New York City’s theater scene — and Broadway in particular — is looking to be especially diverse and inclusive when it goes back into regular production in fall 2021.
NPR’s Josie Fischels reported that when Broadway theaters begin reopening in August, every new play set to debut in the city will originate from a Black writer.
Fischels writes that the historic burst of increased representation is a big moment for both the entertainment industry and Broadway itself, which has been shuttered for the better part of 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the seven new plays by Black authors set to premiere on Broadway for the first time:
- Pass Over, written by Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu and directed by Danya Taymor.
- Chicken & Biscuits, written by Douglas Lyons and directed by Zhailon Levingston.
- Lackawanna Blues, written and directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
- Thoughts of a Colored Man, written by Keenan Scott II and directed by Steve H. Broadnax III.
- Trouble in Mind, written by Alice Childress and directed by Charles Randolph-Wright.
- Clyde’s, written by Lynn Nottage and directed by Kate Whoriskey.
- Skeleton Crew, written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
“Five of these playwrights are set to see their work performed on the Broadway stage for the very first time, including Douglas Lyons, writer of Chicken & Biscuits,” Fischels reported. “The comedy will begin previews in Circle in the Square Theatre in September, featuring Broadway’s youngest Black director to date, 27-year-old Zhailon Levingston.”
In an interview with NPR, Lyons said it feels like the “right time” for this sort of increased Black presence and Black voices on Broadway.
“I think people are going to be refreshed to be back in the theater, but also refreshed with the stories they’re getting in the theater,” Lyons told Fischels. “There’s a whole generation of artists that have not been seen, and I feel like this COVID-19 thing stopped the world and gave Broadway no excuse to not see us.”
Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu, who wrote the three-person play Pass Over that will debut at the August Wilson Theatre, shares the enthusiasm — and sense of responsibility to put out quality work at such a notable moment in Broadway’s history.
“We are the first show back; everybody’s looking at us,” Nwandu said. “Our responsibility is to just meet that moment with as much authenticity, as much kindness, as much honesty and as much rigor to be truth-tellers.”
While seven new plays by Black authors is a first, how those plays perform overall in the weeks after they open is what matters to Drew Shade, founder and creative director of Broadway Black, an organization that highlights Black achievements in theater.
“Seven Black shows coming to Broadway — it’s unprecedented. It’s what we would like to see, especially after the racial reckoning we’ve had in this society over the past year, and more specifically in the theater industry,” Shade said in an interview with NPR. “But we also have to be realistic about the placement of the shows. We have to be realistic about what this may mean for Black artists going forward.”
Should the shows do well, it will create further momentum for additional Black stories and voices and representation — and more productions overall. And that’s the type of change and progress, Shade said, which is most impactful in the long run.