The Fairy Princess was lying snug in her bed, when she got the call – er, the Direct Message on the Twittah, asking if she would be interesting in attending the FIRST EVER BroadwayCon and speaking on a panel.
Then they asked TFP to speak on a panel…about Diversity? Maestro!
Along she went and she had no idea how much the work of MISCHIEF MANAGEMENT (@MischiefMgmt – Melissa Anelli & Stephanie Dornhelm), Anthony Rapp (@albinokid), and PLAYBILL, would rock everyone’s collective world. It was exciting, exhausting, and almost existential.
She wound up speaking on two panels – one called A BRAND NEW DAY: DIVERSITY ON BROADWAY (Moderator – Andrew Shade, Panelists: Quiara Alegria Hudes, Alia Jones-Harvey, Telly Leung, and Roberta Pereira)
INSIDERS, OUTSIDERS, and MASKED AVENGERS: YOUR ROLE IN THE BROADWAY COMMUNITY (Moderator – Jennifer Spitulnik, Panelists: Aaron J. Albano, Andrew Breidis, Laura Heywood, Patrick Hinds, and Nikka Graff Lanzarone)
The rest of the time, she attended lectures, panels and performances by a variety of people (WOW were there a ton from CMU) and in each and every one, she learned something.
TFP spoke on Diversity for her first panel, and truth be told, a bit about it on her second panel and this is what she said and she’s just going to hit on some of her points, which she shared to that audience.
First point – there are 40 Broadway Theaters and 30 Shows currently listed on IMDB.
Of the 30, 22 are musicals and 8 are plays.
Of the 22 musicals, there are 2 directed by women.
Of the 8 plays, 3 are directed by women.
Broadway audiences are 68% women.
TFP brought note cards (apologies to Ruthieann B), to ensure she had her facts straight.
YES, this has been a banner year for Diversity on Broadway in terms of casting -these are our new musicals – HAMILTON, ALLEGIANCE, ON YOUR FEET, FIDDLER, THE COLOR PURPLE, SCHOOL OF ROCK – all with Diverse casts!
That ALLEGIANCE is closing before it’s time on February 14, 2016 is something TFP holds you ALL responsible for.
If you are API and can afford a ticket, and you didn’t go – this is your fault.
And if you are ANY other kind of American and can afford a ticket and didn’t go – this is ALSO your fault
– you should have gone and seen what happens when American citizens are incarcerated because of what they look like. You should have gone and faced this dim part of American history and seen the show and vowed “No, it’s not happening again, not on my watch.”
Is it a perfect show? Nope. Few are. So what?
The closing of this show prematurely is going to affect the rise of another opportunity for Asian Americans to tell an Asian American story on our Broadway stages.
Look, if composers who are of API heritage and who have won TONY awards are not writing shows about the API experience, what does that say about things changing in that regard? Not a lot.
They join the Diverse Musical Casts already on Broadway: ALADDIN, BEAUTIFUL, BOOK OF MORMON, FUN HOME, THE KING AND I, KINKY BOOTS, LES MISERABLES, THE LION KING, MATILDA, SOMETHING ROTTEN and CHICAGO.
Now, by “Diversity”, TFP is not just talking about skin color – that is not, actually what Diversity means – Diversity means representing all kind of people – it means varying Ages, Sizes, Genders, Ethnicities, LGBT, Religions – the Diversity umbrella is broad – exceptionally so, which is why it is actually – infuriatingly easy to accomplish.
As a fellow panelist, Olivier Award Winning, Tony nominated theater producer Roberta Pereira said “Someone said “We should do HAMILTON casting” and I said, ‘To me that is just casting’.
So yes, for Musicals – the 2015-16 season has been a revelation, on stage – but has it been a revolution?
Let’s look ahead to the NEXT season….these are the musicals (Sticking to musicals, we’ll get to plays) that look to have somewhat Diverse casts:
These are upcoming and have theaters etc, according to Playbill.com:
SHE LOVES ME, NERDS, BRIGHT STAR, AMERICAN PSYCHO, WAITRESS, TUCK EVERLASTING, SHUFFLE ALONG, DISASTER
Potentially coming, again, according to Playbill.com are:
GOTTA DANCE, MOTOWN, CATS, SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE, HOLIDAY INN, NATASHA & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, GROUNDHOG DAY, HELLO DOLLY, THE BANDSTAND, FALSETTOS, PIECE OF MY HEART, THE BERT BERNS STORY
Now let’s go behind the table – behind the table is generally a boy’s club.
Of all the above musicals definitely coming and potentially coming, only 3 will be directed by women – NERDS by Casey Hushion, WAITRESS by Diane Paulus, NATASHA & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 by Rachel Chavkin.
This is an improvement, because currently on Broadway, female directors of shows that are on stage now number TWO– and that is Julie Taymor for THE LION KING and Diane Paulus for FINDING NEVERLAND.
Shout out to JoAnn Hunter, who choreographed SCHOOL OF ROCK. She joins Ann Reinking who recreated CHICAGO in the style of Bob Fosse and Mia Michaels who choreographed FINDING NEVERLAND. Gillian Lynne also is up on the boards as choreographer with PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
Of all the above musicals, only BRIGHT STAR (Edie Brickell- music), WAITRESS (Sara Barellies-music & lyrics, Jessie Nelson-book, Adrienne Shelly-original screenplay), TUCK EVERLASTING (Claudia Shear – book), and GOTTA DANCE (Nell Benjamin – lyrics), have female writers.
On the ‘current’ Broadway, there is the FUN HOME (Lisa Kron – Book & Lyrics, Jeanne Tesori – Music), ON YOUR FEET (Gloria Estefan – Music), BEAUTIFUL (Carol King – Music & Lyrics), KINKY BOOTS (Cyndi Lauper – Music & Lyrics), THE COLOR PURPLE (Marsha Norman – Book, Brenda Russell, Alle Willis – Music & Lyrics w/Stephen Bray), and WICKED (Winnie Holzman – Book), that have female writers.
So…while there is change behind the scenes – it’s not overwhelming. TFP focused on Women who are part of the writing/directing process – but do not discount the fact that there are few female designers – lighting, sets, costumes, technical – that are continually working, so there is a long way to go in terms of getting behind the Broadway fully integrated. If TFP were to look for PoC that were behind the scenes…well, that area is ripe for some changing of the guard as well.
NEXT YEAR – Let’s break it down – from what TFP can surmise from released Cast lists – SHUFFLE ALONG is leading the pack in People of Color. WAITRESS, DISASTER, and AMERICAN PSYCHO all have some variety of performers. Those are four out of four that are coming for sure.
Now, except for SHUFFLE ALONG, not one of those shows is about telling the story OF People of Color, they have one or so PoC in the casts, but they are not telling the story OF any diverse people. There is a difference.
This was the ‘fear’ that TFP mentioned at the panel – that because ALLEGIANCE is closing prematurely, the investment by producers, writers, and performers in stories where APIs figure to tell their history in America will not happen again any time soon because – and this is really the only reason, not because it was not a compelling story, but because it did not make it’s investment back.
Telling stories that include PoC is wonderful – equally wonderful and equally important is having those shows where PoC show their journey in America.
Of the 9 plays that are upcoming, only 2 tell ‘diverse’ stories – ECLIPSED starring Lupita Nyong’o, and HUGHIE starring Forrest Whittaker. There are 4 revivals, and 5 new pieces – most of which star celebrities like Frank Langella, Cate Blanchett, Gabriel Byrne, Jessica Lange, Jesse Tyler Fergusan, Jeff Daniels, Michelle Williams…so for revivals and new works in terms of plays, casting is remaining generally as it ever was.
ONLY ONE revival, that of THE CRUCIBLE, which stars Sophie Okonedo as Elizabeth Proctor, is presenting many actors of color. This is excellent, because America is a seafaring nation, and as TFP has mentioned over and over again – seafaring nations are never only ‘one kind’ of color. They cannot be – because people travel from abroad and vice versa.
(Otherwise how would we wind up with all those crazy stories that involve Caucasian people in China? They had to get there some kind of way.)
This is what TFP said at the panel and this is what she believes – that stories that are specific are universal. Universal stories can be told in a variety of ways. The world is ever changing in terms of population and for Broadway to continue to make their over 13 billion dollars per season, they must invest in finding new writers, they must invest in presenting a variety of stories – both revivals and new works – to reflect our American scene.
To answer the overwhelming question that was posed at BroadwayCon – IS BROADWAY CHANGING?
The answer is…sorta.
TFP’s other fear is that because of the success of HAMILTON, ON YOUR FEET, SCHOOL OF ROCK, KING AND I, etc, that the ‘diversity box’ for many producers is checked, and since those examples DO exist, they do not really have to worry about it when casting their new show. Let’s keep an eye on that shall we?
Much depends on the theater owners who ‘curate’ the season – if you purchase a ticket for something, you are voting. Simple as that. That is the ‘best’ way to reach the theater owners, so if you want to continue to support a broad panoply of stories on Broadway, you have to purchase a ticket to represent your point of view. Same holds true with the Producers – yes, they do it because it is exciting and because they love theater and everything, but the bottom line is ever looming, and Producers need and want to make money
Off Broadway Producers tend to have more cojones when it comes to exciting and color conscious work, so if you are a PoC and you want to see yourself reflected in the plays you give your money to, may TFP suggest you check out a variety of new works – WASHER/DRYER by Nandita Shenoy at MaYi Theater Company, SOJOURNERS by Mfoniso Udofia at The Playwrights Realm , A DREAM OF RED PAVILLIONS by Jeremy Tiang at Pan Asian Rep, and SMART PEOPLE by Lydia R. Diamond at 2ndStageTheatre – these are some of the most exciting new plays out there, TFP encourages you to take a look. If you are looking to keep abreast of new shows, keep in mind that NAATCO is having it’s Silver Anniversary Season, and their last piece, CHARLES FRANCIS CHAN JR’s EXOTIC ORIENTAL MURDER MYSTERY by Lloyd Suh was a groundbreaking piece.
Much depends on what writers are writing – however, TFP was much encouraged that every writer she met at BroadwayCon talked about how important it was for them to tell a wide range of stories.
When TFP says ‘writers’ she includes theater bloggers and tweeters and podcasters that keep the conversation going – for example: BroadwayBlack (@BroadwayBlack), Howard Sherman (@HeSherman), The Ensemblist (@TheEnsemblist), TheaterPeople (@PatrickHinds), Laura Heywood (@BroadwayGirlNYC), Andrew Breidis (@Actor_Friend) – and of course, the fine folks over at Theatre Communications Group, which includes Educators and Scholars – they all are actively active in addressing the needs of theater today – from the audience, to the education, to the issues at hand.
Much depends on Casting – often the word ‘revival’ is a chance for change that is not taken, it is a reason to harken back to the casting of the play when it was written – and that is a low percentage choice, and there is no reason that Casting cannot reflect more of America.
Broadway is kinda sorta changing, and it is breathtaking to see.
However, since we are all only as good as our last show…we’ll just have to see where this goes.
Thank you to BroadwayCon for having TFP be part of the conversation. Looking forward to next year for sure!