Posted on January 13, 2022

Broadway Finally Makes Progress on Racial Equity

Charles Passy, Market Watch, January 6, 2022


The theater community has often prided itself on being forward-thinking and presenting work that tackles tough issues, including those involving race. But critics have charged that Broadway has failed the diversity test on many levels — both in representation among playwrights and other creative talent behind the shows and in the makeup of cast and crew.

Now some industry veterans say there’s finally reason to be hopeful, pointing to a wave of recent developments.

“Change is happening. People are not ignoring what is being demanded,” Vanessa Williams, the recording star and Broadway artist who is one of the founding members of Black Theatre United, an organization created in 2020 to advocate for artists of color, told MarketWatch.

One major development is the adoption of Black Theatre United’s “A New Deal for Broadway” platform. The document calls for a commitment among Broadway productions to never “assemble an all-white creative team” and to adequately discuss issues of racial sensitivity raised by shows. It also calls for each of the major theater owners to name at least one of their venues after a Black artist.

While the document looks largely to the future, Broadway audiences can already see change in terms of the current season’s offerings.

So far, at least a half-dozen works by Black artists have been presented — a far cry from the days when only one or two Black playwrights might be represented in the course of an entire year.


Brian Moreland, producer of “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” which recently closed, said it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the works of so many Black playwrights are making their way to Broadway of late.


Moreland, one of the industry’s leading Black producers, added that a way to ensure Broadway maintains its commitment to artists of color is to have more producers of color working in the field and serving as advocates for change. He sits on the board of governors of the Broadway League, the industry’s trade group, and pointed to a recent shift in the organization’s bylaws that will make it easier for emerging producers — many of whom are non-white — to join. {snip}


Still, challenges remain. Most notably, Broadway’s audience remains heavily white, as the Broadway League’s own research shows. Some industry critics say part of the problem is that Broadway’s ticket prices are so high — above $120 on average in the 2018-19 season, the last full one before the pandemic. In turn, they say that discourages a broader audience from attending.

The audience issue is being addressed head-on by the producers of “Slave Play,” a searing drama about race and sex by the Black playwright Jeremy O. Harris that premiered on Broadway in the curtailed 2019-20 season and is now being revived. The “Slave Play” team has presented a number of what it calls “Black Out” events — essentially, performances for a Black audience. It has also made an effort to keep ticket prices low, with more than 10,000 seats for its current run, which goes through Jan. 23, being offered at $39.

But “Slave Play” itself has become something of a lightning rod in the question of how far Broadway will go to diversify. The show was nominated for 12 Tonys, the most for any play in the history of the prestigious theater-award platform. Yet it failed to pick up a single win, which many in the Broadway community considered a significant — and telling — snub.