My story begins like that of so many others in the United States. I was raised in a single parent family of modest means in the heart of America. As a young black dancer from the Midwest, New York seemed like a world of its own, but it was a world I knew I wanted.
So in 1992, when I won the “Miss Hal Jackson’s Talented Teens” contest, a trip to New York was a dream come true. It was during this outing that I had the chance to see my first Broadway musical.
New York was everything I imagined: the lights were bright, the buildings were tall, and the streets bustling. As the contestants and I made our way to the Eugene O’Neill Theater, my excitement was overwhelming. Five Guys Named Moe was the musical that would forever mark my life. Until that night, I knew Broadway showcased some of the world’s most amazing talent, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was going to see. Everyone on stage looked like me. The sense of pride I felt while watching this show surpassed any other. The audience – made up of all races, ages and genders – smiled, laughed and applauded. The arts had made us one. I didn’t know it at the time, but this moment would be a catalyst for my crusade in the arts and fairness.
As life takes its turn – and I have started to pivot – one thing has remained true. I needed everyone to experience Broadway, the arts, the way I was 16. As I begin this new role with the Broadway League, I find myself reflecting on the duality of the majesty of Broadway and the reality of many people like me.
Representation matters. Equity and access issues. As the League’s Senior Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Director, I want you to know that you matter. We hear industry and community voices and want to work with you to move the needle forward for change. Broadway is back, but it won’t look or feel the same anymore, and that’s a good thing because the return to old traditions will continue to exclude some.
Honestly, for many years, the League didn’t do a great job of communicating about our actions or even our new programs, but that’s why this role was created: to listen to our members and to the community. community, serve as a resource, expand our list of programs and provide even greater access to everyone. People need to know that our commitment is not just a talk.
It’s been over a year since the public racial calculation, and I’m looking at what the League has been up to during that time. For example, we asked all Broadway League leaders and staff to complete unconscious bias and anti-racism training, including the board of directors and members of all standing committees, covering more than 200 management positions and staff members. With Black Theater United (BTU), we signed the “New Deal” agreement, which demands more transparency and accountability across the Broadway industry. These actions are the beginning of the education and refocusing of the League’s EDI initiatives.
The problems facing Broadway are no different from those facing all industries. The League has 19 initiatives that are either focused solely on EDI or have EDI components attached to them. These initiatives cover three key areas: audience development, community engagement and workforce development.
We believe that by partnering with government offices, schools, colleges and organizations, we can create a path to the arts for the public and working people. For example, Broadway Bridges is partnering with the New York City Department of Education and the United Teachers’ Federation to get every Grade 10 student in a New York public school to attend a Broadway performance.
Over the past three years, more than 46,000 New York City public high school students and chaperones have participated in Broadway Bridges. Our goal is to reach the 70,000 tenth graders enrolled each year. With nearly 70% of this student body identifying themselves as a person of color, giving these students a chance to see a show is how we begin to change the landscape of Broadway, igniting a spark of love for it. performing Arts ; this is how we can show these students that Broadway is for everyone.
With seven shows written by blacks coming to Broadway this year, we’re already changing the landscape by creating a new normal. We hope we don’t have to say “the first” anymore because it will become part of Broadway as we know it.
Many League members have hired Diversity Directors over the past year. This effort is intentional and the industry is united and determined to challenge the status quo.
As the League strives to change the landscape, we are committed to increasing our involvement in diverse communities through the expansion of our established engagement initiatives, ¡Viva! Broadway and Black on Broadway. We develop plans for Asian-American and Pacific Islander Affinity Groups (AAPIs) and more. Our intention is to strengthen relationships within underrepresented communities and celebrate these Broadway leaders – on stage, backstage and in audience.
Opening scholarship opportunities at SU member offices is another way to open up career paths for the next generation of theater professionals. By providing hands-on experiences to those young and old, they can learn that they don’t just have to be on stage, but can be behind the scenes earning a living in stage management, production, marketing and other parts of our business. There are careers in this industry for those who are not currently represented, and we want them here. The League recognizes that diversity must occur in all areas of Broadway, and scholarships are just another way to achieve that.
As Broadway begins to reopen, I am optimistic about the future. And to the 16-year-old who was captivated by the oohs and ahhs first heard in audiences three decades ago: guess what? You were right; you belong here!
Gennean Scott is director of equity, diversity and inclusion at the Broadway League.