On January 9, seven young professionals walked into local Broadway Across America (BAA) offices in New York, Boston, Baltimore and Salt Lake City as novices to the business side of theater. They were the second cohort of Black Theatre Coalition (BTC) fellows at BAA. Fourteen weeks later, these fellows gathered in New York, newly armed with professional skills, a network of colleagues and accomplishments to launch full careers in theater administration.
A partnership between BAA and BTC invites Black-identifying undergraduate juniors and seniors, recent college graduates and early-career professionals to learn hands-on about the business of touring shows while getting paid experience. The program is a step towards increased diversity, equity and inclusion of Black professionals specifically in the business of show and adds their perspectives to daily operations. For the duration of the program, fellows worked across operations, public relations, marketing, ticketing, events management and more.
“The idea that we can be general managers or presenters of something — that doesn’t always occur to people, especially when you’re just going to school loving theater,” said Nia Arrington-Seward, who served as the programming and operations fellow in BAA’s New York headquarters. “The idea of exposure and networking and ensuring that we get Black people into different spaces, it was amazing for me.”
All seven participants were drawn to the opportunity that specifically invests in Black professionals. “To see people like me doing things in positions that normally don’t have people of color in them was kind of like the driving force for it,” said Wynter Williams of her desire to apply in the first place. Williams was the operations fellow in the Boston office. “Now as a mom, my daughter’s like, ‘There’s somebody like me, who looks like my mom, that does it.”
On top of that, a program which offered a concrete pathway to arts administration — “the idea that I could become more than an actor and an artist” as fellow Dorian O’Brien said — appealed to many of them.
Over the course of the spring fellowship, the group learned hard skills from how to read a tech rider to data analysis and soft skills from networking to clear communication. “It’s storytelling, it’s networking, it’s making sure people understand,” said Arrington-Seward.
They also found value in the nexus of hard and soft capabilities. As ticketing and business intelligence fellow Al-Akhir Fletcher said, “Being able to analyze trends, being able to analyze outliers [and] anomalies, knowing how to quantify my own success — those are definitely some things I’ve learned from this program.”
But they weren’t the only ones to benefit. Trey Robinson, the national marketing fellow in the New York office, helped create one of BAA’s highest-performing social posts to date. For World Theater Day, Robinson reached out to “as many markets as I could within BAA’s repertoire” and asked for a video of them passing a show program from left to right, to demonstrate the idea of theater going from city to city. “We got over 20 videos from multiple markets and ended up editing it all together into one video for social media,” Robinson said.
The fellowship culminated in a three-day trip to New York City earlier this month, during which fellows met executives from BAA and other companies like Disney Theatrical Group. They also took in multiple Broadway shows, got a backstage tour at “MJ” and met their peers working in fellowships at the Broadway League, the Theatre Leadership Project (TTLP) and the Miranda Family Fund.
“We get the opportunity to make sure that all of you are joined together and get to meet each other and to start to form support systems with fellows that you will work with hopefully for the rest of your careers in this industry,” BTC co-founder T. Oliver Reid told the fellows at this mixer. “Whether you are a BTC fellow or working with TPOC [Theatre Producers of Color] or you are one of the TTLP fellows or one of the Broadway League fellows, you should be getting each others’ numbers tonight and making sure you’re connected because you will be making the art that we will all be sitting in the audiences watching in about seven and a half years.”
Those relationships have already begun to take shape. “Getting here in New York and meeting all the other fellows in the lobby for the first time, it felt like we all knew each other from a past life,” said Fletcher. “Ever since that day it [has] kind of felt like we were a group of friends.” Friends, and hopefully, future colleagues.
This group of fellows plans to make the most of their short experience. “Not many of us get this opportunity, and we need to lay the groundwork for bigger opportunities than this,” said Robinson. That larger influence, that bigger voice for Black professionals, is exactly what BTC and BAA planned.
Broadway Across America is a subsidiary of the John Gore Organization, as is Broadway Brands, the parent company of Broadway News.