Theater News

Broadway Stars and More Call Out Racism in Theater Industry and Offer Suggestions for Change

Cody Renard Richard, Griffin Matthews, and many others are speaking out.

Griffin Matthews in his musical Invisible Thread at Second Stage Theatre.
Griffin Matthews in his musical Invisible Thread at Second Stage Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

Theater stars and creatives are calling out racism in the New York theater industry in the wake of George Floyd's killing and the subsequent Black Lives Matter marches and protests across the United States.

As Broadway shows and theater production companies began sharing messages of solidarity on social media, veteran stage manager Cody Renard Richard (Hamilton), Witness Uganda creator and star Griffin Matthews, and director Schele Williams (Aida), among many others, began to share their own experiences with racism while working on and off-Broadway.

"I was standing backstage at Motown the Musical on Broadway wearing my hoodie and a stagehand came up to me and said 'Hey Trayvon,'" wrote Richard, who worked as a stage manager on that show, as well as on Dear Evan Hansen, If/Then, and Kinky Boots, in a Twitter post. "I started a new gig on Broadway and one actress decided not to learn my name at first. Instead, she decided it was ok to call me 'Brown *insert name of the employee I replaced*' for a month, because she thought it was a funny joke."

In a lengthy video post on his Facebook page, writer and performer Matthews, who co-wrote the musical Witness Uganda (retitled Invisible Thread off-Broadway), recalled his experiences putting that production together, and detailed the racism he encountered at the hands of its producers, director, and the New York City reviewers who came to see it. "It is teeming with racist theater owners, producers, directors, writers, artistic directors, choreographers, agents, managers, actors, stage managers, company managers, casting directors, press teams, and reviewers pretending to be allies. And if the word 'racist' stings you, it should. Because racist behavior has been stinging artists of color from the beginning," he said.

"Broadway is white," wrote Williams, a performer and the director of the upcoming revival of Disney's Aida, on Facebook. "Broadway values white over black. We know this because we have eyes. We see who is producing, writing, composing, arranging, directing, choreographing, casting, designing, promoting, every word we say and every move we make…If you mean the words in your statements, show us your values. Live up to your mission statements. Give us space to breathe and speak without fear of reprisal. Look around the room and if you only see yourself replicated — CHANGE IT. You have the power to do that….The whole industry is on pause trying to figure out how we are going to come back. Perhaps that conversation should be broader. How are we going to come back from THIS?"

— Tina Broadway (@TinaBroadway) June 1, 2020

To show their dedication, the producers of Broadway's Tina: The Tina Turner Musical held what they called a "truth meeting" for its company. "Black members of our company who wanted to speak expressed their truth," producer Tali Pelman wrote on Twitter. "This was a raw experience for everyone but in this time I believe it is essential to affirm we are a community and that as one community we need to listen, act, and create systemic change. I encourage every Broadway company who is able to, to do the same, because it's an essential start."

Warren Adams, choreographer of Motown and co-founder of WalkRunFly Productions, shared similar sentiment. "Some of you expressed your heartache this weekend after the Black Broadway community demanded it of you. The words you wrote were very powerful and we thank you for it. But, those are only words. Your actions regarding this matter is what will really count…This is NOT a fight about WHITE vs BLACK. This is a fight about EVERYBODY vs RACISM. If you see it, smell it, touch it, feel it, DON'T turn away from it. Eradicate it. IMMEDIATELY!!! We will begin to see the growth of a theatre community like we have never seen before. Take this downtime to evaluate EVERYTHING. It is the perfect time to recalibrate, since ALL we have is TIME."

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