New York Theater and Diversity, Latest AAPAC Report

Thanks to such shows as Hamilton, The Color Purple, and Allegiance, the 2015-2016 New York theater season was the most diverse on record.

That is the conclusion  of the latest annual report from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC), Ethnic Representation on New York City Stages 2015-2016,  which has been conducting such studies for ten years. AAPAC found that 35 percent of all roles on Broadway and in the 16 largest non-profit theater companies in New York City went to actors of color and disabled actors.

That stands in contrast to the ten year average:

Over those years, the Public Theater and Signature have consistently been the most diverse in their hiring practices, while Roundabout and MCC Theater the least.

Below is a summary of their findings for the 2015-2016 season:

Caucasian actors performed 65 percent of all roles, while they make up around 47 percent of the population of New York City, according to the 2006-2008 American Community Survey for the U.S. Census.

African American actors: 23 percent of all roles; 25 percent of New York City’s population.

Latinx actors: 7 percent of all roles; 28 percent of New York City’s population

Asian American actors: 4 percent of all roles; 12 percent of New York City’s population.

Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) actors: 0.83 percent of all roles. (There’s no Census category for this group.)

American Indian actors: 0.08 percent of all roles; .4 percent of New York City’s population.

Disabled actors: 0.67 percent of all roles; 11 percent of New York City’s population, according to the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.

 Non-traditional casting numbers also reached new highs this season.. On Broadway,14 percent of all available roles were cast without regard to race. Among the non-profit theaters, 17 percent of all available roles were cast without regard to race. 


The 2015-16 season was Broadway’s most diverse on record, filling 36 percent of all its roles with minority actors, the first year it has risen past 30 percent. The season of the diversely cast Hamilton also included large numbers of African American performers in The Color Purple and Shuffle Along; an all-Latinx cast in On Your Feet; a predominantly Asian American cast in Allegiance (marking the first time an Asian American composer was produced on Broadway); and large numbers of hearing impaired actors in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening.

The casting for straight plays vs. musicals, however, provided a stark contrast. Only 16% of roles in plays went to minority actors in Broadway plays, and of that,14% were secured by African American actors, helped by productions such as Eclipsed (which also brought the rare instances of an African American female director and an African American female playwright to Broadway), The Gin Game and The Crucible. Only one Asian American actor and one MENA actor was cast out of all Broadway plays. 


 The non-profit theatre companies filled 35% of all its roles with minority actors in the 2015-16 season, a 3-point drop from the season prior. This is the second year in a row that they have exceeded their 10-year average of 26%, a sign that more conscious efforts are being made to increase diversity.

 African American performers were represented across more companies than in years past including Skeleton Crew at the Atlantic Theater Company, Funny House of a Negro at the Signature Theatre, Barbecue and Eclipsed at the Public Theater and Familiar at Playwrights Horizons, among others. The only specifically Latinx story this season was Daphne’s Dive by Quiara Alegría Hudes at the Signature Theatre. There were no Asian-specific stories and no Asian American playwrights produced. Numbers for Asian American actors dropped this season; they were the only minority group to fall below their 10-year average. 

MOST DIVERSE: The following theater companies hired the greatest number of minority actors in the 2015-16 season based on the percentage of available roles. 






LEAST DIVERSE: The following theatre companies hired the lowest number of minority actors in the 2015-16 season based on the percentage of available roles.


1. MCC THEATER (5%—tied) 




Classic Stage Company, after coming in below the industry average for the previous nine years, tops this season’s most diverse list largely thanks to their production of Mother Courage and Her Children as well as more non-traditional casting than in previous years. The companies taking home the diversity crowns when looking at the 10-year perspective are the Signature Theatre (48% of all roles went to minority actors) and the Public Theater (36% of all roles). Almost 25% of all available roles at the Public Theater have been non-traditionally cast in the last 10 years, more than any other theatre company in the survey. 

In contrast, MCC Theater’s and the Roundabout Theatre Company’s positions at the bottom of the diversity race are consistent with their performances over the last 10 years. Only 8% of all roles at MCC in the last 10 years went to minority actors; 9% at the Roundabout. In addition, non-traditional casting has rarely been employed at either company. Of MCC Theater’s 166 roles in the last 10 years, only 8 were cast non-traditionally. Of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s 824 roles in the last 10 years, only 17 were cast non-traditionally.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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