Earlier this spring, 25 up-and-coming theatre makers completed the inaugural Producing 101 course from Theatre Producers of Color. The program, committed to supporting the next generation of BIPOC producers, ran for 10 weeks and taught the fundamentals of commercial producing, including development paths, financing, and budgeting, with experienced BIPOC and white ally leaders as their guides.
Tony-nominated producer Rashad V. Chambers (The Inheritance, Betrayal) served as the program mentor with guest appearances by Tony–winning and nominated producers Stephen C. Byrd, Arvind Ethan David, Mara Isaacs, Alia Jones-Harvey, Brian Moreland, Greg Nobile, Joey Parnes, Ron Simons, and Barbara Whitman, as well as Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director Maria Manuela Goyanes and Lisa Davis, partner at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.
"It was a joy to introduce these remarkable rising theatre leaders to the world of commercial producing, seen through the eyes of some of our industry’s stakeholders," said TPOC founder Miranda Gohh. "Now more than ever, we need innovative and disruptive thinking, and I have no doubt that this inaugural cohort will lead us towards the change that we’re seeking."
With the reopening of theatres on the horizon, Playbill checked in with nearly all of the students to get their thoughts on the future of American theatre, what they learned during the program, and why people should consider a career in producing. Check out their musings in the gallery below—and further down in the Q&A.
What is one thing you learned in the course that surprised you?
Rashad T. Bailey: It was illuminating to hear war stories from our teachers that mirrored so many of my own. To hear so personally how they endured under such pressure inspires me. When we are able to see our heroes journey, we can imagine our own more fully.
Victoria Detres: I was really worried, and to be honest, quite cynical that the digital space created would feel like a barrier to real conversation, real engagement. But it wasn’t. With this cohort there was an immense joy and care that radiated with the conversations we had together. We challenged each other with passionate discourse, but we also created a community of support and accountability. I was truly surprised that I was able to engage in this way and have the space become that.
Isha Gulati: No two shows are produced the same. Using a "successful" model from one show does not guarantee success for a different show.
Marina Montesanti: I initially thought there was little room for me to be a commercial producer, but as the course progressed, I was surprised to see that there is more space and possibilities than I thought. I am grateful to be guided by my mentors and to be fostered within a community of people who share the same desire for the American Theatre. We know what we need to do to make ourselves and our communities proud, so this class fueled me to continue creating art and supporting artists I believe in.
Brayden Simpson: I'm not sure if I was surprised, but I was certainly inspired to learn the purpose of regional enhancements and their function in a show's development, especially for a potential Broadway run. While freelancing, I remember tracking certain shows and recognizing patterns: theatres that would align with a play's themes would put up a particular show, specific cities' demographics, etc. Through TPOC, I learned regional enhancements are more than the opportunity for a show to play to different audiences, but the chance for creative logistics to be fully reimagined as needed.
Camille Thomas: I was surprised by how many people are out there that are tired of the way the industry works. If we can come together we can really change the theatre world.
Traci Tolmaire: What struck me is the reality that only three organizations own the majority of theaters on Broadway and control what stories are presented. It reinforces how paramount it is to have BIPOC owned and operated artistic homes.
Leah Vicencio: One thing from the course that surprised me was how mission-driven a producer's work can be. There can be multiple ventures, but a constant throughline with the impact a producer wishes to make on a community. Also, how extensive the legal processes can be!
Danielle Zarbin: I wasn't surprised by the number of BIPOC who are interested in producing, but I was surprised by the sheer scale of lack of information and tools available to make those dreams a concrete reality. Producing is full of human, structural, and financial gatekeepers and there is little transparency around how to gain access to any one of those doors. All the more reason to continue TPOC for future cohorts.
Why should students and young professionals consider a career in producing?
Adam Coy: If you are unsatisfied with what work gets programmed, the structures that make up the American Theatre, or do not see progress of change on the horizon, becoming a producer gives you the agency to change the industry from the top down.
Eric Emauni: We need new minds and creatives to keep this industry on the pulse of what is truly happening in the world. The truth is Broadway does not reflect society and has become more and more inaccessible. There are young minds with fresh ideas that can be supported, but that is a choice everyone needs to make.
Freddy Mancilla: Any progress made today is going to need a younger generation to continue the push tomorrow. Change is going to take more than one season, more than one year, more than one lifetime. And we're going to need your help.
Jacqueline Flores: To me, a career in producing theatre means having the opportunity to share the human experience on stage. Who gets to make those decisions affects how we see ourselves and others walk throughout the world. I choose producing because I’m passionate about changing the narratives that are told about people of color and want theatre to reflect and celebrate the complexities of our lives. Producing theatre has the power to affect how people treat each other and the way we see ourselves reflected on stage can impact what we believe ourselves to be capable of.
Lady Del Castillo: The industry needs fresh voices and ideas to move forward. The issues older producers have dealt with are not the same issues younger folks are currently dealing with. Sometimes, it takes young professionals speaking up and making a ruckus for long-term change to happen.
Marisa Diane Kennedy: It forces you to grow within yourself and to examine what kind of art is aligned with your ideals. Where are you willing to put your time, money, and energy even if financial success is not a sure thing?
Olivia Lilley: To be a producer is to declare that you will settle for nothing less than having agency in your career and your artistry. Every young artist should learn to produce. It will teach you, baseline, how to advocate for others as well as yourself.
Ryan Duncan-Ayala: The industry needs more young producers that want to shake up how we produce plays at the highest levels. This program allowed me to learn the industry standard so I know what I do and don't want to take forward as I begin making waves. We need more young people that want to do the same.
Sammie Paul: Students and young professionals should consider careers in producing because it ultimately puts the power of show fruition in your hands. Producers are the necessary cog between the artistic creative team and the public, supporting the show logistically and navigating the harsh realities of financial limitations. Producing offers you a way to support the stories you are passionate about and propel them to greater and greater heights. As a producer, you can pave the road for the underrepresented stories you see necessary and uplift a generation of new voices.