In the final stretch of President Barack Obama’s eight-year presidency and in honor of his and First Lady Michelle Obama’s involvement and love for the Broadway community, Broadway Black looks back on the First Family’s top eight moments dedicated to the theatre:
1) The Birth of Hamilton
On May 12, 2009, the First Family hosted the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word in celebration of America’s poetry culture. Artists such as Esperanza Spalding and James Earl Jones lent their voices to the evening, the latter performing a monologue from Othello. However, no act that night would be as memorable as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s preview of The Hamilton Mixtape, based on the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton. That performance of the opening number, “Alexander Hamilton,” would evolve into the groundbreaking Broadway phenomenon Hamilton, which earned 11 Tonys, a Grammy, the Pulitzer, and two #1 albums on Billboard.
2) Obamas Crash the 2016 Tony Awards
The Obamas came full circle with Hamilton when, in a surprise appearance via satellite, they introduced the cast’s performance at the 2016 Tony Awards. The pair recounted Miranda’s visit to the White House’s poetry jam and their uncertainty about his project about the founding father “who embodies hip hop.”
3) Michelle Obama Hosts Broadway Shines a Light on Girls’ Global Education
In March 2015, the First Lady launched the Let Girls Learn initiative, which sought to address the challenges young girls face that would prevent them from achieving a quality education and reaching their full potential. Last September, Michelle and Stephen Colbert hosted an event at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre, which featured a range of performances from Broadway shows including The Color Purple, Waitress, and Wicked.
4) A Celebration of American Creativity
In 2015, President Obama and FLOTUS hosted an all-star music tribute commemorating the 50th anniversary of National Foundation On the Arts and the Humanities Act that was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The evening included Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald performing “Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime, the show that earned McDonald a Tony.
5) #Bam4Ham: Obama Freestyles with Lin-Manuel Miranda
During peak-Hamilton, the Obamas invited local students and the cast of Hamilton to the White House for a daylong celebration of the arts. Dubbed #Bam4Ham, the event included workshops, a Q&A session, and performances by the cast. Of course, our President couldn’t resist participating in a freestyle with the musical’s award-winning composer, which would reference Obamacare, The Federalist Papers, and NASA. This visit would also be featured in the PBS documentary “Hamilton’s America.”
6) Obama Presents Audra McDonald with the National Medal of Arts
In late September of 2016, the President presented McDonald with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor for achievements in the arts. Pregnant at the time, the six-time Tony Award winner stood grinning as the announcer struggled to find her citation; “I can make up a citation if you want,” Obama quipped.
7) Michelle Celebrates TLC’s Broadway at the White House
True to her spirit and legacy, the First Lady never gave up an opportunity to promote the growth and education of the youth, especially when it came to the arts. With hosts Matthew Morrison and Kristin Chenoweth, she invited 40 students from public high schools and after-school programs to participate in a series of masterclasses and workshops dedicated to various production aspects of theatre. The event, which later aired on Thanksgiving of 2015 on TLC, featured performances from Fun Home, Finding Neverland, On Your Feet, and Bobbi MacKenzie of School of Rock. We can’t get over that “proud mama” moment at 4:45 either.
8) Obama: 1, Ticket-Scalpers: 0
Long before the rise in popularity and demand of a certain blockbuster musical, the dreaded ticket-scalpers were the bane of any concert- or theatre-goer’s existence. With a ticket bot, any person could purchase a huge number of tickets, in the time it takes the average buyer to find the calendar feature on the ticketing site, and resell them at a much higher price.
Tickets for Miranda and Leslie Odom, Jr.’s, final performance sold as high as $10,900 a seat. Mind you, the average face value of a ticket at the time was $189. Many unsuspecting patrons have even fallen victim to fake ticketing schemes, including billionaire Chris Sacca of “Shark Tank” fame.
Early last December, the President signed the Better Online Ticket Sales Act of 2016, prohibiting “the circumvention of control measures used by Internet ticket sellers to ensure equitable consumer access to tickets for certain events,” a bill which Ticketmaster helped develop.
To the First Family,
The Broadway theatre community — Broadway Black — cannot thank you enough for all you’ve done to help embrace, shape, and protect the future of this art form.
The Importance Of Broadway Black Royalty At #BWAY4BLM
Photo by Lelund Durond for Broadway Black
The Broadway For Black Lives Matter electric sensation felt at the Roone Arledge Auditorium at Columbia University this past Monday was undeniably an authentic result of the power of unity. It was arguably one of the few spaces, if not the first, where Broadway stars, fans, music icons, and social justice advocates all joined together to discuss a plan for change in relation to the Black Lives Matter Movement. This event confirmed the importance of Broadway Black royalty at BWAY4BLM, operating as our key ingredient to the formula needed for change.
It is no secret that we all have something distinct to offer mankind. What we love to do and who we are explains this philanthropy quite well. That might be the ability to bring people together through music, playing an instrument or singing, and another by the ability to unify others with an inspirational speech or dance, or expression of ideas in a panel discussion. Either way, by opening a discussion between these parties, we are able to stress the importance of everyone working together by bringing their most prized and honorable feature to an event like BWAY4BLM.
With that in mind, I have been reimagining Ledisi’s rendition of the timeless “A Change Is Gonna Come” (by Sam Cooke), all week long. Her triumphant attitude paired with the audience’s irresistible hand raising and forceful movements was simply a transfer of energy. She imparted her power, success, and royalty to every person who tuned in. In fact, all of our participants added their respective talent as a contribution for change in an atmosphere that makes our idea of an equal society more tangible.
These voices: Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Cynthia Erivo, India.Arie, Billy Porter, Ledisi, and Professor Frank Roberts have bridged the gap between people unconnected (for their own personal reasons) to the BLM movement. They’ve immersed the people who are uninvolved, uninterested, or unmoved by the countless deaths of innocent Black citizens in the discourse of human rights.
Our royalty has made the discourse of Black inclusion a coherent one, which was indigenous to their artistry. And as the art separately in its own division affects the non-supporters of the movement, so does the social platform for justice. That is because the platform is inherent to the artist, which is to say that they’ve skillfully justified Black Lives Matter in front of these uninterested crowds by solely intending to produce art. The same voice/s heard among a wide and diverse population has proven worthy and strong to the point of advocating for change. And during the time of the event, and before, even, our heroes named royalty used their success as a mode of education and communication toward ignorant US citizens who only set out to revere and respect their art.
The idea of opening up conversation and providing as many outlets and opportunities for viewership, involvement, and reflection is invaluable and could not have been done without individuals who are already admired for their accomplishments thus far. Our efforts in organizing this event has traveled far outside the country, beyond the four walls, into the homes of white music fans, and musical theatre kids, producers, journalists, professors, stage managers, make up artists and stylists, script consultants, presidents, colleagues, accountants, and any professional with connections to our artists. We offer our deepest thanksgiving to the commitment of our bold, beautiful, Broadway Black royalty, and on behalf of the team, thank you.
Danai Gurira, Stephen C. Byrd & Alia Jones-Harvey To Be Honored At TCG Gala
Tony Award nominated Eclipsed playwright and “The Walking Dead” star, Danai Gurira, along with our favorite Broadway producers, Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones Harvey and the Vlcek Foundation/Rick Kinsel will be honored at this year’s Theatre Communications Group Gala. These trailblazers will be honored Monday, November 14 at the Edison Ballroom in NYC.
“We’re thrilled to honor both the visionary artistry and activism of Danai Gurira as well as the groundbreaking work of producers Stephen C. Byrd and Alia M. Jones-Harvey,” said Teresa Eyring, executive director, TCG. “By bringing the voices of women from Liberia’s civil war to the Broadway stage through their acclaimed production of Eclipsed, they’ve reaffirmed theatre’s power to humanize and connect us across borders. The success of Eclipsed is also an example of TCG’s holistic approach to making a better world for—and because of—theatre. It was a TCG grant that supported the research and travel for the play; TCG Books will now keep it in print for many years to come and at our 2016 TCG National Conference in Washington DC, we featured U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power sharing the impact of plays like Eclipsed in her cultural diplomacy.
We are also delighted to have the opportunity to honor The Vilcek Foundation and its executive director Rick Kinsel. The Foundation provides annual prizes and awards to foreign- born practitioners in biomedical sciences and the arts. The arts focus for 2016 was theatre, and we were proud to see Blanka Zizka receive the Vilcek Prize in Theatre. Sarah Benson, Desdemona Chiang, and Yi Zhou each received Creative Promise Awards.”
Gurira recently received her first Tony Award nomination in 2016 for Best Play for her play Eclipsed. Featuring an all black female cast, Eclipsed was the first of its kind to ever hit Broadway. It also scored Tony nominations for Best Direction of a Play, Liesl Tommy, and Best Featured Actress in a Play, Saycon Sengbloh and Pascale Armand.
Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey hold the distinction of being the only African-American lead producers on Broadway. Together they comprise Front Row Productions, which aims to bring a unique brand of diversity to Broadway and London’s West End, both onstage and off, evidenced by their Olivier-winning production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in London’s West End (also on Broadway) starring James Earl Jones; and most recently by their acclaimed, 5-times Tony-nominated production of Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed starring Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o. On Broadway, Byrd and Jones-Harvey are also responsible for multi-racial productions of A Streetcar Named Desire starring Blair Underwood and Daphne Rubin-Vega; Romeo & Juliet starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad; and The Trip to Bountiful which featured Cicely Tyson in a Tony-winning performance.
The Gala also offers an opportunity for the TCG community to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year and raise support for TCG’s wide-ranging programs and services. Highlights from the past year include: a National Conference in Washington, DC that brought over 200 theatre practitioners to Capitol Hill for meetings with legislators; the awarding of $1.184 million in Audience (R)Evolution Cohort Grants to innovative audience engagement projects; and the publication of significant work by emerging playwrights like Stephen Karam’s The Humans, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy, and Annie Baker’s John. In the spirit of the Gala honorees’ commitment to diversity and international activism, TCG is especially excited to celebrate the launch of the Global Theater Initiative, a partnership with the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics; and the groundbreaking meeting of the inaugural and second cohorts of the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Institute at the National Endowment for the Arts.
Past honorees at the TCG annual gala—now in its fifth year—include Tony®, SAG and Golden Globe Award-winning actor Brian Dennehy; Tony winning director Kenny Leon, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, Ming Cho Lee, Jules Fisher, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation,The Shubert Foundation, Ruth and Stephen Hendel and Judith O. Rubin.
The evening will begin with cocktails at 6:00 followed by dinner and special performances at 7:00. Guests have been asked to wear festive attire.
For more information please contact: 212.609.5931, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tcg.org.
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