Scroll through The Broadway Sinfonietta’s Instagram, and you’ll see some staggering statistics:
“The Tony Awards have recognized 124 total nominees for the award of Best Orchestrations. Out of 124 total nominees, [four] have been women, [and one] has received the nomination without sharing the award with a man.”
But—awards aren’t everything! And an industry's awards rarely capture the full scope of the work being created. Plus, the Best Orchestrations category has only been around since 1997. Surely there are better numbers for Broadway as a whole? Well, not so much.
These numbers should be alarming to everyone, as they were to orchestrator, copyist, and music director Macy Schmidt, who worked on the music team for TINA: The Tina Turner Musical, and is the music supervisor for the stage adaptation of Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted at Atlantic Theatre Company.
Like many artists, the events of spring and summer 2020—specifically the theatre shutdown and the industry’s racial reckoning—mobilized Schmidt to take action. All too-familiar with the inequities women of color face in the industry, Schmidt focused on drawing attention to the marginalization of women, specifically women who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latina, or Asian American-Pacific Islander in the music department space. Her first call was to her friend and mentee, Leah Vicencio.
“Initially, I just wanted to put together a performance video. Little did I know that it would grow to be much bigger than that,” says Schmidt.
Through more calls and counsel with Schmidt’s network, she reached out to producers Jana Shea, Daryl Roth, and Mary E. Furse, as well as SheNYC Arts, to launch The Broadway Sinfonietta, the "all-female-identifying, majority women-of-color orchestral collective that uplifts the existence, excellence, and equity of BIPOC women musicians on Broadway." Vicencio, now Schmidt’s business partner, serves Sinfonietta’s managing director and head of marketing.
Schmidt did indeed get to create that performance video, which premiered in October 2020, but that was only the beginning. Within a few months, The Broadway Sinfonietta became the orchestra for the groundbreaking, high-profile Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical. Now, they’re working steadily on commissions with brands, producers, streaming services, and more.
With ongoing conversations about creating a more equitable industry for all when theatres reopen, hear from Schmidt and Vicencio about their work with The Broadway Sinfonietta in the push towards gender parity below.
What would full gender parity in theatre look like and what impact would it have?
Macy Schmidt: In recent years we’ve seen the rise of the “all-female creative team,” which is wonderful — but what would it look like if the team was built organically without any sort of strict 100% quota, and women naturally held a majority or equal number of roles? To me, that’s what full gender parity in theatre would look like.
Leah Vicencio: As a Filipino-American woman emerging in the industry, I think that “full gender parity” in theatre would result in a truly equal playing field. Anything becomes possible, and access becomes equitable. Rather than focusing on competition, it would be about how we uplift one another and challenge each other to be the best we can at serving our communities through storytelling. If we achieved full gender (and, hopefully, racial) parity, Broadway might seem much less like an unattainable bubble of exclusivity, but rather a breeding ground for new voices to amplify.
What’s the most important step your organization is taking for gender parity in the industry?
Schmidt: The most important step we’ve been taking for gender parity in the industry is tangibly providing employment. When the conversations about racial justice in the industry resurfaced last summer, I heard a lot of talk on panels and such about wanting to see more marginalized artists being hired for their skill and qualifications. This confused me. I was like, “Can’t we just…hire them? Give people work and a platform to display their skill? Wouldn’t that be one of the most active steps toward gender and racial parity that we can achieve?” The effect of the Sinfonietta is two-fold: we’re creating employment for the players involved, but also reconstructing a narrative about which roles women of color can hold in the Broadway space. I can’t tell you how many messages we got after Ratatouille from young women of color musicians around the country who saw themselves in the orchestra when it was displayed on-screen. I often reference the quote by Sally Ride, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I think that’s especially true here.
How do you see the role of your organization regarding intersectional identities like race and sexuality?
Schmidt: Something that was really important to me in forming the Sinfonietta was creating a space where women of color are the majority, not the exception. I wound up deciding to make the Sinfonietta “all female-identifying and majority women-of-color” rather than “ALL women of color” for a few reasons, primarily because I believe that equity is stronger than tokenism. It doesn’t mean that white women musicians aren’t part of this mission — it means we can all join together equitably to create space for one another.
Vicencio: I think that at a surface level the Sinfonietta has challenged the idea of what a Broadway musician can look like — but beyond that, the core of our organization confronts what a woman in power, a woman surrendering to her passion, and a woman unapologetically following her purpose looks like.
How has the landscape changed for women in the time since your organization was founded?
Vicencio: As we’re still fairly new, I think we’re still processing the impacts we are making on the landscape for women in music. That said, feedback from women who are inspired by the Sinfonietta’s work has been unbelievably moving and certainly informs the way we move forward. Being part of Ratatouille was particularly impactful, as we were able to display BIPOC women representation in the orchestra to a worldwide audience in the hundreds of thousands. Our quest to uplift women and women-of-color leaders doesn’t end with musicians either; we have successfully assembled women-led teams everywhere from videography to administration to production, and more — and we don’t plan to stop anytime soon!
Do you have a call to action for theatregoers? What about for theatre companies?
Schmidt: I would challenge the socially-conscious theatregoer to actively check the Playbill of shows they attend, and examine more actively the demographics of the creative leaders. Look at the names and faces who created this show from behind the scenes. Are they as diverse as the faces you might be seeing on stage? All too often, we see diversity championed in the audience-facing roles, and not on the creative, production, or leadership sides.
As for theatre companies, my instinctive answer is to say, “Take more risks!” but I recognize that this can be easier said than done. So I guess I would ask theatre companies to, at the very least, “Take calculated risks.” Where are the roles where you can afford to expand beyond your immediate first calls? Who are the people in your orbit who perhaps have access to a pool of talent that you don’t? Many, if not most, of the amazing players who have performed with the Sinfonietta are not people I’d worked with (or even been aware of!) prior to our debut. We have to commit to looking far beyond our circles, and making room at the table.