Broadway has long known that Black professionals are underrepresented backstage and in leadership positions in the commercial theater industry — but now a new initiative from a group of Broadway producers, the Theatre Leadership Project, aims to change that.
Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:
“There seems to be this notion that if you are a Black person or a person of color working in the theater field, then the commercial world is not for you. You are forced to go into the nonprofit arena,” said Travis LeMont Ballenger, one of the founding members of TTLP. He spoke on the latest episode of Variety‘s theater podcast, “Stagecraft,” appearing with Leah Harris, the new project’s program manager, to discuss the current state of representation on Broadway and how TTLP is hoping to change things.
“Black people are basically told from the moment you graduate college that all of the work that you do has to be in service,” explained Ballenger, who recently joined Lia Vollack Productions (“MJ”) from The Old Globe in San Diego. “Somehow, in order to get here, you’ve gotten something, so now you have to give back. You can’t do work that also has a commercial angle to it. … We are working to combat that idea, and to fight against that.”
Currently accepting applications for its inaugural round of fellowships, TTLP aims to train, mentor and place early-career Black producers, general managers, company managers and stage managers in the commercial theater industry through paid, multi-year fellowships, in partnership with working producers, general managers and Black-led theater organizations. Health insurance for the fellows is also part of the package.
“I’m hoping that this is modeling to the field a way of supporting new leadership, supporting more Black people in [theater] spaces and thinking about those pathways to leadership, and how they have historically, systemically served white people,” Harris said.
She and Ballenger also talked through the origins of the project, how their own experiences in the industry have influenced their approach to TTLP, and explained what kind of applicants they think would make a good fit for the project. “We want this fellowship to be for anyone who sees themself in this fellowship,” Harris said.
To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.