A year ago, four black actors made history at the Tony Awards by winning all four musical acting awards. THEY MADE HISTORY. As in, it had not happened in the 69 years of the Tony Awards existence. This year, the feat wasn’t possible.
How do we keep momentum after that history-making year? Well, we can keep the conversation going. We can continue dialogue peppered with buzz-words like “diversity” and “representation.” But why not also leap into action? (Complete with jazz hands, of course.)
This isn’t to say we aren’t taking steps. Jason Robert Brown’s one-night-only concert of The Last Five Years sold out and practically broke the internet. Actors’ Equity recently hired its first-ever Director of Diversity. Broadway Black’s team tirelessly dedicates themselves to promote visibility within the industry. We’re calling out moments of white-washing and having meaningful discourse about colorblind versus color-consciousness casting.
However, in mostly of these conversations, the focus seems to be entirely on the bodies onstage. It makes sense - these bodies are the most visible, particularly to the mainstream eye. And I am all here for more brown bodies on the stage, but what about the behind the scenes? What about those who choose the bodies onstage (and I’m not talking about just casting directors)? What about the folks who craft the message? What about those who choose who chooses the bodies onstage and the folks who craft the message? Who gets to decides which stories we’re telling?
And for the few that have found themselves in these important spaces, do they feel isolated? Are their voices drowned out by louder, whiter voices? Do they have to worry about losing patronage should they show support for Black Lives Matter? Have they been confused for Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage because they were only one of three black women in the room? (For the record, I’m flattered, but…really?)
Beyond Broadway, there are performing arts companies and organizations dedicated to blackness and black art. The company members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem aren’t exclusively black dancers, yet the work is rooted in black history. And they aren’t the first, WEB DuBois’ KRIGWA players had the mission of “for, by, and about black people.”
These historical groups fascinated me as I studied African-American performance and humanities in college. There is such a rich history of black culture and performing arts. Stories were told through dance and drama. Spirits were healed through song. And community was brought together through call and response. And guess what, these are all still happening.
With this podcast, I hope to give a platform to amplify the voices of black performing artists and those that surround within the industry. Broadway performers, actors, dancers, slam poets, musicians, designers, directors, writers, arts administrators, etc. I want to explore the intersection of blackness and performing arts.
Earlier this year, the National Museum of African American Culture and History found a noose in its building. From blunt racist acts like this, to subtler microagressions, we have a lot of work ahead. It starts with conversation and empathy. Like Founding Director Lonnie Bunch III said, “…it is a stark reminder of why our work is so important.”