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How Do We Keep Broadway Alive And Accessible To Everyone?

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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I love theatre. I love black people. I love working with children. This has been my life’s work and what I’d consider to be my true calling. It’s why I’ve taken upon teaching children the arts in school to fulfill that calling. Yet, I’m still not quite there yet. I have so much more I want to do.

I recently had the chance to take three of my students into Manhattan to see a Teen/Kid Improv. The girls really enjoyed it, they laughed a lot, had great food and had a really awesome time getting out of Brownsville. However, as I sat with the three students I realized there are so many more like them. So many kids who come from areas like Brownsville who NEVER get to experience what is outside of their own communities. I mean, one of the girls had NEVER rode the train before and she’s lived here all her life.

I think about my own upbringing and schooling and how I was so fortunate enough to have this awesome- and I mean awesome- drama teacher in high school. That is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about theatre. I remember the drama club going on a trip to NYC and the cost was about $300. At the time my mom wasn’t working, and I had the nerve to ask to go to New York for a week and go see Broadway shows.

My teacher knew I wanted to go so badly that she did something for me that I will forever be grateful for; she paid whatever my mother couldn’t. I remember crying. I remember being so thankful. I remember her telling me this was a trip I needed to take and had to experience.

Now as an adult, I’m able to afford my own way into the room where it happens— pun intended. And I try with all my might to get my students to see shows. But, why should a kid that loves the arts have to wait until they are older to get to experience what they love on a grand scale? What, exactly, is Broadway doing to ensure that we are leading them the right way? Sure, there are cool educational programs like Roundabout’s HipTix, TDF and other programs out there that are actively pursuing this endeavor, but is it enough? We have Kids Night On Broadway when, one night a year, tickets are slightly affordable, once again great! We have campaigns like the Eclipsed 10,000 Girls and Lin-Manuel Miranda recently received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation that will allow 20,000 NYC students from low-income homes into see Hamilton in the upcoming year. Once again, all awesome but I’m sure there could be more. Why aren’t more shows doing it?

I know Broadway is expensive. You have to keep the lights on in the theatre. Your basic theatre maintenance, account for touching up the sets, costumes and props, the cast and crews need to get paid and, in general, Broadway needs money to keep going, but money isn’t everything. By all means, I don’t think simply throwing money at tis problem is the solution either, but what can we do to ensure the theatre is actually prospering.

It can be done, look at regional theaters and smaller companies. They are more prone to be inclusive because a lot less is at stake. They take chances. I think that’s Broadway’s biggest problem, fear. Fear of embracing the changes that are happening in our world right now, down with Old Broadway- welcome New Broadway. Where the stories are bright, and bold and modern and reflect the present, not the past. As the stories are getting more diverse, sadly our audience is not.

We talk about theatre not being a dead art form, yet when I go to a show as I look around at who all is there and your average theatergoer is an older white male. I always play a game when I walk into a theatre, “How many POC are here?” After I do that I then ask “How many of them are under 30?” Usually my numbers are drastically less than half the people in the room, which is absurd to think about given theatre can hold anywhere from 500 to nearly 2,000 patrons. Sure one could argue the lack of interest, but how can you lack interest in something you’ve never been exposed to?

It’s just frustrating for the stories on Broadway to be more diverse, but our audiences are not and there are many factors that play into that. The price of a ticket, getting to NYC to see a show, interest or lack of in different shows just to name a few. But again I ask what more can be done? Rosie O’Donnell for example says whenever she feels down she goes on Stubhub and purchases a Hamilton ticket (which can range anywhere from $300 to $1500) and she’s seen the show around 12 times. No shade, but your average under 30 person cannot afford that, not to mention the cast and crew of Hamilton don’t see those profits, so add that up and you’ve spent anywhere from $3,600 to $18,000 on a show with money that could have been filtered elsewhere. Who am to control what people do with their money though?

I understand Broadway is a business but what happened to loving the magic of it all? Are we so obsessed with who and what can make the most money we forget our artistic integrity? It is the job of Broadway to put forth stories that matter, that make the audience feel at ease and sometimes uncomfortable. The best theatre is the theatre grounded in truth, that’s what people will pay for that’s why we do, that’s why it was created. Not to let us know which big star from Hollywood is out of a job and chose to do Broadway as a last resort. When did we get to that point? If we spent less money paying these high-profile stars and invested our money to provide the future generations more opportunities than maybe, just maybe we can take some steps headed in the right direction. Until then, Broadway is no better than the current state of Hollywood.

But as I heard someone say last night, “Broadway will be the last to get it.” Let’s hope not. Let’s hope someone is brave enough, someone steps up to the plate and says “Enough is Enough.”

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Get Your War Clothes On: Billy Porter Energizes in GLAAD Acceptance Speech

Jerrica White

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billy porter

So, I have a question.

In the same line of thought as “innocent until proven guilty,” do we grant the assumption of positive intent in our expectations of our brothers and sister in regards to woke-ness, à la woke until proven problematic?

Now don’t get me wrong, there was no doubt in my heart that Tony and Grammy Award-winner, Billy Porter, was woke. Nope, none. What I wasn’t ready for, was the way he fixed his fingers to pen one of the greatest acceptance speeches of my lifetime, and how he turned the Gospel classic “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired” into a battle song.

The 28th Annual GLAAD Media Awards honored Billy Porter with the Vito Russo Award, presented to an openly LGBTQ media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equality and acceptance.

He started by affirming the room full of members of marginalized communities, with my personal daily mantra: “You are enough. we are enough.”

Since the beginning of time artists are the folks who engage critically and encourage those who think they are powerless to question the status quo.

Brothers and sisters across the room leaned in.

The days of shut up and sing are over.

Alliteration informed and illustrated as Porter preached on remaining “vigilantly visual” as we tell our stories. Acknowledging the reality of our times, he spoke on Number 45:

Where they slipped up this time is in that declaration of war. It’s not only against Black and Brown people and Queer people anymore, it’s against ALL of us. And as a result, the good news is: white folk, and straight folk, and all those fierce women folk, are mad now. And NOW maybe something might get done!

Get. Your. War. Clothes. On.

From slavery to emancipation, to the 13th Amendment, to Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights Movement. From Stonewall to AIDS, to marriage equality— we gotta remember the shoulders who we stand on—the ones who fought and died for those freedoms that we hold so dear. Let’s use these historical strides we’ve made as a nation to empower us as warriors on this battlefield of equality.

Amen.

Until we can figure out how to love one another unconditionally, no one wins. Freedom. Equality. Justice. Have always come at a cost and evidently the always will.

If that’s not the truth.

Stay strong. Stay vigilante. Stay visible. Stay hopeful. Stay focused. Be brave. Be fierce.

Resist.

RESIST.

RESIST.

RESIST.

For a full list of this year’s winners, honorees, and guests, visit GLAAD.

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How Do We Feel

Jazmine Sullivan: The Next Singer-Songwriter To Write A Broadway Musical?

Jerrica White

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jazmine sullivan

We recently caught up with Jazmine Sullivan at The HeLa Project, a multimedia exhibition inspired by the HBO film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Like the rest of us, Jazmine is in awe of the under-told story of Henrietta Lacks and her instrumental role in modern medicine. We further asked about why she got involved with the project and she said: “Anyway I can give light to an extraordinary woman like that, I’m there.”

Some of the integral women in bringing this story to light have their roots in Broadway: Tony Award-winning producer Oprah Winfrey, who not only stars in the film, but also credited as executive producer, and Tony Award winner Renée Elise Goldsberry, who portrays the title character.

We wouldn’t be Broadway Black if we didn’t keep it real.

Let’s be honest, we can’t get enough of 11-year-old Jazmine singing “Home” like she wrote the piece, so we got to asking, and it turns out Jazmine wouldn’t mind putting her pen to paper to create a musical for the Broadway stage.

She said performing on Broadway isn’t in the plans for the near future but, “You never know! I love writing and creating characters!”

God!? Oprah!?!? Stephen Byrd & Alia Jones-Harvey?!?! Who’s going to snatch this up?

Until then, it sounds like we have some new music to expect. What kind of musical would you like to see from Ms. Sullivan? Sound off below in the comments!

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