Each year, the staff at Playbill interviews hundreds of theatre makers. They largely talk about the work—the show they’re putting up. This year, of course, there were fewer red carpets and press days. With live theatre on pause, there was less work. The events of the year have steered theatre conversations toward public safety and social justice, and artists were faced with examining how Broadway will move forward changed by the time away. Read on for some of the soundbites that have stayed with us this past year, as artists share their thoughts on the growth of the theatre industry and of the personal self.
Colman Domingo, Tony and Olivier Award nominee, speaking to Playbill on his role for Netflix's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
"Examine everything. Read everything. August Wilson is your playwright as well. I read O'Neill, I read Pinter, I read Shakespeare. You read August Wilson as well. You read Robert O'Hara. You read Jeremy O. Harris. Those are your playwrights as well. Why? Because they're American writers. We should know each other's history."
READ: Glimmers of Light: The Theatre Moments That Gave Us Comfort Amid a Chaotic 2020
Sharon D. Clarke, Olivier Award winner for Caroline, or Change, which was set to begin Broadway previews in March
"I don't think there is change for Caroline. All she can do is look at her kids and hope there is better change for them. As much as she is fighting with Emmie because she wants to be this young, independent woman—Emmie wants to go off on the marches and she's calling herself 'Black,' but Caroline comes from a school where you're 'colored' or 'negro.' She's not that far from people being lynched. To see her kid pushing against that, there is that motherly protection, but there is a side of her that says, 'You're going to need that fight, that chutzpah.' There's a part of her that says, 'I'm glad you've got that fight. You're going to need this. You're a young Black woman in this society, you're going to have to have some drive.' And yeah, it's something that she has in a different way. To live the life that Caroline has been living, she has to have a certain amount of grit and steel. And Emmie has that, in a different way."
Brian Stokes Mitchell, Tony Award-winning actor and founding member of Black Theatre United
"We can only do so much in the world. I have my own personal belief system that I call my 'spheres of control.' You have a pretty good amount of control over your own personal life—where you're going to walk, what decisions you're going to make, how you're going to vote, if you're going to take the census, what you're going to eat. With all those things, you have a decent amount of control. The farther out you go from that sphere, the less control you have. So the next sphere out might be your family. Well, I don't have much control over my wife and my son. I have some influence over where we're going to eat, where he's going to go to school, has he done his homework. Things like that. And then you have less once you go to your workplace. Maybe you have a boss who has more influence than you. Once you get to something as big as our government, we have so little individual control over that, that it's crazy to spend our time sitting in front of the news and thinking, 'Oh my god.' There's always one terrible thing after another. It's like, 'What else is on fire?' Here's what you can do, though: Each of us has some skill, some talent. We're all put on this planet for a reason, and I think it's to make it a better place ultimately—better than how we found it. Can I change all the problems in the world? No, I can't. I'm not going to change it. Can I change maybe part of that? Can I have some influence on that? Yes, I can. When it comes to voting, I have one vote. And that vote is incredibly important."
Jacob Padrón, Long Wharf Theatre artistic director, speaking at the Theatre Forward Broadway Roundtable
"I've been thinking a lot about the promise of the American theatre, which in many ways is a big space to hold all of our stories. One of my mentors, Oskar Eustis at the Public Theater, talked about this a lot—that we can be a big tent that can hold different communities and stories. We're the architects of fulfilling that promise of being a space to all of us, but I have to say we maybe haven't been such great architects of that. I think we have to be critical lovers of our institutions and theatres and think about diversity as a fact. Inclusion is what you do with that fact. For Long Wharf, in particular, I'm thinking about two things: 1) Radically reshaping our relationship to the community, what it means to be a theatre company of, for, and by the people, and 2) the future of the American theatre is revolutionary partnerships. We have to operate in a spirit of abundance rather than scarcity. We are stronger together. Great art comes out of great relationships. The more we can be in partnership together, whether it's theatre companies, artists, or communities, we will really define what the American theatre can do."
Norm Lewis, Tony Award nominee, speaking to Playbill for its Checking In With...series
"Make sure you reach out to people. Join groups that share your interests. Be a part of a Zoom that meets weekly. Get out of the house. Walk around, breathe fresh air. Go to a park somewhere that allows you to take in nature. Know that there is more than your television or computer. There is so much more in the outside world. Take the time to educate yourself. Read. Learn a new skill. This is a really good time to do a lot of soul searching and discover who you are."
Deedee Magno Hall (Miss Saigon, If/Then), speaking to Playbill for its Checking In With...series
"I encourage prayer, meditation, safely getting out to nature, and reaching out to friends and family for support. During this season of uncertainty and heartache, I found that leaning on my faith has helped me tremendously in keeping me focused on the blessings in my life and remain hopeful for change for the good. I encourage finding ways to help others. I was so thankful that my family was able to safely volunteer at our church’s food pantry, helping to serve people in need. I try to remind myself that each day is a gift. There will be good days and not-so-good days, and it’s up to us to choose how we want to respond to what we’ve been gifted."
Roberta Duchak, music supervisor for Broadway's Six, speaking about the show's all-woman band
"Being a female musician has never been easy. It's always been, you know, a boys club. So here we finally have a show that we must hire females. And so I feel like if you're a young piano player or a guitar player, or just a musician, [or] a young girl seeing what could possibly be in your future, it's exciting. It's breaking the glass ceiling. And so when you see it in front of you, you're like, 'I could be that.'"
Rebecca Naomi Jones, Drama Desk nominee for the recent revival of Oklahoma!, speaking to Playbill for its Checking In With...series
"This time is providing us with opportunity to take a real look at how we lead our lives and what we stand for, passively and actively. I’m excited that we’re moving towards necessary change in the long-held structures that frame our theatrical community. I think it’s really important that in our work to attain more equity and inclusion, we make space for as many points of view (opposing as well as shared) as possible. Theatre is most thrilling when it generates provocative conversations and doesn’t play safe."
Peter Flynn, director and theatre educator speaking to Playbill for How to Teach Theatre Online
“If we look at this as a challenge, we are only going to get a limited number of options back. It’s much more useful to think of this as a circumstance and look at your resources and at what is possible. That’s much more engaging and interesting to me.”
Austin Scott, most recently seen on Broadway in Girl From the North Country, speaking to Playbill for its Checking In With...series
"First and foremost, we need more BIPOC representation in positions of genuine power and influence. We need the white theatre makers, who currently hold the vast majority of the power, to make long-term public commitments to implement real structural change from the top down. So many of us theatre artists have spoken out and shared our stories at this point, I think more and more people are coming to realize that the system needs to change. As wonderful as that is, I feel we also need to emphasize the importance of self-awareness within the community. I would encourage all white theatre makers to do some serious introspection during this time. Learn to recognize your own privilege and all of the ways in which you have held up and perpetuated a problematic culture in this industry. It’s up to each individual to be the example for the rest of the community. Develop your own anti-racist mentality that is personal to you, and then let that guide everything you do. When you change, you start to lead the way and set precedent. Other white theatre makers will see that it can be done."
Daniel J. Watts, Tony Award-nominated Tina star speaking at TedxBroadway
"Broadway can't come back. It has to come forward. And when it does, it has to be more expressive with the colors that it uses."