Posted on August 30, 2021

Broadway Power Brokers Pledge Diversity Changes as Theaters Reopen

Michael Paulson, New York Times, August 23, 2021

Fifteen months after the George Floyd protests called renewed attention to racism in many areas of society, some of the most powerful players on Broadway have signed a pact pledging to strengthen the industry’s diversity practices as theaters reopen following the lengthy shutdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The agreement commits Broadway and its touring productions not only to the types of diversity training and mentorship programs that have become common in many industries, but also to a variety of sector-specific changes: the industry is pledging to forgo all-white creative teams, hire “racial sensitivity coaches” for some shows, rename theaters for Black artists and establish diversity rules for the Tony Awards.

The document, called “A New Deal for Broadway,” was developed under the auspices of Black Theater United, one of several organizations established last year as an outgrowth of the anger Black theater artists felt over the police killings of Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. {snip}

The signatories include the owners and operators of all 41 Broadway theaters — commercial and nonprofit — as well as the Broadway League, which is a trade organization representing producers, and Actors’ Equity Association, which is a labor union representing actors and stage mangers. Their pledges are not legally enforceable, but they agreed to “hold ourselves and each other accountable for implementing these commitments.”


One of the key changes being called for is that creative teams — which include directors, writers, composers, choreographers and designers — should be diverse. A section signed by directors and writers vows to “never assemble an all-white creative team on a production again, regardless of the subject matter of the show,” while a section signed by producers says, “We will make best efforts to ensure true racial diversity on all future productions.”


Among the changes that will be most visible to the general public: The three big commercial landlords on Broadway — the Shubert, Nederlander and Jujamcyn organizations — each pledged that at least one theater they operate would be named for a Black artist. Jujamcyn already operates the August Wilson Theater, the only Broadway house named for a Black artist.


The signatories pledged to create a new, mandatory, industrywide training program for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Accessibility and Belonging. And, with an eye toward further diversifying the industry, they also committed to “mentoring and sponsoring Black talent in our respective fields on an ongoing basis.”


Among the other commitments: remove “biased or stereotypical language” from casting notices; insist on diversity riders prioritizing inclusivity as part of director and author contracts; search more widely for music contractors, who are the gatekeepers to orchestra staffing; and abolish unpaid internships. {snip}

The signatories also commit to “sensitivity” steps for shows dealing with race. “For shows that raise racial sensitivities, we will appoint a racial sensitivity coach whose role is akin to an intimacy coach,” the document says. And separately, it says, “While acknowledging that creatives can write about any subject that captures their interest or imagination, we will, when writing scripts that raise identity issues (such as race), make best efforts to commission sensitivity reads during the drafting process to assist in flagging issues and providing suggestions for improvement. Playwrights and/or those individuals or entities with contractual approval rights will retain creative control to accept or reject the sensitivity reader’s recommendations.”