Black Theatre United, Theater Industry Leaders Outline Widespread, Historic Reform Agreement In “New Deal For Broadway”

Originally posted by Greg Evans on Dateline | August 23, 2021

Black Theatre United, the nonprofit advocacy organization that’s taken a leading role in the move for greater equity, diversity and inclusion on Broadway, has released a comprehensive, industry-wide agreement on wide-scale reform that includes increased training, expanded casting efforts, the naming of theaters for Black artists and a pledge for producers to “never assemble an all-white creative team on a production again, regardless of the subject matter of the show.”

The result of a five-month summit with key industry leaders including theater owners, producers, unions, creatives and casting directors, Black Theatre United’s New Deal For Broadway outlines reforms both short-term (to be implemented prior to Broadway’s September reopening) and long-term (one to three years). Areas covered include Broadway’s artistic culture, policies and cultural training, pipeline initiatives, audience development and community engagement.

“For far too long, Black artists, theatre makers and technicians in all areas of our industry have been subjected to systemic and interpersonal racism that has harmed their lives and careers and diminished us all,” the document’s introduction states, going on to explain that, from March 2021 through August 2021, leaders in the Broadway theater industry participated in BTU’s summit to address the issue and propose reforms.

Creative teams participating in the summit were Broadway directors, choreographers, music directors, designers, casting directors, composers, and playwrights. Organizational signatories to the new document include virtually every major Broadway player, including Actors’ Equity Association, The Broadway League, Disney Theatrical Group, Jujamcyn Theaters, Lincoln Center Theatre, The Shubert Organization, Nederlander Organization, John Gore Organization, Roundabout Theatre Company, Second Stage, and many others.

Among the core principles to which the signatories pledge support is a commitment to accord issues of “equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging [EDIAB], with a focus on Black professionals,” the same seriousness as issues of workplace safety, discrimination, sexual harassment, and bullying.”

Read the entire New Deal For Broadway here.

In addition to the general, more overarching commitments, the New Deal document, which covers touring Broadway productions as well as Broadway productions, calls for such specific innovations as the abolishing of unpaid internships, the development and establishment of a new industry-wide EDIAB digital training program to be launched no later than August 2022.

The New Deal calls on theater owners to conduct in-person training on at least an annual basis for theater staff (such as house staff, ushers, and box office), and for the big three – Shubert, Nederlander and Jujamcyn – to have at least one theater venue named after a Black artist (Jujamcyn owns the August Wilson Theatre).

Among the commitments required specifically of producers are the hiring of creative talent from historically excluded and underrepresented groups on every new creative team, regardless of the subject matter of the show. By signing the document, producers pledge to “make best efforts to ensure true racial diversity on all future productions (including creative teams, management, cast, crew, and staff) with a critical mass of Black professionals.” Critical mass is defined as “enough that no one feels like a spokesperson for their group and enough that the diversity within the group is visible to others.”

For shows that raise “racial sensitivities,” producers pledge to appoint “a racial sensitivity coach whose role is akin to an intimacy coach.”

Unions are called upon to “make best efforts,” as allowed by labor law, “to ensure that people in positions elected by union members are broadly representative of the diversity of the union’s membership body, such as by conducting outreach to encourage Black union members to run for election.” As with other corners of the industry addressed in the New Deal, unions are asked to implement EDIAB training and appoint a full-time Chief Diversity Officer or someone of an equivalent title.

Specific commitments of creatives – directors, choreographers, music teams, designers, casting directors, composers, and playwrights – include call for directors and authors to insist on diversity riders in all new contracts with producers, and to “never assemble an all-white creative team on a production again, regardless of the subject matter of the show.”

Signatory directors also agree that, if a show requires hair of a certain texture that doesn’t match the actor’s natural hair,” they will speak with the actor and hair and costume designer early in the casting process to outline the vision for the character and gauge the actor’s comfort level with alterations to their natural hair.

Among the commitments required of casting directors are pledges to describevoice requirements in the style of the show (for example, “The score features a lot of gospel numbers”) rather than the style of the voice (“Need singers with a big soulful voice”). Casting notices should be free of biased or stereotypical language.

BTU’s founding group of actors, directors, musicians, writers, technicians, producers and stage management includes Lisa Dawn Cave, Darius de Haas, Carin Ford, Capathia Jenkins, LaChanze, Kenny Leon, Norm Lewis, Audra McDonald, Michael McElroy, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Wendell Pierce, Billy Porter, Anna Deavere Smith, Allyson Tucker, Tamara Tunie, Lillias White, NaTasha Yvette Williams, Schele Williams and Vanessa Williams.

“Black Theatre United was proud to host this remarkable and historic collaboration,” the founders said in a joint statement. “It is an important first step to reopening our industry with a bright spotlight focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging for Black professionals in the arts. Though one of many initiatives created by Black, BIPOC and allied organizations since the death of George Floyd, BTU’s Summit is the first to bring together all areas of our industry from theatre owners and producers to creatives, casting and unions.”

While the focus of the New Deal is on Black individuals, the founders said they “hope and expect that the commitments outlined in this document will lead to greater EDIAB for all people in theatre, and we support efforts to achieve EDIAB reforms in other areas.”

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