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Listen: How Theater Meets Activism With the Broadway Advocacy Coalition

Adrienne Warren Zhailon Levingston
Courtesy of Broadway Advocacy Coalition

Mobilized by the coronavirus shutdown and the Black Lives Matter movement, theater industry pros are in the midst of figuring out how their art and their activism can fit together. One model for making it work? The Broadway Advocacy Coalition, which since 2016 has brought theatermakers together with lawyers, scholars, educators and activists to push for social change.

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

For BAC co-founder and “Tina” star Adrienne Warren, the work has opened up a whole new perspective. “It has really inspired me to learn about producing, and learn about providing opportunities for other Black creators and Black minds and likeminded people,” said Warren, who appeared with fellow BAC co-founder Zhailon Levingston on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast. “It has given me an opportunity to learn more about policy, and to implement that in my producing work if I have the opportunity. It has just widened my lens so much.”

In addition to hosting last month’s Broadway for Black Lives Matter Again digital forum, BAC has also been a key player in initiatives like Theater of Change, a working methodology developed by the Broadway-based organization in partnership with Columbia Law School’s Center for Institutional and Social Change.

“What BAC does is center the stories of those directly impacted [by an issue], whether we’re talking about Broadway, whether we’re talking about mass incarceration and the criminal legal system, whether we’re talking about the immigration system or the educational system,” said Levingston, an artist and educator who is the U.S. associate director of “Tina.” “What we’re doing is trying to find who’s most impacted by the policies that are put out by these institutions. And thinking in that way is a dramatic shift from before my work with BAC, [when I was] thinking, ‘Where’s the power, who has the power?’ Now I say, ‘Who has the story?’ BAC’s job is to bring the power to the story, and to position the story in a way that builds capacity for everyone who is trying to affect policy.”

In recent weeks, other theater-based advocacy groups have sprung up alongside BAC, including Black Theatre United and We See You, White American Theater — and the BAC cofounders said they love having the company. “For us, it’s really about connecting with these other groups and seeing how we can be of service and help to them,” Warren said. “Everyone can go and fight this their own way, but we should be there to support one another.”

Warren was also frank about the potential for change in this moment, and where it might lead down the line. “I think society has put a lot of pressure for this industry to act and to acknowledge what is happening and to hold a position in what’s happening,” she said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that people are gung-ho, 100% change, 100% enlightened, and evolved into these socially-aware creators and producers. But what it does mean is now there’s a willingness to listen, to learn, to unlearn, and to hopefully implement changes within institutions that need it most right now.”

“We’re in lots of different conversations across the industry right now, from the ground all the way to rooms wherein artists aren’t usually allowed to advocate for themselves,” Levingston explained. BAC’s upcoming calendar also includes “The Miseducation,” a July 27 digital forum examining predominantly white theater institutions.

“I think we are all very aware that this is not a one-year plan,” Warren added. This is for the long haul.”

New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available biweekly during the summer, with a weekly scheduling resuming this fall. Download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Past episodes are available here and on Apple Podcasts.