Why 'Hamilton' alone won't fix Broadway's diversity problem

Why 'Hamilton' alone won't fix Broadway's diversity problem
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| July 12 2016,

02:00 am

The night of the Tony Awards was a whirlwind. I was selfishly — and deservedly — giddy as the melanin-infused actors of Hamilton won award after award. I loved that Daveed Diggs, a rapper from Oakland, CA, won Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson on the Great White Way. I loved that black women with natural hair served as the example of excellence in theater. I even watched as
Hamilton won Best Musical...and a white man accepted the award as Lin-Manuel Miranda stood in the background.Although 
Hamilton serves as the precedent for how to appropriately establish a diverse and inclusive cast and crew, there has been little practical work done in the rest of the theater community to make diversity a sustainable reality. Here are four reasons why we won’t have any more Hamilton
s if Broadway doesn’t take steps to accurately reflect the world it imitates:

Lack of new work

The Tonys certainly surpassed the Oscars
in terms of the opportunities for black actors to be recognized this year, but no productions told the stories of our current generation. According to the script’s copyright, Eclipsed first premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 2009 (though most sources will cite its New York debut in 2015).
The Color Purple and Shuffle Along
are revivals of decades-old classics exhibiting a rich history of black expression through performance. Hamilton is the only production that qualifies as a new work, not yet published at the time of its first performance. Even still, the record-breaking musical re-appropriates the story of white founding father Alexander Hamilton. If we want to continue seeing faces that look like us and talk like us, Broadway must produce stories written by us.

Cash is king

The wealth gap between black and white Americans infiltrates even the art world, a world in which some might say art cannot be quantified (and by some, I mean me). It is why you still find wealthy, white male producers (aka investors) accepting awards for The Color Purple
and Hamilton. In October 2015, the
University of Maryland’s Devos Institute of Arts Management released a bleak report on diversity in the arts. The study financially compares more than 60 black and Latino arts organizations to 20 major “general arts” organizations (read: white). Out of those 60 organizations, only the Alvin Ailey Institute can sustain a budget larger than $5 million. The average budget across the 20 white organizations? $61.1 million. The report attributes these disparities to the lack of consistent, small donations from individuals. Mainstream arts organizations receive more than 60 percent of their funding from smaller, individual donations, compared to half of their black and Latino counterparts receiving only 5 percent. Michael Kaiser, head of the Devos Institute mentions, “Big companies started to do African-American and some Latino work, which is wonderful, but in some ways it was taking away resources from organizations of color.” Donate to organizations (bonus points if they’re local) founded, led by and for people of color. Financial investment is a major key to evening the playing field on the Great White Way.

Ticket accessibility

Not only have Hamilton
tickets been selling out like wildfire, but if you do manage to cop one? Beyoncé’s nosebleed tickets are still cheaper than the back of the mezzanine at Hamilton. A musical originally created to make Alexander Hamilton’s story more accessible has now become inaccessible for the communities it was created for. Thankfully, the Rockefeller Foundation presented Hamilton with a $1.46 million grant to give more than 20,000 New York City public school students $10 tickets. I’ve never wanted to go back to school so badly! For the rest of us, it is an immense privilege to not only know the right people who have access to a ticket, have the money to purchase a ticket, but also be one of the very few PoC in a predominantly white audience. Theaters cater to their audiences. Diversify the audience and theaters will begin diversifying their stories.

After Hamilton?

Can you name the next big phenomenon after Hamilton
? Personally, I’m excited for Waitress with a score by Sara Bareilles, but that’s beside the point.
In an interview with Leslie Odom, Jr. (Aaron Burr, sir), he ponders what’s next for himself and his castmates. “I imagine if a white actor were having a similar situation to what I’m having, with the kind of success of the show, there might be three or four offers a week for the next shows you’re going to do. There are no shows for me to do. There’s just no roles.” This reverberates the need for new work on Broadway right now, not when the next generation’s Lin-Manuel Miranda writes a historically inclusive hit.Broadway had a remarkable 2015-2016 season as illustrated by a historic year at the Tonys for people of color. I’m grateful for Lin-Manuel Miranda, who knows just as much about hip-hop as he does about Barbra Streisand, and Cynthia Erivo for reminding me that no theater can contain black girl magic. I fear that Broadway will consider its duty to actors of color done, and not continue to pursue allyship and equity. I don't want this to be the last year we see black girls pop and lock with pirouettes to 808s and violins from the pit. Please do celebrate the historic presences of
Hamilton, The Color Purple
, Shuffle Along, and
Eclipsed, but until all that presence of melanin on the Great White Way becomes the norm, Broadway still has a long way to go.

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