Most of Broadway has been shut down for the last 18 months, but the Broadway Advocacy Coalition has been hard at work.
Created by Jacquelyn Bell, Amber Iman, Cameron J. Ross, Britton Smith, Adrienne Warren, and Christian Dante White in 2016, BAC began as a response to racism and police brutality following the murder of Philando Castile in 2016. Spurred by a Facebook post by Iman, the artists—many of whom were starring in Shuffle Along… together at the time—mobilized the Broadway community into action with their first event, Broadway for Black Lives Matter, at Columbia University.
For the collective, that first event sparked something even larger: an understanding of how Broadway voices could influence change. “We saw that we were creatives beyond the stage,” BAC President Britton Smith reflects. “We were able to create community for the people who felt anger and rage like us. And then we were able to create a sense of healing out of that rage.”
In the time since, while working in partnership with Columbia Law School, BAC has lent its voice to fight for change—with causes including educational equality, immigration, criminal justice reform, and more—by uniting artists with policy makers and community leaders. But in June 2020, while the country faced an unprecedented reckoning about racism after the murder of George Floyd, the organization found itself looking inward at its own community. As Black theatremakers were surfacing their own experiences of racial harm in the industry, BAC used the tools it had developed to create a safe space for the community to process, programming a three-day digital forum guiding attendees through healing, education, and empowerment. The event was a watershed moment for the non-profit, cementing it as a leader in the movement to make theatres safe and equitable for all.
In the year following, the Broadway Advocacy Coalition has held additional forums, launched a scholarship program with Broadway stage manager Cody Renard Richard, created the Reimagining Equitable Productions Workshop to help productions and companies create safe theatre spaces, and more, all shaping the theatre industry for the better—and earning a Special Tony Award in the process.
Still, the work continues. As theatre returns, the Broadway Advocacy Coalition is focused on enabling theatremakers to advocate for a more equitable industry from the ground-up while also educating those at the top of the commercial theatre ecosystem.
“We believe everybody is a change agent. You may be a disruptor, or you may be a healer, or you may be a weaver and connect things, but we want everybody to leave [our events] with the capacity built to do better," adds Smith. "I think BAC is a symbol of hope that everybody does have a role, and BAC is a symbol of what is possible when everyone participates.”