Arts Engines Spotlights The Black Theater Coalition

September 26, 2021 — I recently had the opportunity to listen to an interview conducted by Aaron Dworkin with T. Oliver Reid about the Black Theatre Coalition (BTC). The videocast interview is both informative and powerful, and I urge the readers of Arts & Culture Connections to take the time (about 18 minutes) to watch it at this link.

The interview was conducted as part of Aaron’s ongoing venture—Arts Enginesa weekly, online video interview conducted in partnership with Detroit Public Television, Ovation TV, The Violin Channel and American Public Media. Arts Engines seeks to share valuable advice from leaders in all facets of the arts about creative problem-solving, policy, economic issues, crisis management and empowering the future of our field.

The interview with T. Oliver Reid was curated in conjunction with Arizona State University’s Gammage Center for the Arts.

I think it raised several key points that we should all ponder when addressing issues of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access (EDIA) issues with our clients or within our respective organizations.

T. Oliver Reid is a co-founder of BTC, along with renowned artistic director and choreographer Warren Adams, and philanthropist and arts advocate Reginald “Reggie” Van Lee. He said BTC began its work in 2019, but the urgency became apparent after the murder of George Floyd.

The purpose of the BTC is to “remove the illusion of inclusion” that is perpetuated by seeing lots of Black and Brown people onstage, T. Oliver Reid said. Noting that there are currently seven plays on Broadway written by Black playwrights with primarily Black actors, he said the reality is that the people who make decisions offstage remain predominantly white.

He also noted that in the history of Broadway less than one-percent of the decision-making positions of producer, general managers, casting, choreographers, marketing or publicists, have been held by Black people.

BTC is seeking to restructure American theater—Broadway, off-Broadway, regional theater, not for profit theater, as well as theater training on college and university campuses. More than momentary changes in response to the racial and social justice movements, T. Oliver Reid said BTC’s mission is to be the driver of systemic change to create generational opportunities for everyone.

To that end, BTC is seeking what T. Oliver Reid called “accomplices” rather than allies—white people committed to changing the landscape of the American theater because they feel that the arts have no choice but to create a pathway or pipeline of opportunities if they are to survive.

BTC currently has a weekly webinar program, in conjunction with Columbia University’s Theatre Management and Producing Program, for Black Management professionals in the theater. Although T. Oliver Reid did not elaborate during the interview, I have additional information I’d like to share with the readers of Arts & Culture Connections about BTC’s Fellowship Program.

The goal of the program is “to build a sustainable, ethical roadmap to increase employment opportunities for Black theatre professionals.” Professors Steven Chaikelson, head of Theatre Management & Producing, and Michael J. Passaro, head of Stage Management, at Columbia’s School of the Arts have been providing a weekly webinar series—Introduction to the Business of Theatre Workshop series—exclusively for potential BTC fellows.

Currently, there are 10 people enrolled in the program, which includes lectures on management, production, legal matters, marketing, and the financial aspects of the theater industry; group discussions regarding major industry issues; as well as panel discussions with industry professionals sharing information about their jobs and how they built their careers.

As an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia, I am among the group of guest lecturers, which includes professors Lisa Poyer and Rachel Sussman, along with industry executives Christina Selby and Anthony McDonald. The workshops were partially supported by the Columbia’s Office of the Provost’s Addressing Racism Faculty Seed Grant Initiative.

The Black Theatre Coalition is accepting applications through July 16, 2022, for its fellowship program that aims to end racial inequality across 20 offstage industry groups. Each fellow will receive a $50-thousand salary over the course of the 12-month program.

Two fellows will be selected for fellowships in each of these categories: writing, composition, directing, choreography, set design, lighting design, costume design, sound design, video design, wig and hair design, stage management, theatre management, musical direction, casting, marketing and advertising, public relations, digital media, and talent representation. Six fellows each will be selected for fellowships in producing and general management, with the latter program lasting 24-months.

The fellowships will immerse the fellows in the industry, allowing them to work alongside current industry professionals. BTC-sponsored networking events will give fellows opportunities to connect with other industry leaders, and pop-up events will give the full cohort of fellows a chance to work together.

The fellowship aims to increase representation of Black theatre professionals by five-fold over the next decade, and they will team up to share resources with other organizations, such as Black Theatre United, the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, and Broadway Serves.

This is an exciting and trailblazing endeavor that has the potential to monumentally shift the diversity of voices working in all facets of American theater. As always, I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Leave a Reply