On Thursday, the Broadway community came together in Columbus Circle for the "March on Broadway" to "demand greater diversity, accessibility, transparency and accountability from leaders" in the theater industry. This comes on the heels of a long Broadway shut down due to the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and the lack of push-back from Broadway (and Hollywood) against producer Scott Rudin's alleged abusive behavior toward his employees.
The group of organizers for the protest released a list of demands from Actors’ Equity Association and the Broadway League.
“1. Scott Rudin to be removed from the Broadway League – If he is not removed from the Broadway League, we want restoration. We want Scott to publicly choose 20 BIPOC run theatres and donate a LARGE SUM of money to them.
“2. A full list of organizations that AEA is working with to help Black, Indigenous, and POC feel safer.
“3. A full report of how the 2020 Equity dues were spent and what percentage is being spent to help conversations around diversity.
“4. Achieve greater inclusion for trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming artists.
“5. We want visibility on how the national council votes for policies. We also want efforts to improve diversity within the council.
“6. We want to achieve greater inclusion for artists with visible and nonvisible differing abilities.”
The march included personal testimonials from performers, who talked about their experiences working on Broadway productions. Diamond Essence White, who played Zoe in Dear Evan Hansen, shared with the crowd, via Laura Heywood's Twitter account, "The experiences I had at Dear Evan Hansen were blatant racism." She was told that she “wasn’t fooling anyone into thinking she could be WASPish” as the character of Zoe.
Social media was flooded with photos and videos as thousands were seen showing up in support of their fellow performers in hopes that their voices would be heard beyond Columbus Circle. Arts administrator and advocate Howard Sherman noted the throngs of media in the crowd, but noted in a tweet, "Need I note that I see no BIPOC reporters or crews in the crowd?"
Broadway expert Laura Heywood also called out major Broadway publications for not live-tweeting the event, especially since this is the first time the public has seen that many New York theater performers together in one place in over a year. "I invite @playbill @BroadwayWorld @theatermania & any other outlets to use my photos and tweets to amplify these crucial black, queer and disabled voices. Or better yet, find the tweets of black, queer and disabled people at thugs event and amplify those," she tweeted.
While the focus is on the list of six demands, many performers have other notable requests that deserve investigation, too. Emma Pseud tweeted, "Idk if y’all are adding more demands, but if you are I have a recommendation for the next one: make @ActorsEquity change their membership requirements & implement open enrollment. It’s time to stop treating union membership like a country club."
The call for inclusion and a look into the abuses of non-Equity tours are also being explored on TikTok. The producers save a lot of money by putting a Broadway-level non-union show out on the road with lower wages for the performers and crew — and also no health care. Dancer Megan Bowen even pointed out in a recent video that Equity doesn't guarantee a living wage for many of the performers who join the theater union. It's a cycle of needing an Equity card to join a Broadway, but obtaining those magical points for membership does not involve wages that anyone can live on, especially if the job is an expensive city like New York or San Francisco.
There is a lot of work ahead for Actors Equity and The Broadway League that are not just pandemic-related. The entire theater industry needs systemic change to meet the needs of all performers, especially since Broadway has also prided itself on being an inclusive community. It's time to do better.