“Producer” is a term that can mean many things. Typically, a lead producer is not only a primary investor or moneyraiser but the creative lead on the show. They put together the creative team for a production, often pairing writers with composer-lyricists or composer-lyricist teams and directors. Most importantly, a lead producer controls the message—how to market and advertise, final approvals on anything to do with the show. Producers at a lower level have varying degrees of creative input and varying degrees of financial commitment, depending on the show. The current demand for more Black (and Indigenous and POC) producers is a rallying cry for inclusion at every level.
Though, there are not enough producers of color on Broadway, there are a select few who have broken down barriers. This is part of a series Spotlight on Black Broadway Producers. Of course, there are other marginalized communities that also need more representation in leadership positions; the Black community is a place to start. In this series, read these producers’ personal stories, hopes for what theatre looks like upon its post-COVID return, and individual approaches to producing for the stage. Next up: Rashad Chambers.
The Theatre Lover Who Found His Place Behind The Scenes
When Rashad Chambers was 13, he discovered his love for theatre. Watching his cousin perform at Point Park University in Pittsburgh in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s meant he watched Billy Porter, Michael McElroy, Natalie Venetia Belcon, and more as they were developing their craft nearby at Carnegie Mellon University.
“I knew I didn't want to be a performer,” says Chambers, who ended up going to school for law and business. “I started studying theatre as a hobby—I’d take all my economic, accounting, etc. books with me, and every hour I’d go to the stacks and read plays and musicals, like Fences, then a scene from Gypsy, and it deepened my love of theatre.”
Soon, the Broadway fan started making annual trips to NYC and would collect Playbills, learning more and more about producing. Combining law, business, and entertainment, his first Broadway show was American Son, followed by Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations. This past season, he co-produced Betrayal and The Inheritance (meaning he’s a double-Tony nominee this year). “I spent 11 years producing and developing new work,” Chambers said. “I think the average person doesn't realize it takes eight years from inception to Broadway. Every show has its own developmental process—it can be challenging if you haven’t devoted your life to this.”
His approach: The producer says a lot of the work he’s gotten is an extension of past relationships or with clients (Chambers is also a talent manager). His proudest achievement so far is Ain’t Too Proud, which he’s been a part of since its workshop days. “This lightbulb went off that I needed to be part of it,” he says. “I didn't have any Broadway credits, and I didn’t have the relationships with the lead producers that decided who gets to play in the sandbox. Now I totally get it, you want to work with people you know and trust, and you’re also spending a lot of time with them.” But Chambers kept showing up. Attending meeting after meeting, lead producers Ira Pittleman and Tom Hulce got to know the up-and-comer, and welcomed him on board. “It was worth every bit of time pursuing them and showing them who I was as a producer and creator.”
His mission: “I really like projects and content that start a conversation—my taste is pretty eclectic,” says the producer. “I like thought provoking or character driven work. Ain’t Too Proud is a bio musical, so people go in because they like the song catalog, but they’re taken away by the rich story of what these guys went through to become the biggest guy group of all time.”
Impacting the future: Chambers’ priority is to produce diverse voices. He also wants to demystify the profession of producing for up-and-comers. He’s participated in panels to help educate people about the field. “It’s been 13 years now, so I’m by no means an expert, but I can help people get into the business and help shape their visions of their career.”
As for what’s next, Chambers is working on at least two productions that have Broadway ambitions, but plan to open regionally first: It Happened in Key West (which played London’s West End in 2018) and the Nina Simone bio-musical Little Girl Blue.
More Profiles in the Spotlight Series
Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey, Front Row Productions