In May 2018, Alexia Sielo conducted an experiment. As she was preparing to graduate from the Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre at New York Film Academy, she asked her classmates, “What kind of roles do you think I should pursue after graduation?” The answers included the usual characters assigned to Black women studying contemporary musical theatre—Rent's Joanne Jefferson, The Color Purple's Celie, and any of the Hamilton's Schuyler sisters.
“What about Lee, my best friend who migrated here from Africa to study musical theater?” Sielo asked.
“What about Genesis?” Sielo asked. Genesis was a close friend from the Dominican Republic.
"She should do Hamilton!"
While no one could deny that all three performers were all talented, they each possessed their own unique set of skills—different from each other, providing evidence that they shouldn't be lumped together for the same roles just because they were non-white. And yet, the same roles were recommended for them because of the limited number of roles written for Black women and women of color in the musical theatre canon. “While today’s Broadway may have various opportunities for women who look like me, we still face limitations,” says Sielo.
Sielo shared the conversation and resulting concerns about the lack of quantity and quality of theatrical roles for women of color with her sister, Victoria Velazquez, who was preparing to graduate from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts herself. And thus, Women of Color on Broadway (WOCoB) was born. The sisters set out to uplift women of African, Latin, and Asian descent who are pursuing a career in musical theatre by presenting network and career opportunities to female students of color.
Two years later, and they've worked with artists including Tony winner LaChanze, Tony winner Melba Moore, Celia Rose Gooding, Kayla Davion, Lianah Sta. Ana, and Macy Schmidt. They've partnered with theatre companies, union organizations, boutique businesses, and corporate brands to further bring awareness to their mission through unique showcases and educational events. And they're not stopping anytime soon. They intend to produce original and revival works to further employ women of color as performers and behind-the-scenes professionals.
The organization recently gave Playbill Instagram followers a glimpse into its community and initiatives. Enjoy the highlights here and get to know even more about the organization in the Q&A below.
On producing the first WOCoB Tribute Cabaret.
Seeing Sielo's frustration gave Velazquez the idea to put on a show to honor the women of African, Latin, and Asian descent who contributed heavily to cultural diversity on Broadway. On June 29, 2018, the sisters produced Women of Color on Broadway Tribute Cabaret at Don’t Tell Mama in New York City. Since then, the sisters have produced their showcase in historical venues like Feinstein’s/54 Below, Minton’s Playhouse, and The Cooper Union’s Great Hall (which was filmed by ALLARTS TV).
On honoring women of color's contributions in musical theatre.
Every year, WOCoB Inc. produces the Purple Crystal Honorary Awards ceremony, where one or more female veterans of color in the Broadway industry are honored with the award for their accomplishments and contributions in musical theater. Our showcase typically features special performances by a mix of current Broadway performers and and some of our collegiate mentees to expand their network. We also make it a priority to have an all-female band and creative team!
On providing resources for aspiring theatremakers.
Our education program L.I.W.I.C. is an online platform developed to expand the network of women of color ages 18-24, who are currently starting their theatre careers either in a college, university, conservatory, or otherwise. L.I.W.I.C. is developed in partnership with union organizations including the IATSE and SDC.
This membership-only platform features the following:
L for Library: The WOCoB Library is a digital database that collects journals, interviews, and special articles written by, or for, historic theatrical figures of color.
I for Interviews: Every year, WOCoB hosts a series of Student Q&A’s in various high schools, and colleges, and theatre conservatories, with a prominent Broadway actor of color to share invaluable professional advice to the next generation of theatre and Broadway.
W for Writer’s Workshop: Writer’s Workshop is a mentorship program where up-and-coming female playwrights can present their works to some of the most prominent writers in theatre, to receive critic, guidance, and exposure on their new works.
I for Internships: WOCoB partners with theatre houses, production companies, marketing firms, and casting agencies in NYC to develop an internship program for high school/college female students of color between the ages 16–25.
C for Career Center: The WOCoB Career Center is a small division designed to assist college graduates in job searching in their desired fields within the theatre industry.
We provide our resources, network, and expertise to edit their résumés as well as schedule interviews or auditions. Student members of L.I.W.I.C. will also have access to our exclusive job listing. Applications will open in June 2021 and the official program will launch in September 2021.
On their initiative #BroadwaySpeaks.
WOCoB launched the initiative #BroadwaySpeaks to support non-profit organizations and other communities that are dedicated to supporting social causes and ending injustices within the United States or beyond. Every year, WOCoB partners with at least one business or non-profit organization to bring awareness to a social issue in hopes to bring change for a better society. We will provide assistance in campaign development, event coordination, social media strategy, and fundraising with notable Broadway performers. In Summer 2020 alone, we’ve partnered with with Amnesty International to obtain signatures for their PEACE ACT petition to end police brutality, and Pressed Juicery to help aid healthcare workers on the frontlines treating COVID-19.
On what artists hopefully gain by working with WOCoB.
We want young women who join our organization to be exposed to resources and materials that would give them an advantage as they enter the already-competitive industry of theater and entertainment. We want them to have general knowledge of union organizations, we want them to be a part of a strong community of up-and-coming theatre professionals like themselves, we want them to be exposed to all career fields in theatre, and we want them to feel confident as they step into the world to demand (or create) their own work with equal pay!
On the community they've created.
The most memorable moments of an event are 10 minutes before it begins, and 20 minutes after it ends. We've been blessed to be surrounded by people who support our cause. Their support is most apparent through their commitment to our projects, and efforts to help us sustain WOCoB's healthy work environment. We are forever grateful to every artist, musician, manager, designer, student intern, etc. who has ever worked with us.
On upcoming projects.
House Seats: Women of Color on Broadway will air October 21 at 8PM ET on ALLARTS TV and streaming platforms as part of their House Seats series.
On how to get involved with WOCoB.
You can support by shopping on their online store, donating, and sharing opportunities for WOCoB's student-membership education program's job listing.