Seven new Broadway plays this fall are by black authors. Is this a turning point for the theater?


More than a year after the start of a global pandemic and in the middle an international social justice movement, Broadway, it seems, is changing. Seven new plays – which do not include musicals – joining this fall’s lineup are written by black playwrights.

And that leads to a question: is it just a moment, or a sustained shift to a wider range of storytellers on The Great White Way? While notable productions written by Lorraine Hansberry (“A Raisin in the Sun”), August Wilson (“Fences”), Langston Hughes (“Mulatto”) and others have undoubtedly broken down barriers for color playwrights , Broadway has historically and overwhelmingly been dominated by white voices.

“If this moment is to be supported, it will be supported by world majority artists producing their own work, for whenever a non-white artist is left to the mercy and morals of a white audience, a white or white silver producer, so that interest and that level of vulnerability and that level of focus is going to… come and go, ”said Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu, the playwright behind“ Pass Over, ”one of the upcoming new plays. on Broadway.

Of course, a lot of people will be interested in black stories right now, given the events of the past year, Nwandu said, but she noted that black people are interested in black stories all the time.

“We need black producers to produce them,” she said. “We all want to see each other on stage.”

For Zhailon Levingston, director of industry initiatives at the Broadway Advocacy Coalition and director of “Chicken & Biscuits,” another new play on Broadway this fall, this moment is “a great opportunity more than… any kind of point. arrival. “

“It’s like this new moment of this Broadway season emerges, it will be the start of a whole new era,” said Levingston. “And I just don’t imagine these times being the one of any progress in terms of making Broadway (a) a more equitable space.”

While it’s unclear what Broadway will be doing at this time or how these plays will be received, Levingston said he’s starting to see changes behind the scenes. He told CNN that concerted efforts are being made to ensure that Broadway becomes a space where stories of all kinds are told.

Some of these efforts are similar to those made by other workplaces in the United States, such as diversity or anti-racism training requirements and policies, Levingston said. But there are also other discussions of how Broadway can lower the barriers to entry for positions like production, which determine what plays are performed.

As it stands, the barrier to entry for a Broadway producer is high, as there are certain rules set by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission dictating how much money investors must have. Changing those rules would essentially mean asking to change the law. So it’s no surprise that most producers on Broadway, Nwandu said, look like Maxwell Sheffield’s character in “The Nanny”: Rich and White.

But as these factors affect the stories told on stage, things change. Levingston told CNN that “Chicken & Biscuits,” for example, features both new and longtime producers, as well as an interracial production team. It’s a rare collaboration, he says.

This moment at the theater also follows allegations against prolific Broadway and Hollywood producer Scott Rudin. An April report in The Hollywood Reporter claimed he had verbally and physically abused his staff at his production company for years.

This has led to questions about not only having a racially fair system on Broadway, but a system that cares about its workers in ways it didn’t have before. For example, the actors involved in Nwandu’s play, “Pass Over”, have a welfare allowance, since the play deals with police brutality.

“I don’t think any of us who are a part of this moment are under the illusion that we are operating in a space… shaped or designed to meet our specific needs,” said Levingston. “While there is a real opportunity for change to happen, there is also a real opportunity for a lot of evil to continue.”

Here are the seven plays by black playwrights that will be performing on Broadway this fall:

  • “Pass Over” – Written by Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu and directed by Danya Taymor.
  • “Lackawanna Blues” – Written and directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson
  • “Chicken & Biscuits” – Written by Douglas Lyons and directed by Zhailon Levingston
  • “Thoughts of a Colored Man” – Written by Keenan Scott II and Directed by Steve H. Broadnax III
  • “Trouble in Mind” – Written by Alice Childress and directed by Charles Randolph-Wright
  • “Clyde’s” – Written by Lynn Nottage and directed by Kate Whoriskey
  • “Skeleton Crew” – Written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson


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