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Tony- and Grammy-winning talent Audra McDonald said the eerie silence from the Broadway community after George Floyd’s death back in May bothered her so much that she co-launched Black Theatre United, an advocacy coalition of Black Broadway stars focused on increasing equality and representation on stage and beyond.
“The theater community comes together to raise awareness for lots of issues — LGBTQ issues, issues with immigration, things like that. But when the George Floyd murder happened, it just felt a little too silent from the theater community. It absolutely bothered me,” The Good Fight star told CBS This Morning host Gayle King.
That lack of response prompted a text exchange between McDonald and her friend and fellow Broadway star Rhonda LaChanze Sapp, known professionally as LaChanze, about how to “make some noise” and “try and effect change whatever way we can.” The Black Theatre United co-founders reached out to other Broadway talent like Vanessa Williams, Wendell Pierce, Tamara Tunie, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Anna Deavere Smith, and Norman Lewis, all of whom would become part of the movement’s 21-member team of actors, directors, musicians, writers, technicians, producers and stage managers.
“We thought, let’s bring our community together and start to raise awareness and work on the micro issue of systemic racism within the theater community, and then the macro issue of systemic racism within our country,” McDonald said of the organization, which launched in June.
That’s resulted in a number of virtual events, including town halls featuring Viola Davis, Stacey Abrams, Dr. Jeanine Abrams McLean and the NAACP’s Sherrilyn Ifill, as well as a partnership with Abrams’ census-focused nonprofit Fair Count. A recently launched PSA campaign featuring Black stage talents like Billy Porter and Misty Copeland encourages Americans to ensure they’re counted during the 2020 census, which is set to end its data collection on Sept. 30.
“Black and brown people are undercounted usually by about 10 percent, and it’s even more so this year because of COVID,” McDonald said. “But registering in the census allocates over a trillion dollars to communities, and if those communities aren’t standing up and counted, then they won’t receive that money. That money goes to resources for medical and roads and schools, and it’s about districting as well.”
McDonald said this was part of Black Theatre United’s dual-pronged approach to addressing racism both on the macro and micro level. The multihyphenate said the coalition has been meeting behind-the-scenes with different theater companies across the country over the last few months to increase awareness and accountability. Actions have focused on how much and where Black talent is represented, in addition to hurdles Black people face while trying to navigate the theater pipeline.
“We’re very much underrepresented within the theatrical community,” McDonald told King. “There are very few people of color in casting offices, in publicity offices, in stage management, in the hair and makeup unions and in the carpentry union, and that’s just as important. We need to see representation on all sides. We also need to open up the pipeline to make sure that young people who want to have a career in the theater have access and resources to get there and that means more mentorship, more paid internships.”
Watch the entire segment below.
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