The Broadway Advocacy Coalition is launching a program to help productions address equity and safety concerns before resuming performances.
The program, entitled Reimagining Equitable Productions, will begin with workshops for the Broadway companies of “Tina,” “Company” and “Aladdin,” both the touring and Broadway production of “The Lion King” and the tour of “Frozen.” The two-day sessions will speak to larger racial inequity within the industry, as well as issues specific to each production.
Britton Smith, president of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, sees the workshops as an opportunity for returning shows to set values and expectations for the entire company.
“I think every cast needs to name what type of space they want, what kind of standard they want with the people that they’ve trained with or are expected to work with through the longevity of their show’s life,” Smith said.
The sessions, which will include producers, managers, creative team and cast members, will also include acknowledgements of past transgressions that may have happened to company members or have become industry wide practices. By the end of the workshop, the goal is to identify how company members can communicate violations of the standards that are set and the actions that can be taken to address that.
The idea for the workshops came out of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition’s June 2020 forum, during which members of the community spoke to experiences of racism within the industry and the need to make Broadway more equitable. Since then, many groups have sprung up to address the challenge, ranging from scholarship programs to create more diverse talent pipelines to organizations like Black Theatre United, which is calling for reform across the industry. Individual casts, such as “Diana,” have been pushing for changes within their own productions.
As Broadway prepares to reopen, Smith said he believes much of the frustration within the community stems from a lack of clarity on who is responsible for protecting cast members. And after having conversations across the industry, Smith said he believes individual producers hold that power.
“it’s the responsibility of the employers, the producers, to create ways and methods of keeping people safe, not just physically safe, but from harm seen and unseen,” he said.
Reimagining Equitable Productions will begin with a pilot program this June with Disney Theatrical cast members across the four productions.
“This partnership with BAC aligns with the strategic work we are doing on multiple issues that impact our workplace and our audiences,” said Naila McKenzie, director of inclusion strategy, business affairs and legal counsel at Disney Theatrical. “We are hopeful that we can help bring about sustainable, systemic change that will benefit our shows and our industry as a result of this collaborative effort with BAC.”
Smith is one of the program’s facilitators, in a group that includes Zhailon Levingston, associate director of “Tina” and director of industry initiatives at the coalition; Columbia Law School professor Susan Strum and Leia Squillace, associate director of curriculum at the coalition.
After the initial workshops, Smith hopes the workshops can become a normalized part of the first days of rehearsal for productions. This is particularly important as productions return to Broadway after the pandemic and a year of racial reckoning across the U.S.
“Somebody needs to pacify and acknowledge the angst of coming back,” he said. ”It’s not all joy, and I think we’re going to work better when somebody deflates the anxiety with transparency.”