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Injustice in America And Its Call on Artists

Franceli Chapman

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During this tragic time in America, with a verdict that cries out a message of injustice I feel the calling as an artist to engage in civil action. It feels like I went to sleep and woke up in a twisted 21st century version of 1965. As I am disgusted and saddened like so many others, I am also inspired. Inspired by greats like Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, and Harry Belafonte whom were not just great in the craft but activists in the community. Thanks to artists like them, we are able to travel, perform and express our art in ways we weren’t able before. There is a calling upon our generation to “pick up the baton” and continue the fight.

I am so thankful & privileged to be a part of a community that is Broadway Black, Casting Actors of Color and those of the like that are rising to the call and are out in honor of Trayvon Martin. I am in awe of young film maker Ryan Coogler who’s film, “Fruitvale Station” which sheds light on the American tragedy that is Oscar Grant,opened to selected theaters on Friday, July 12th. (Nationwide release on July 26th) The eerie timing of this film’s release t,he night before we were all rocked to our cores with the “NOT GUILTY” verdict of George Zimmerman is profound. Emotions were high on the evening of July 12th and grown men of color were leaving the theater in tears. Please watch the reactions from audience members below:

Fruitvale Station with Celi’s Hangout!

Franceli Chapman hosts a movie night out to support the opening of Indie Film, Fruitvale Station. In light of what is going on in our country, it is important to support these kind of compelling stories. Please go out and support!

In light of all that is happening I think of this quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
In an artistic community that can tear you down, be competitive, and bring out the ugliness in folks, BE THE CHANGE you want to see in the World. I decided to create Celi’s Hangout. A new interactive web talk show for the inspired artist. Creating an “Oprah for Artists” as some have compared to provide a platform that engages, encourages and inspires. Please check out the latest episode, “From East to West- Industry Professionals Make the Move to LA’ as we shed light on the industry in NY vs LA as well as expound on how or what effect Trayvon Martin’s death has on our work as artists.

Celi’s Hangout- Ep6: “From East to West Industry Professionals Make the Move to LA”

Franceli Chapman hangs out with Producer, Miles Maker & Actor/Filmmaker Mohamed Dione on the transition from NY to LA, their careers & the beast that is LA.

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Broadway Black Exclusive

Audra McDonald, India.Arie & More Will Join In Support of Broadway for Black Lives Matter Special Event #BWAY4BLM

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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*BROADWAY BLACK EXCLUSIVE*

“Get Up, Stand Up. Stand up for your right.”

Bob Marley was on to something when he released “Get Up, Stand Up” in the early 1970s. A phrase that can still be used today, even 40 years later. Black Americans have been fighting the fight for equality for centuries and it’s time for us all to step up and do our part to continue that fight. We all want to live in a society where seven-year-old black girls aren’t killed in their sleep- #AiyanaStanleyJones, where a 17-year-old can walk home with skittles- #TrayvonMartin, where a 12-year-old child can play in the park- #TamirRice — a place where Black Lives Matter.

An overwhelming number of friends and colleagues in the Broadway community have expressed a deep desire to participate in an open dialogue about the social and racial justice issues that are troubling our nation. The event will bring Broadway performers together with policy reformers, educators, clergymen, public officials, and community leaders to discuss a plan of action. The evening will spark conversation and encourage people to discover their roles as active participants in a movement towards positive change.Broadway for Black Lives Matter

A group of Broadway community artists, now called the Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective, immediately responded to the call to action they felt and were able to create Broadway For Black Lives Matter, a special event to present a night of unity and solidarity through artistic expression and conversation. This community event, free and open to the public, will occur on Monday, August 1st, 2016 at Columbia University’s Lerner Hall Roone Arledge Auditorium 2920 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. Doors open at 8:00pm with the arts & activism showcase beginning at 8:30pm.

Guest appearances include six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, four-time Grammy Award winner India.Arie, Tony Award winners Billy Porter (Shuffle Along, Kinky Boots), Jeanine Tesori (Artistic Director Of NYCC) & Tony Kushner (Angels of America). Danielle Brooks (The Color Purple), Rebecca Naomi Jones (Hedwig & The Angry Inch, Passing Strange), Professor Kendall Thomas (Columbia Law School), Joshua Henry (Shuffle Along), Camille A. Brown (A Streetcar Named Desire), Professor Frank Roberts (NYU), Daniel Beaty, Daniel J. Watts (Hamilton), The Broadway Inspirational Voices, & New York City Center’s cast of THE RUNAWAYS. The evening with consist of performances, Q&As, and discussions of tangible ways in which we can be ACTIVE in our pursuits for change.

Tickets can be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis by registering at:  BroadwayBlack.com/BWAY4BLM.

Pre-registration does not guarantee you a seat or access to this event. Also, this event will be live-streamed, and there will be photographers and videographers present. By entering the venue, you consent to appear in photos and on video for later use at the discretion of the event organizers and sponsors

We, Broadway Black, a digital platform dedicated to highlighting the achievements of black theatre artists, will livestream the event. Watch here: broadwayblack.com/bway4blm and follow @BroadwayBlack #BWAY4BLM to join in the conversation community and become Agents of Change across the country.

Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective consists of a group of arts activists involved in the Broadway community. These members include Amber Iman (Shuffle Along, Soul Doctor), Aisha Jackson (Beautiful, Waitress), Mykal Kilgore (Hair, Motown), Britton Smith (After Midnight, Shuffle Along), Douglas Lyons (Book of Mormon, Beautiful), Andrew Shade (Broadway Black Founder), Jacquelyn Bell (Bell Arts Entertainment), and organizations, Broadway Black & The Oneness Project.

All #BWAY4BLM Artwork Created by Terrance Campbell of Tre’club Designs Please feel free to contact Tre’club Designs if you’re looking for an innovative graphic design professional prepared to add experience, and fresh creativity to your projects.

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How Do We Feel

Tony Actor Roundtable: What’s Next For The Great White Way?

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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The Hollywood Reporter is famous for its roundtables, pairing up a group of Hollywood’s most popular actors to sit around and talk about the politics of Hollywood. Those selected are usually frontrunners for the huge award shows coming up. This year, it was no surprise that THR would also present the Tony Actor Roundtable featuring frontrunners for both Best Actor and Best Actress. And, of course, it would feature most recent Tony Award Winners Leslie Odom Jr. and Cynthia Erivo, as well as Oscar Winner and Tony Nominee Lupita Nyong’o who had a lot to say in terms of this Broadway season and what’s to come.

There was a huge diversity push this season in which Erivo had some advice for how the seasons to come should prepare. “Good work is good work wherever it comes from and whoever it comes from,” she says. “Everyone should be able to tell a story no matter what it is. I think that if you surrender to the fact that we are storytellers, no matter our skin color, then you’ll have a good story on your hands.”

Likewise, while Nyong’o applauded Broadway for being more inclusive she posed the question, “when does diversity not become the headline, but the norm, when we don’t have to talk about it, when it’s just the way things are? That’s a time that I’m looking forward to living in.” She’s absolutely correct, and Leslie Odom Jr. said it best when asked about “diversity on Broadway”:

You know, I love the theater and I love this moment that we’re having right now. But I am not so fast to praise. What I think we’re having is a rare moment. What we really need to pay attention to is the next two seasons. Oftentimes, from my career, I’ve watched my white counterparts and imagine, if you would, if a white actor was having a similar situation as I’m having right now in this show, the kind of success of this show, there might be three or four offers a week for the next shows you’re going to do. There are no shows for me to do. There’s just no roles. But as far as diversity on Broadway? I’d be interested to see what the next two or three seasons look like, because I don’t hear a whole lot of stuff.

It’s funny to think that a Tony-Winning Actor with the talent Leslie possesses wouldn’t have offers thrown at him, but that’s the business. It doesn’t end there instead of simply having casting directors use “colorblind” casting, Leslie recognizes the need for more diverse original work, work that is actually written for black actors.

In this regard, he is absolutely correct. The argument, “But there aren’t enough black writers!” is false and insulting. New and upcoming black writers such as Dominique Morisseau, Ike Holter, Griffin Matthews, Tarell Octavian, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Danai Gurira,  and countless others have found success in the Off-Broadway market so what’s stopping them from reaching bigger audiences?

There are a multitude of factors that range from investors to producers to there maybe not being an audience, which is a problem in itself, and probably one of Broadways biggest pitfalls. According to the Broadway League 2014-2015 season audience demographics, the average theatre-goer is a 44-year-old white female and 80% of tickets holders identified as Caucasian. EIGHTY PERCENT. But that’s another topic, for another time.

As this Broadway season comes to a close, we can look back and say this was an amazing year for Broadway in terms of diversity on the stage, or we can call it a fluke. One thing is for certain, this season has definitely raised the bar for the seasons to come. Which brings us to this very point; Where does Broadway go from here? Before Broadway can pat itself on the back and say job well done, we have to look ahead to the future. And honestly, it’s not looking to black — I mean bright. Of the new shows officially announced for next season two of them (Motown and August Wilson’s Jitney) feature a primarily African American cast. As for the rest of the season, it’s the usual token actor in a sea of white, but who knows, maybe Broadway will shock us. (Kinda like when Shuffle Along announced it was closing… too soon?)

Sound off below! What do you think the future of Broadway will and should look like?

 

 

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How Do We Feel

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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Good Works

NYC Mayor’s Office Will Give 1,000 FREE Broadway Tickets to Low-Income Families

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Today Mayor Bill de Blasio, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) Commissioner Julie Menin launched new initiatives to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. A few of those many initiatives are near and dear to my heart. In the effort to make theatre, and Broadway in particular, more accessible MOME will launch “Access Broadway”, a program that will provide 1,000 free tickets to low-income New Yorkers to attend family-friendly Broadway shows. It’s like MOME heard my cries or something, and it’s about damn time.

Not stopping there, another initiative “Broadway in the Boros,” is bringing Broadway to the people. For the first time, Broadway shows are being brought to neighborhoods across New York City. Featuring a showcase of vignettes performed by members of the current casts and orchestras from hit musicals including She Loves Me and Fiddler on the Roof, these lunchtime performances are free and open to the public. One performance will take place in each borough throughout the summer. The series kicks off at National Lighthouse Point Plaza in Staten Island at noon on Friday, June 24. Additionally, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway performances, many with live music accompaniment, will be featured throughout the City.

Check out the press release below!

MOME has partnered with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and members of the Broadway League to provide 100 tickets per month to NYCHA residents for ten Broadway shows during the coming year. “Access Broadway” was made possible by the generous financial support of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 817, IATSE, and the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Foundation.

“On behalf of the thousands of behind-the-scene workers we represent in the media and entertainment industries throughout New York, we congratulate the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting on their 50th anniversary. We thank them for the good work they do on behalf of our members and commend them for their continuous dedication in keeping the entertainment industry in NY a vibrant and critical part of the culture and economy,” said IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb.

“Theatrical Teamsters Local 817 celebrates the 50th Anniversary of MOME. While we ourselves celebrate our 90th anniversary, our growth spurt didn’t really kick in until the creation of MOME. The members of Local 817 are proud to sponsor ‘Access Broadway’, bringing world class theatre to those New Yorkers and their families who ordinarily wouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy,” said Theatrical Teamsters Local 817 President Thomas J. O’Donnell.

While the shows have yet to be announced, hopefully it includes some of our favorite Broadway Black shows! Likewise, hopefully this opens the doors for many other initiatives, as there is still so much more work that needs to be done in diversifying the audience as much as we have diverse stories on the stage.

For more information click here.

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Just Want To Say Thank You

70th Tony Awards Biggest Snubs and Shockers

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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While I spent most of the night crying over those HISTORIC Tony wins, once the tears subsided I had a come to Jesus moment. Although this has been the most exciting and dazzling Broadway season yet, I can’t help but notice some shows didn’t fare as well as expected. So here are a few snubs that happened at the 2016 Tony Awards!

SNUB: Shuffle Along went away empty handed, yes even in choreography. 

I mean sure, we all guessed that it would be #Hamiltonys, but I didn’t quite expect it to sweep in every category that it did. While  Hamilton deserves all the acclaim because it truly lives up to the hype, there is one category I am not ashamed to be salty about- Best Choreography. To quote Yeezy the Great, “Hamilton, I’m gonna let you finish, but Shuffle Along had the greatest choreography of all time– ALL TIME.”  I mean the tapping is out of this world, the opening number the Shuffle Along cast did for The Tonys didn’t even show all that it is capable of. The ensemble of Shuffle Along is the most talented bunch of dancers I’ve seen in a very long time, especially of the 2015-2016 season. Not to discredit Blankenbuehler in any way, it’s just that most industry insiders figured since Ham was destined to win everything else, Savion Glover had a huge shot in this category. I guess the Tony voters didn’t think so. Way to throw away your shot. In another season, Shuffle Along would have taken this, but that Hamilton reign just won’t let up.

SHOCKER: The President and First Lady Introducing Hamilton 

Like, WHAT?! Sure it was via satellite, but they were still in the room where it happened. Of course, the only way to top Oprah introducing your show is to have the President of the United States, Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama introduce you. Just rude, Ham.

SNUB: No Tony for Pascale Armand or Saycon Sengbloh

Despite both actresses being in the same category and what was a sure bet that one of them would take it, the Humans’ Jayne Houdyshell took home the trophy. Eclipsed did have tough competition in most of the categories, but this one we figured was a shoe in for one of our favorite Broadway Black actresses. But there is always a silver lining, these talented actresses have a bright future ahead of them and they’ll surely get one down the road. Likewise for director Liesl Tommy. And I’m sure Danai Gurira is only getting started. They did manage a win for Best Costume Design of a Play.

SHOCKER BUT NOT REALLY: Audra McDonald High Kicking and Tap Dancing While Pregnant 

I know, I KNOW. Just because a woman is pregnant doesn’t mean that life stops. I know this, I KNOW THIS. Still there is something magical about watching Queen Audra McDonald tap her heart out. And sing like the angel she is. And then that high kick. And then remembering that SHE’S PREGNANT TOO. Come on Audra! Stop setting the bar so high for the rest of us. But then again don’t stop, because you continue to slay and keep everyone else on their toes. For example, me going to a gym after being allergic to it for 4 years, now when I go I will ask myself W.W.A.D and remember that high kick on June 12th.

Sound off below. What were some of the biggest snubs and shockers for you?

 

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How Do We Feel

Go Inside Auditions For Actors of Color

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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When I was in high school, I was the only black girl on our schools hilarious improv team. Sure I’d have to play up my “blackness” for laughs and had no problems doing so, after all my high school was super diverse. It wasn’t until I got older when I realized how damaging that was, how I myself was enforcing those stereotypes that I didn’t like. So when it was time for college, I refused to let myself be boxed in my stereotype (sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t).

Sadly, this is still happening all over. Whether it’s a college production, local community theatre or a big movie audition, actors of color are getting asked some pretty offensive things. Things their white couterparts would never have to deal with.

Popular website Upworthy, did a piece on what it’s like being an actor of color auditioning for a role and to say the least the results are disheartening. Some actors going in for auditions were told by directors things like; “Could you be more Chinesey?” , “Could you be more ratchet?” , “You know what you’re getting ethnic. Don’t be afraid of it. Go further with it.” , and one of my favorites “Can you be more urban?” The last one is so common and I ask myself, what the hell does it mean to be “urban”, you mean Black? Just say Black!

Now some don’t think this is that big of a deal, but I’m sure we all know representation does matter and these tropes are harmful. Whether we like it or not, media has a way of shaping how the world sees us and how we see ourselves. I think the writers at Upworthy said it best: “Diverse representations of people from all walks of life promotes tolerance and understanding, and it improves the self-esteem of children and people of color.”

Check out the video below and let us know what you think! Have you, as an actor of color, heard some of these questions? Let us know!

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