GUEST BLOG by Donna Walker-Kuhne: Diversity on Broadway: An Insider’s Perspective

Why is diversity important on Broadway?  I believe that many in the field want to see equity, diversity, and inclusion.  But they aren’t sure how to implement it, or don’t know the steps to take. I asked my colleague, Jim Joseph, the Theatre Manager at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, for his thoughts on trends in diversity and inclusion as well as tactics for growth.

Jim said: “I recently spoke at the 2018 TEDxBroadway, and I proposed a version of the National Football League’s “Rooney Rule,” named after the late Dan Rooney, the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The “Rooney Rule” mandates that NFL teams interview at least one qualified candidate of color for every available head coaching job. This broadens and increases the pool of candidates and exposes the owners to a wider circle of qualified people.

We have to acknowledge that folks know who they know; they hire who they know. But hopefully, this idea could systematically help break those barriers down.  There isn’t a governing body for Broadway like the NFL. The Broadway League is a trade organization for the Broadway theater industry. However, that should not prevent the Broadway gatekeepers from adopting the spirit of the “Rooney Rule” during their hiring processes.

Clearly, Jim has presented a case for mentorship, developing and executing equitable hiring practices, and providing opportunities for diverse candidates to excel.

How do we build diverse audiences?

Let’s take notes from the film Black Panther. What has deeply impressed me about this film, is how communities around the country have been mobilizing experiences to engage with this film.

Inspired by trailers more than a year before the film was released and online information that helped give potential viewers a window through which to view “art-in-the-making,” the community created its own programs based on its desire to support and engage.

In addition, Black celebrities, athletic teams and Ellen DeGeneres joined the #BlackPantherChallenge and purchased screenings in major cities to ensure that Black community youth did not have the barrier of the ticket price (as $25 in major cities) as an obstacle to seeing the film.

We start with the product – who is the play for and who will it inspire? Director Ryan Coolger started with a vision. In an interview, he said he was “Making the film to inspire the next generation the way he was inspired when he read his first Black Panther comic book, especially because he still lived in a world where there weren’t many heroes who looked like him.”

This film’s blockbuster status was the result of a community-building process; a journey that began with the first inklings of the film’s existence. This foresight led to the curating of audience experiences that were further enhanced by attending the screening. In other words, the audience felt kinship, ownership, and connection before the film opened. This process required vision, desire, time and an investment in building the film’s eventual audience. In the realm of theater, what is the vision we can hold for the communities we seek to engage?

The product needs to tell/show the “perspective audiences’” story in a positive, bold, and dynamic way. That may require the enlistment of new writers who can share stories that encompass the past, present, and future. Like the Black Panther screenplay, stories that project and promote respect, dignity and love resonate the deepest and garner the widest audiences. That also may require enlisting the input of emerging artists (taking a chance on the future Ryan Cooglers and Joe Robert Coles) and taking a risk on a new vision of theater.

And then you engage the community. As early as possible, you share the creative process behind the work: the reason for the project’s genesis, and the people involved, including those working behind the scenes. I have read at least 50 articles about the cast and the creative team behind Black Panther. There have been countless videos, links on social media (including a Facebook Fan Page that currently has more than three-quarters of a million followers), as well as numerous articles in a wide variety of print and online publications.

Broadway has the capacity to do the same. It’s not about having a Marvel-like marketing budget and promoting ticket sales. It’s more important to look at the psychographics of building communities and engaging them from the perspective of creating value by wanting to connect, respect, honor, touch and transform their lives.


Donna Walker-Kuhne is the founder of Walker International Communications Group (WICG), a boutique marketing, press and audience development consulting agency. Her team specializes in multicultural marketing, group sales, multicultural press and promotional events. They have over 45 years of experience executing successful marketing and audience development campaigns for Broadway productions and cultural arts organizations with sales over $22MM. Donna is acknowledged as the nation’s foremost expert in Audience Development by the Arts &Business Council and has devoted her professional career to increasing access to the arts.  Her company has developed a brand reputation among performing arts patrons of exposing them to high-quality productions and unique experiences in a way that exceeds audience members and clients’ expectations alike.

Her current client roster includes major cultural and performing arts organizations such as: Alvin Ailey Dance Company, Apollo Theater, as well as the Broadway productions of The Lion King, Aladdin and Once on This Island. She is currently Senior Advisor, Community Engagement at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center charged with developing and deepening relationships with targeted communities through partnerships and special events.
Broadway productions include: A Raisin in the Sun starring Denzel Washington; A Trip To Bountiful starring Cicely Tyson; HUGHIE starring Forest Whitaker; Porgy and Bess featuring Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis; A Streetcar Named Desire featuring Blair Underwood; Alicia Keys’Stick Fly; Hairspray; Ragtime; Ann starring Holland Taylor; Thurgood starring Laurence Fishburne, Driving Miss Daisy featuring James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave, August Wilson’s Radio Golf; Caroline, or Change; Time Stands Still featuring Laura Linney, Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, etc.

Off Broadway, WICG has worked with Playwrights Horizons, Public Theater, Signature Theatre, Cherry Lane Theatre, New York Musical Theatre Festival, Second Stage Theatre, New York Fringe Festival, National Black Theatre, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company as well as arts organizations such as Dance Theater of Harlem, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities and WNYC Radio.  She provides consulting services to numerous arts organizations throughout the country and worldwide including Australia, Berlin, Moscow, Sochi, Edinburgh, and Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Donna Walker-Kuhne is the recipient of over 40 awards acknowledging her distinguished service in the field of audience development and serves on several Boards of Directors. She is an adjunct professor of over 20 years at New York University and also teaches at Bank Street College.  Her first book, Invitation to the Party:  Building Bridges to Arts, Culture and Community, was published in 2005. Ms. Walker-Kuhne is a volunteer with the SGI-USA, a worldwide peace organization serving as Vice Director for New York.

What us Broadway folks can learn from the success of The Simpsons.

Earlier this week, The Simpsons celebrated its 30th anniversary on the air.

That’s right, both The Simpsons AND The Phantom of the Opera started entertaining audiences in 1987.

The cartoon has 32 Emmys on its hand-drawn shelf and is also the longest-running scripted, primetime entertainment series of all time (and is guaranteed to run for at least two more seasons).

Whenever anything is this successful, but especially when it’s in the entertainment industry, I always take a few moments to dig into the story, in the hopes I’ll find something we can learn/borrow/steal for our playbooks.

Here are three takeaways from The Simpsons success story that we should pay attention to:

  1. It’s a cartoon that isn’t just for kids. Like most success stories, part of the key to its early success was how unique of a product it was. We had never seen anything like it.  It was a cartoon that wasn’t on Saturday mornings. And while kids loved hearing Bart say “Cowabunga, dude!” and piss off his parents in each episode, adults loved it too. Potential audience size = doubled. Disney is a master at this as well, especially with their films, in creating something that parents can take their kids to and enjoy just as much as their younger counterparts do (School of Rock is another great example of this on Broadway).If you have a show that could attract a younger demographic, work extra hard that you still appeal to the parent-set, and you could find yourself with twice as much word-of-mouth and twice as long of a run.
  2. It incorporates the current. All great satires poke fun at what is currently happening in society. The Simpsons constantly wrote current events into its scripts, making it resonate that much more with an audience.  In the press world, we call this newsjacking . . . you write a story based on another story that people are talking about and get that much more attention (and often press). In the entertainment industry, we just call this smart.And sure, it got themselves into some controversies from time to time, but that ain’t all that bad either.

    Maybe your show is loose enough where you can literally call out current events (comedies like this one lend itself easily to that).  But if you can’t, you should still endeavor to have your story contain an undercurrent of a theme that’s currently being talked about at water coolers around the world.  Because it’ll make sure your show is being talked about at those coolers too.

  3. They used stars . . . as supporting players. Celebrity voices were common on The Simpsons for the past 30 years, but they were always supporting folks. The primary characters were voiced by actors you never heard of before, and the show actually made stars out of them.Audiences turned on The Simpsons for the show, not the stars, and got some celebrities as a bonus.

 

Remember, of the 10 longest running shows on Broadway, 9 of them debuted without stars. While in today’s day and age, it may feel safer to put a celebrity into your lead role, it’s not what leads to long-term success.

 

 

GUEST BLOG by Danielle DeMatteo: TIPS FOR SUBMITTING YOUR SCRIPT TO A FESTIVAL (Or to anything else, for that matter!)

Over the last 3 years since She NYC Arts was founded in 2015, we’ve gotten over a thousand script submissions from all over the world. While we have a whole team of script readers that score and take notes on them, I make it my goal to read every single script that gets sent to us myself. (No, I don’t always finish them all by the deadline. But eventually, I read them all!)

 

Needless to say, after all of that reading, we’ve got quite a comprehensive list of common mistakes and pet peeves when it comes to script submissions. I’ll break them all down here, so your next script submission can stand out from the crowd.

 

First, some logistical tips.

  • Send your script in PDF format. Don’t send Word docs, Final Draft files, or anything else. PDFs look far more professional, and they can be read anywhere without compatibility issues!
  • Let your script speak for itself. If your story requires lots of explanation in your application, a 3-page Author’s Note, or more stage directions than you have dialogue, then either (A) your script isn’t strong enough or (B) it is strong enough, and you’re overthinking things. The audience won’t be able to read your application; they’re just seeing the show. Make sure your dialogue stands on its own two feet.
  • Make sure your writing is easy on the eyes, out of respect for script readers who have to read a dozen scripts in a row. That means not using any crazy fonts or colors, making sure it’s formatted uniformly and is free of grammatical mistakes. (HINT: A lot of people think their script has no grammatical mistakes, but it really does. Have a grammar-nerd friend proofread it for you!)
  • Related to the last point: if your characters speak in a specific dialect, it’s cool to write out some of the basic figures of speech of that dialect, but don’t write out the accent phonetically in every single line of dialogue. It becomes impossible to read! Just say in the character description what type of accent that person should have.

 

Next, we see a lot of common storytelling issues that emerge in our script submissions. We come across these issues in our big hash-out-who-gets-in-to-the-festival meeting, where we argue over which shows have the most potential. Inevitably, there’s always a big ol’ pile of shows where we all agree…if only they had this one thing, or made this one choice, they’d be a much stronger contender. Here are a few of those common culprits.

  • It’s straight out of your fifth grade English class: every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It seems simple, but the deeper question is: why did you decide to begin and end the story when you did? Why did your first scene incite this story, and how does your last scene make the story feel complete? There’s nothing better than an ending that makes you have a real “aha” moment.
  • Don’t say things in ten words when you can say them in two.
  • Put yourself in someone else’s body when reading your script or watching rehearsal. (This is a trick I swear by!) When you’re watching a run through, pretend your mom (or your best friend, or your 8th grade English teacher, or your mentor) is sitting next to you. What would she be thinking? How would he be reacting? Is there anything that makes you cringe at the thought of them watching it? Edit that before you submit your script to a stranger!
  • Make sure your story is inherently theatrical. We say it about scripts all the time: This story is great, but it reads more like a TV show or an indie film. Why does your story need to be told onstage, specifically? Stephen Sondheim sums it up best in one of his cardinal rules: Content Dictates Form. The content of your show — the story, the characters, the style — must dictate that the form of theater is the absolute best way to display this content or tell this story.
  • Similarly, make sure there’s a reason for any audience member to care about your characters. I’ve had so many people say, “Of course an audience cares about my characters, because how could you possibly not care about [insert description of your character: a woman with a deadly disease, a character discovering its sexuality, a baker who accidentally poisons his hometown with a disastrous new cinnamon bun recipe]?!” People don’t care about characters just because of what category they fit into. They care about characters because those characters, or their journeys throughout a show, end up relating to themselves in some way, even if that “way” is simply that they’re clearly a deeply-layered human being like you or me.

 

If you’ve got all of that covered, you’re ready to submit your script! She NYC Arts has its opens submissions in September, so you’ve got a few months to perfect your show before then. In the meantime, check out our 2018 She NYC Summer Theater Festival (running at The Connelly Theatre July 5-15), or our LA Festival (running at The Zephyr Theater July 23-29) to see what made the cut this year!

 


Danielle DeMatteo is a writer and producer who has worked with Jujamcyn Theaters, Disney Theatrical Group, Opus Book Publishers, and was on the core organizing team of the NYC Chapter of the Women’s March on Washington, New York State Chapter. She founded She NYC Arts in 2015 to help fix the gender gap in the theater industry, and is incredibly grateful to all the women who have helped build it into a bi-coastal nonprofit organization. She’s also on the board of Forward March NY, a grassroots organization focused on getting women involved in local politics, and is a co-host of their podcast, Women Who Pod. Importantly, she can name all the Presidents in order and has three roommates, two of whom are cats.

Broadway Grosses w/e 4/29/2018: We’re down but does anyone care today?

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending April 29, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

Broadway Grosses w/e 4/22/2018: It’s coming down to the wire.

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending April 22, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

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