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?