio Trujillo and Jerry Mitchell, and composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Jeanine Tesori.


An exhibit for the Broadway show
A display for the Broadway show ‘Wicked’ is pictured in Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., November 6, 2019. (Photo by REUTERS)

The unions have agreed to appoint a full-time diversity director. Casting agents agreed to remove “stereotypical language”. And the producers will “commit to hiring creative talent from historically excluded and underrepresented groups in our industry on every new creative team, regardless of the show’s topic.”

Application will be conducted by a committee comprised of Black Theater United and members of each signatory leadership group. Gross violations could result in parts of the document being removed, LaChanze said.

Black Theater United was formed in response to the wave of national unrest over racial injustice that followed the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It has hosted town halls on activism, boosted participation in identified and developed mentorship programs for young aspiring black theater artists. . In addition to LaChanze, its founding members include Audra McDonald, Billy Porter, Norm Lewis and Vanessa Williams.

The Broadway data points to vast inequalities. According to the annual study “The Visibility Report: Racial Representation on NYC Stages”, nearly 80% of writers for Broadway and off-Broadway shows were white, as were 85.5% of directors during the 2017-18 season. the last period analyzed.

On stage, more than 61% of all roles in New York went to white actors, a rate that doubles the population of whites in New York. The data on creators is even more skewed: In the 2018-2019 theater season, 91% of Broadway’s design slots were filled by white creators.

LaChanze said Floyd’s murder and the protests last summer galvanized the industry to change. “Everyone wanted us to go back to the theater, not the way we left it,” she said.

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