“Pushing through a lot of pain” — Broadway for Black Lives Matter Again, Day 2

Here are excerpts from Broadway Advocacy Coalition’s second day of its three-day forum Broadway for Black Lives Matter Again, a 90-minute live YouTube video  attended by nearly 5,000 people, and intended “for the Broadway community to heal, listen, and hold itself accountable to its history of white supremacy.”

Britton Smith, President and co-founder of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, introductory remarks:
I am humbled by this moment in our history that has brought us all together. This moment has forced us all to look at the oldest ugliest actions and behaviors of racism… we’re usually in much smaller spaces together…This is not a set of monologues written to stir your beliefs but this is a mirror, this is reality, this is an opportunity to look at ourselves and acknowledge the bullshit. It’s scary. I’m personally terrified. I acknowledge that I tend to speak differently when I know that white people are listening…

Broadway Advocacy Coalition has been doing the work to use the arts as a critical tool and humanizing the voices of those most directly affected by the criminal justice system since 2016. We began as a bunch of artists touring “Shuffle Along” who decided that we need to figure out how to be valued,

[Here are two videos from that 2016 event]

Smith: This is the beginning of a longer tedious uncomfortable necessary process, conversations between those in positions of power and those most directly affected by racism in our industry. Day 1 allowed black industry members a chance to be together, dance together, mourn together challenge white supremacy together and remember the strength within our ancestral blood that reminds us to continue to challenge…

I’m trying to push through a lot of pain. I’m not confident that everybody listening would be on my side so I also want to acknowledge that I and every speaker on this program is risking something in honor of honesty, humanity, restorative justice…. We don’t owe you this. You are blessed to hear from us work through pain to produce this. We are still hurting, we are still fighting….You owe us gratitude.

Cody Renard, stage manager:
This time for me has been extremely trying and extremely crazy. I went from having coronavirus and dealing with the mental effects of that to seeing countless people continuously being killed on TV and no one being held accountable for that and just sitting in the darkness. I’m a very joyous person but there were countless days when I couldn’t get out of bed. One day I was laying in bed and I was crying and I said I have to say something about what I’ve been experiencing in my own industry because people speak about how they don’t understand how this is happening. to black people being killed. They don’t realize that on a much smaller level we’re dealing with micro-aggressions and racism in our own industry, so I just felt the need to speak out. Hopefully this will open up people’s eyes because it makes it personal when you speak directly to them.

Among the places he’s spoken out is on CNN

Amber Iman, co-founder Broadway Advocacy Coalition
I was in the second day of rehearsal and a white stage manager whom I did not know, walked up to me, reached down and touches my hair and said ‘whooo,
Your hair is looking wild today, Do you need a brush, or are you just going to leave it like that?”
I went to the only two people who look like me, including Cody, who was assistant stage manager.
I was the only black woman in the entire space, and I said Guys, I want you to help me. I don’t know if I’m overreacting or if it was really bad.
WE didn’t have time to process. We don’t have an HR department. Usually, the stage manager is the HR. What do you do when the stage manager is the one who just said something ridiculous?
When I got home, I went to Facebook and I said to my friends: I’m just trying to figure out how to be a black woman in this space. I wasn’t doing anything when he said this to me. I wasn’t being loud. I was making tea.
I woke up the next morning and I didn’t know what to do with my hair. Maybe I should straighten it? What should I wear? I tried to do everything to shrink my appearance. I did not want to be bothered. I wanted to get the same opportunity that white people get, which is just to go to work…I was going to rehearsal every day trying to be smaller and less than…That burden was huge.

2017 video about how Amber Iman became involved

Cody Renard:
We toss the word diversity around like it’s the solution to our problems. It is not the solution to our problems, because diverse has come to mean ‘other.’ And being a ‘diversity hire” so that it’s a ‘diverse company,’ already makes us feel like we don’t belong in this company…We have to figure out how to make these spaces comfortable for everybody.

Daniel Watts:
Diversity is not equality. I don’t want diversity. I want equality. Diversity is adding one, and now it’s diverse.
I remember a conversation James Baldwin had on the Dick Cavett Show, and he was saying I can only go on the evidence. I don’t know that the Board of Education hates me, but I see the schools they send me to and the textbooks I have. I don’t know that the labor union hates me, but I know I”m not allowed to make union. So I look at designers, choreographers, directors, when I look at Local 1, when I look at everything around me, and none of it looks like me, I can’t help but assume, I’m an afterthought.

Britton Smith: How are you all holding up?

LaChanze: I’m still very angry about Trayvon Martin, and every year I have a moment on his birthday because, as a mother, I still can’t believe to this day that that that young man was just walking down the street, and he got killed, and nothing happened to his murderer.

Liesl Tommy: When I hear about the stage manager putting their hands in her hair I started to unravel, because you know as a director it’s my honor and privilege to create a safe space for everybody who comes into our rehearsal room. To see that gets violated, it’s very very hard to stomach. That was beginning of what I called the unraveling

Britton Smith: In so many ways, we’ve been unraveling, week after week, day after day.

Liesl Tommy: Year after year.

Broadway for Black Lives Matter Resource Page
(“not your average summer reading list)

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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