Embracing Diversity on Broadway

If you’ve been paying attention to the past couple of seasons on Broadway, you’ve probably noticed a seemingly growing trend for diversity.

Shows like HamiltonShuffle AlongThe Color PurpleAllegiance, and On Your Feet! largely featured non-white cast members, while shows like Fun HomeFalsettos, and Significant Other brought LGBTQ stories center stage. Backstage, the diversity among designers was greater than ever thanks to women-led creative teams (WaitressEclipsedFun Home), and more shows (like Oh, Hello on Broadway and Dear Evan Hansen) that appealed to a millennial audience base. Not to mention, last year saw all four acting Tony Awards® go to people of color.

So what do you think? Is #BroadwaySoDiverse?

For a lot of the industry, the answer is unfortunately still no. Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda thinks this most recent season’s diversity was a fluke, while producing team Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey (the only black lead producers on Broadway) see the potential opportunity for new roles on stage, but still think there is more to be desired off-stage. Playwright Lynn Nottage says, “We need to diversify the people who are backstage and producing and marketing these shows. It’s the limitations of these people that are holding Broadway back.”

According to the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC), casting people of color is trending upwards, with 30% of roles going to people of color in 2014-15 – the highest it’s ever been – while still leaving much to be desired.

Image: aapacnyc.com

Many blame the fact that audiences are still predominantly white (77%), leaving entertainment executives and theatre producers to consider anything else “niche.”

However, this perception is changing. Hamilton is bringing in millions of dollars, and television shows like Black-ish have incredible ratings (not to mention 79% non-black viewership). As Jones-Harvey points out, “There is a lot of opportunity to diversify—particularly with advertising—to reach new audiences that are supporting theatre regionally but that are not necessarily being invited to Broadway.”

With a country that is more diverse than ever, and a city that is one of the top 10 most diverse in the world, it seems that audiences may just be interested in seeing stories that represent, well, America.

And there is still some work to do…

“In America, things get boiled down into a black and white issue, but I want to see stories about Asian people, I want to see stories about trans people — diversity is not just a black and white issue. …We’ve still got some work to do when you talk about real diversity.” – Hamilton’s Leslie Odom, Jr.

Here are six Broadway shows that give us hope for the future of diversity in theatre:

>>Hamilton

You can’t talk about diversity and not mention Hamilton. The biggest buzz-maker in Broadway history has one of the most diverse casts on stage today.

“The exciting lesson that I hope people are taking away from Hamilton is that you don’t need a white guy at the center of things to make it relatable. Hamilton is a story very deliberately told to reflect what America looks like right now. We have every color represented… And it’s making a killing. And that’s what makes sense to Hollywood…I’ve actually heard from studio executives and people in charge in very high places saying Hamilton has changed their view of what they put on the schedule, and that makes me very happy.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda

>>Eclipsed

The first play to be written by, directed by, and starring a cast of all African women, Eclipsed was nominated for six Tony Awards® and reminded people that women have a voice and some pretty incredible stories to tell. With 67% of ticket buyers being female, we hope Broadway continues to notice.

>>Spring Awakening

The revival presented by Deaf West Theatre made history by performing the show in both spoken English and American Sign Language, and featuring Ali Stroker, the first person on Broadway ever to be in a wheelchair.

>>Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

This new Broadway musical isn’t simply creating roles for non-white actors: it is creating great roles and filling them with amazing actors – regardless of race. Director Rachel Chavkin says the way to make a show that is “complicated and interesting is to have a complicated and diverse group of people involved in it.”

>>The View UpStairs

This exciting new Off-Broadway musical spans two generations of queer history as it explores one of the most significant attacks on the LGBTQ community. It features a diverse cast, a gay love story, and an inspiring message that motivates audiences to continue the fight for equality.

>>Oh, Hello On Broadway

John Mulaney and Nick Kroll are two of today’s hottest comedians. Their alter egos Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland started getting buzz on Comedy Central’s Kroll Show and FunnyOrDie.com. So when their show Oh, Hello came to Broadway, they were able to tap into the millennial audience like no other show before…and they sold out and extended!