Workforce numbers for productions in New York City’s Broadway industry are appalling: 80% of show writers, 85.5% of directors and over 61% of all roles cast go to white people. But the recently approved “New Deal for Broadway” is hoping to change all of that, bringing increased representation into all parts of NYC’s theater industry.
Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press reported that “a wide Broadway coalition of theater owners, producers, union leaders, creators and casting directors have hammered out a series of reforms and commitments for the theater industry to ensure equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility.”
Known as the New Deal for Broadway, the new commitment outlines a number of short-term changes to be enacted this fall, plus longer-term implementation over the next few years — all to help make Broadway and the people it employs much more diverse and inclusive.
In a statement, Black Theatre United, organizers of the New Deal for Broadway, said, “just as we are all committed to creating safe environments free from discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying, we are committed to creating environments that are equitable, diverse, inclusive, accessible and in which everyone has a sense of belonging.”
According to Kennedy, the changes range from an abstract “push for more diversity” to more specific changes such as providing Braille audition materials for artists with visual disabilities to mandating that “the Shubert, Nederlander and Jujamcyn chains have at least one of their theaters named after a Black artist.”
In an interview with AP, Tony Award-winner Rhonda LaChanze Sapp, known professionally as LaChanze, expressed hope that the commitment will lead to serious and long-lasting change, saying, “we had meetings for six months with everyone in the industry, and we pretty much formed this together. We knew what we wanted and what we wanted to change.”
“This is the floor. This is not the ceiling. This is just the beginning for us,” LaChanze said. “We’re hoping with this document that it will have a ripple effect throughout our industry for all other members of the community.”
Among the changes outlined in the agreement, Kennedy reported that “directors and authors have agreed to insist on diversity riders — to include members of underrepresented communities — in all new contracts they work on and ‘will never assemble an all-white creative team on a production again.’”
“The unions have [also] agreed to appoint a full-time Chief Diversity Officer,” Kennedy reported. “Casting agents have agreed to remove ‘stereotypical language. And producers will ‘commit to hiring creative talent from historically excluded and underrepresented groups in our industry on every new creative team, regardless of the subject matter of the show.’”
Everyone in the industry who agreed to the New Deal has also committed to adopting an “EDIAB policy,” which stands for “equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility and belonging.” The policy will be posted on websites, displayed in theater lobbies and shown in audition rooms and backstage in theaters, making the industry’s increased focus on diversity and inclusion clear to all.
“Each organization is going to create their own policy that we will be monitoring to make sure that they are in accordance to the New Deal,” LaChanze told AP. “We are not the ones writing out what the policy is going to be. We established guidelines for what it must include, but each company has to provide the exact language.”
In a historic show of allegiance throughout the industry, the New Deal for Broadway is supported by virtually every major theater organization in New York City, including:
- The Broadway League
- Actor’s Equity Association
- Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Local 798
- The Nederlander Organization
- Jujamcyn Theaters
- Shubert Organization
- Disney Theatrical Productions
- Casting agencies, including The Telsey Office and Tara Rubin Casting
Many industry heavyweights also voiced their support, including playwright Doug Wright, director Michael Greif, director-choreographers Sergio Trujillo and Jerry Mitchell, composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Jeanine Tesori, and actors Audra McDonald, Billy Porter, Norm Lewis and Vanessa Williams, who are all founding members of Black Theatre United.