“WE SEE YOU, WHITE AMERICAN THEATER”

Encore: June 25, 2020

It has been months since the lights on Broadway went out. But even during that period of darkness, Broadway has not been immune to the intense conversation concerning race that has arisen in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The Broadway Advocacy Coalition has been at the forefront of that conversation, not just recently but since it was started in 2016. This week, more than 300 theater artists- black, Indigenous and people of color- joined that conversation – in a published a blistering statement addressed to “White American Theater” decrying racial injustice in their industry. “We See You, White American Theater” was published on the web and states “You are all a part of this house of cards built on white fragility and supremacy…and this is a house that will not stand.” Addressing “White American Theater,” the statement outlines the ways in which, it argues, artists of color are unjustly treated in the theater world and declares itself to be “in the legacy of August Wilson’s ‘The Ground on Which I Stand’,” an important 1996 speech by the playwright about race and the American stage. The statement repeatedly uses the phrase “we see you” to punctuate its observations about the theater world, and adds, “We have always seen you. And now you will see us.”

Aired on June 11, 2020.

TRANSCRIPT

I'M JACK FORD.

IT HAS BEEN MONTHS SINCE THE LIGHTS ON BROADWAY WENT OUT.

BUT EVEN DURING THAT PERIOD OF TIME, THAT PERIOD OF DARKNESS, BROADWAY HAS NOT BEEN IMMUNE TO THE INTENSE CONVERSATION CONCERNING RACE.

THAT HAS ARISEN IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE DEATH OF GEORGE FLOYD AT THE HANDS OF MINNEAPOLIS POLICE OFFICERS.

THE BROADWAY ADVOCACY COALITION IS A GROUP THAT'S BEEN AT THE FOREFRONT OF THAT CONVERSATION.

NOT JUST RECENTLY BUT SINCE IT WAS BEGUN BACK IN 2016.

AND WE'RE PLEASED TO HAVE JOINING US NOW BRITTON SMITH, AN ACCLAIMED ACTOR AND ONE OF THE FOUNDERS AND THE PRESIDENT OF THE BROADWAY ADVOCACY COALITION.

THANKS FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU, JACK.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

A LOT OF ISSUES TO TALK ABOUT.

BUT LET'S START WITH THE COALITION.

THIS IS NOT NEW TO THE CONVERSATION.

BEGAN BACK IN 2016, YOU WERE A CO-FOUNDER.

WHAT WAS THE IMPETUS OF ITS CREATION?

YEAH.

A FEW OF US WERE IN A SHOW CALLED 'SHUFFLE ALONG,' AND IN 2016, THERE WAS A BIG OPPORTUNITY TO BE ON THE STAGE WITH SOME OF MY BLACK HEROES.

DR. McDONALD, BILLY PORTER, JUST HUGE NAMES THAT I'VE ALWAYS LOOKED UP TO.

SO IT WAS A MOMENT WHERE I FELT LIKE MAN, I REALLY HAVE SOME SKIN IN THE GAME, YOU KNOW, I'M REALLY A PART OF SOMETHING GREAT.

AND MY BLACKNESS IS CELEBRATED HERE.

NOW, AS YOU KNOW, MOST OF OUR AUDIENCE MEMBERS ON BROADWAY ARE ALL WHITE.

SO WE HAVE TO DO THE JOB OF BEING EXCELLENT BEHIND STAGE, ON STAGE, AND SERVE OURSELVES AND A PREDOMINANTLY WHITE AUDIENCE, AND THEN LEAVE THE STAGE, AND THEN BE FORCED TO UNDERSTAND THAT POLICE BRUTALITY TREATS YOU VERY DIFFERENTLY THAN THE HAND CLAPS OF THOSE PEOPLE WATCHING YOU PERFORM.

SO AFTER ERIC GARNER'S DEATH, OUR ENTIRE CAST AND CREW WERE STRUGGLING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT'S OUR ROLE BEYOND PERFORMING TO STATE IN THE MOVEMENT?

AND AT THE TIME, IT WAS BLACK LIVES MATTER, BLACK LIVES MATTER EVERYWHERE.

SO WE WERE TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT'S OUR ROLE BEYOND PERFORMING?

AND WE CREATED THIS EVENT CALLED BROADWAY FOR BLACK LIVES MATTER.

NOW, IN THE BROADWAY WORLD, THERE ARE MANY ORGANIZATIONS THAT SUPPORT THE LBGTQ COMMUNITY.

WE SUPPORT THE HOMELESS YOUTH.

MANY INITIATIVES.

BUT THERE IS NO INITIATIVE THAT I CAN THINK OF SINCE 2016, THAT WAS FOR ANTI-RACISM, POLICE BRUTALITY, ISSUES OF MASS INCARCERATION.

SO WE PRODUCED THIS EVENT CALLED BROADWAY FOR BLACK LIVES MATTER AND DECIDED THAT IT WAS TIME FOR US TO STOP JUST RAISING MONEY, BUT TIME TO USE OUR RAGE AND OUR CONFUSION TO RAISE OUR OWN AWARENESS OF WHAT ARE THOSE POLICIES IN PLACE THAT ALLOW THAT POLICE OFFICER TO DO WHAT WE ALL SAW HIM DO AND STILL GET OFF?

WHAT ARE THOSE POLICIES IN PLACE THAT KEEP US FROM ALL THE LIBERTIES THAT WE WOULD LIKE TO HAVE.

SO WE STARTED THIS ORGANIZATION WITH COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL THAT HAS BEEN AN AMAZING RESOURCE FOR US TO USE, TO UNDERSTAND THE POWER OF LAW AND WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BRING LAWYERS AND ARTISTS INTO A ROOM WITH PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN, YOU KNOW, LIKE PREVIOUSLY INCARCERATED AND WHAT'S THAT RELATIONSHIP?

SO WE HAVE THIS METHODOLOGY THAT INVOLVES ALL OF THE STAKE HOLDERS AROUND MASS INCARCERATION TO GET IN A ROOM.

WHERE DOES CHANGE HAPPEN IN MASS INCARCERATION?

WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?

WHAT IDEAS ARE PROVEN IN THE POLICIES?

AND WE TRY TO CHALLENGE THAT.

LET ME ASK YOU, I'M GOING TO ASK YOU MORE ABOUT WHAT YOUR ORGANIZATION IS DOING, BUT LET ME START WITH SOMETHING THAT'S BEEN A HEADLINE THIS WEEK THAT.

IS A PUBLIC LETTER PUBLISHED OVER THE SIGNATURES OF SOME 300 PLUS THEATER ARTISTS.

YES.

AND THE TITLE OF THAT LETTER WAS, 'WE SEE YOU, WHITE AMERICAN THEATER.'

RIGHT, RIGHT.

AND I -- IN READING THE LETTER AND LOOKING AT SOME PEOPLE REPORTING, I SAW ONE INDICATION THAT SAYS IT.

THIS LETTER IS MORE THAN JUST A CRITICISM.

IT WAS DESCRIBED AS SOMETHING OF A SCALDING INDICTMENT.

RIGHT.

IS THAT A FAIR CHARACTERIZATION, AND THEN WHAT IS THIS LETTER ALL ABOUT?

I CAN TELL YOU WHAT I FELT WHEN I READ IT.

IT WAS READ TO ME, I SIGNED THE LETTER WITH THE PEOPLE YOU CAN SEE ON THE FIRST THREE PAGES OF SIGNATURES.

KY TELL YOU WHEN I READ IT, IT FELT LIKE LASHES TO BE OPENED UP.

I HEARD WORDS THAT MADE ME REMEMBER, AHH, YES, THAT'S HAPPENED TO ME.

YES, WE DO HAVE TO BE SILENT IN THESE PLACES.

AHH, YES, EVEN MY PARENTS TAUGHT ME HOW TO MOVE AROUND, TO EVEN BE AROUND WHERE I AM NOW.

EVEN AS A BROADWAY ARTIST, I THOUGHT I WAS AT THE TOP.

BUT STILL AT THE TOP, WE HAVE TO MOVE AROUND SEVERAL GATES OF WHITE SUPREMACY.

AND THAT'S IN CASTING, IN THE REHEARSAL ROOM, THAT'S IN OUR WHOLE MAKEUP.

SO I THINK WHAT THAT LETTER DOES IS, IT CHALLENGES BROADWAY, WHICH IS A WHITE INSTITUTION.

IT'S CALLED THE GREAT WHITE WAY, NOT JUST FOR JOKES.

BUT THOSE PEOPLE WHO ARE AT THE TOP WHO ARE THE HOUSE OWNERS, TWO ARE THE MAIN PRODUCERS, WHO ARE IN OUR UNION HEADS, THEY'RE ALL WHITE.

SO WE DEMAND THEM TO SEE THE TRUTH AND ALSO MAKE ROOM FOR US AT THE TOP.

AND I THINK WE'LL SEE CHANGE WHEN THE MOST VULNERABLE PEOPLE TO RACISM ARE A PART OF THOSE CONVERSATIONS.

AND UNTIL THEN, WE'RE GOING SEE THE CYCLE OF OPPRESSION.

ONCE AGAIN, WE'RE TALKING TO BRITTON SMITH, PRESIDENT OF THE BROADWAY ADVOCACY COALITION HERE.

LET ME ASK YOU ABOUT THIS.

I WOULD SUSPECT, AND I DON'T HAVE ANY DATA TO BACK THIS UP.

BUT IF YOU ASKED A CASUAL BROADWAY OBSERVER ABOUT BROADWAY AND HOW IT'S PROGRESSED IN TERMS OF EMBRACING AND INTEGRATING ACTORS OF COLOR, I WOULD SUSPECT THE ANSWER IS BROADWAY IS IN THE FOREFRONT, I SEE PEOPLE OF COLOR UP ON THE STAGE.

WOULD YOU AGREE WITH ME FIRST OF ALL THAT'S PROBABLY THE RESPONSE YOU WOULD GET FROM SOME CASUAL OBSERVERS?

FROM SOME CASUAL OBSERVERS, YES, SURE.

IS THAT STRONGER EVIDENCE OF WHAT THE DEPTH OF THE PROBLEM IS?

YEAH, BECAUSE OF FOLKS WHO ARE WATCHING IN CASUALLY ARE NOT PARTICIPATING IN IT.

I THINK IT'S BLACK PEOPLE WHO ARE PARTICIPATING IN IT, THEY'LL HAVE A MORE GROUNDED UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT'S MISSED.

BECAUSE BROADWAY HAS JUST BEEN A STAGE.

LIKE BROADWAY IS THE AUDITION ROOM.

BROADWAY IS WAY MORE THAN JUST WHAT YOU SEE ON STAGE.

AND I THINK IF FOLKS START TO TAKE TIME TO REALLY LOOK INTO ALL THE ROOMS THAT CREATE BROADWAY, YOU'LL SEE THAT THERE'S NOT DIVERSITY THERE AT ALL.

IN THIS LETTER, IT'S CRITICAL OF THOSE WHO PROGRAM, THOSE WHO CREATE THE PROGRAMMING.

CRITICAL OF THE LABOR UNIONS, AND HOW THEY HAVE FAILED TO EMBRACE PEOPLE OF COLOR.

CRITICAL OF THE MEDIA.

TALKING ABOUT THE MEDIA, THE QUOTE WAS A RACIST, CRITICAL CULTURE IN THE MEDIA.

AND I'M -- I WANT TO ASK FOR SOME SPECIFICS TO HELP US UNDERSTAND THIS.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS -- A QUOTE WAS, OUR NATION'S HISTORY OF RACISM HAS TRICKLED INTO OUR INDUSTRY IN WAYS THAT PREVENT ACTORS OF COLOR THE LIBERTIES THAT WHITE ACTORS ARE ACCUSTOMED TO.

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

I WAS RECENTLY IN A SHOW CALLED 'BE MORE CHILL.'

IT WAS WONDERFUL, SO EXCITING.

IT WAS A GREAT PRODUCTION.

YOU SAW IT?

FABULOUS, MAN.

THAT WAS THE FIRST TIME THAT I WAS IN A DRESSING ROOM OFF BROADWAY WITH MOSTLY -- LIKE I WAS THE ONLY BLACK MAN IN THE ROOM.

AND THERE WERE MANY PEOPLE WHO WERE WHITE, ASIAN.

AND THEY HAD A DIFFERENT UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT THEY DESERVED TO BE PAID.

AND I STARTED TO LISTEN TO THEM ABOUT WHAT THEY DESERVED.

AND THEY DID DESERVE THAT.

AND THEN I WENT HOME AND I THOUGHT WHY DON'T I KNOW I DESERVE TO GET PAID THAT MUCH A WEEK?

I'M THE SAME LEVEL OF PRINCIPAL, I'M ALSO A LEAD HERE.

WHAT HAVE I BEEN TAUGHT AT HOME, IN SCHOOL, AND IN THE INDUSTRY THAT TELLS ME THAT I DON'T DESERVE TO GET PAID AS MUCH?

SO I CALLED MY AGENT AND I SAID HEY, SO AND SO IS GETTING PAID THIS, AND THEY DIDN'T KNOW I WAS LISTENING.

I AM THE SAME LEVEL OF ROLE THERE.

I WANT TO GET PAID THAT, AS WELL.

MY AGENTS AT THE TIME, WHO ARE NOT MY AGENTS NOW, WERE LIKE, THAT'S A LOT OF MONEY, ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO ASK FOR THAT?

ABSOLUTELY.

I MADE THEM ADVOCATE FOR EQUALITY.

I WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN PAID THAT IF I DIDN'T LISTEN IN TO THE THOUGHTS OF WHITE PRIVILEGE.

I LOVE MY CASTMATES, BUT THERE'S SOMETHING IN WHITENESS THAT ALLOWS YOU TO KNOW WHAT YOU DESERVE.

I HAVE TO REMEMBER WHAT I DESERVE, BECAUSE THERE HAVE BEEN SO MANY THINGS THAT TAUGHT ME I DON'T DESERVE.

THAT'S JUST ONE EXAMPLE THAT I CAN SHARE IS THAT, YOU KNOW -- YOU HAVE TO REMIND YOURSELF THAT YOU'RE VALUABLE SEVERAL TIMES.

REGARDLESS WHAT COLOR YOUR SKIN COLOR.

RIGHT.

LET ME ASK YOU WHAT THE COALITION IS DOING.

THERE'S A SERIES OF FOUR OF THEM THAT YOU'RE DOING.

GIVE ME A QUICK SENSE OF WHAT THEY'RE ABOUT AND WHAT YOU'RE HOPING TO GET.

YEAH.

SO TODAY MARKS OUR FIRST DAY OF A THREE-DAY FORUM.

DAY ONE IS ABOUT GATHERING THE BLACK INDUSTRY MEMBERS EXCLUSIVELY.

THERE'S NEVER BEEN A SPACE I CAN THINK OF WHEN WE'VE BEEN ABLE TO BREATHE AND MOURN WHAT'S HAPPENING ON THE OUTSIDE AND THE INSIDE OF OUR INDUSTRY TOGETHER.

WE WANT TO HAVE PEOPLE TELL US HOW TO DEAL WITH ANXIETY AND PAIN GOING ON.

IT'S A SPACE OF HEALING, JUST FOR US.

I THINK THAT PEOPLE MAY THINK THAT'S NOT INCLUSIVE.

THAT'S NOT FAIR.

NO, NO, YOU'RE WHITE, YOU NEED TO HEAR FROM THE EXPERIENCES OF PEOPLE GOING THROUGH HISTORIES AND GENERATIONS OF RACISM IN OUR INDUSTRY.

SO DAY ONE IS ABOUT US AND HOW WE HEAL TOGETHER.

DAY TWO IS ABOUT CHANNELLING OUR WHITE ALLIES, FRIENDS, COLLEAGUES, INSTITUTIONS TO TAKE A BACK SEAT AND LISTEN TO VARIOUS DIFFERENT STORIES.

IT'S ALL CURE RATED.

IT'S NOT THE SPACE TO ANTAGONIZE AND POINT SHAME AND CALL OUT NAMES.

IT'S A POINT TO LET PEOPLE KNOW, THIS IS HOW I'VE HAD TO MOVE AROUND WHITE SUPREMACY TO EXIST IN THE SPACE THAT I AM.

AND THERE ARE TWO PEOPLE I DON'T WANT TO NAME RIGHT NOW, WHO ARE BIG LEADERS IN OUR INDUSTRY, MAJOR NAMES.

THEY HAVE TONYS, THEY ARE BECOME STARS.

AND EVEN THEY DEAL WITH RACISM AT THE TOP.

SO IT'S TO CHALLENGE THE IDEA THERE IS NO EXCEPTION TO THE RULE.

THERE'S NO EXCEPTION TO THE RULE.

AND I THINK THAT THIS FORUM SHOULD BE DONE PROBABLY IN MANY INSTITUTIONS.

I BET DOCTORS AT THE TOP OF THEIR GAME FEEL THE SAME WAY THAT OUR TOP OF THE GAME INDIVIDUALS FEEL.

AND DAY THREE IS ABOUT IDENTIFYING WHAT IT WOULD LOOK LIKE IF EVERYBODY WAS HELD ACCOUNTABLE.

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE, AND WHAT WE DREAM OF.

I THINK THERE ARE 5,000 PEOPLE A PART OF DAYS TWO AND THREE.

SO IT'S AN AMAZING OPPORTUNITY FOR THE TRUTH TO BE TOLD TO THE PEOPLE WHO NEED TO MAKE ROOM FOR US.

IT'S AMAZING.

I'M EXCITED.

THIS ALL BEGAN IN TEN DAYS.

THIS IDEA IS TEN DAYS OLD.

THE ORGANIZATION IS NOT NEW TO THIS CONVERSATION.

AND FOR ANYBODY OUT THERE WHO WANTS TO HELP, THEY CAN GO TO BROADWAY ADVOCACY COALITION.ORG.

I WOULD LIKE TO TALK WITH YOU AGAIN DOWN THE ROAD.

HISTORY HAS TOLD US IT TAKES TRAGEDY, CRISIS, EVEN MARTYRDOM FOR US TO MAKE SIGNIFICANT CHANGE IN OUR CULTURE.

I APPLAUD WHAT YOU AND THE ORGANIZATION ARE DOING AND I HOPE WE CAN TALK AGAIN DOWN THE ROAD AND THERE WILL BE SOME PROGRESS MADE.

THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN FOR SPENDING SOME TIME WITH US.

GOOD LUCK WITH EVERYTHING YOU'RE DOING AND YOU BE WELL.

THANK YOU, JACK.

TAKE CARE.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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