The autumn season on Broadway is stuffed with new work from Black Playwrights: NPR
Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Jeannie Santiago attend the Tony Awards 2017 at Radio City Music Hall. This year, playwright Ruben Santiago-Hudson will both star in his own one-man play “Lackawanna Blues” and direct “Skeleton Crew”. Jemal Countess / Getty Images hide caption
Jemal Countess / Getty Images
Jemal Countess / Getty Images
Broadway is back and its new lineup is in 2021 full of shows by black writers.
New and recurring shows are slated to appear on Broadway stages by the end of the year after cinemas closed for a year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The shows are slated to begin as early as August, bringing back both popular musicals and plays that had to close early due to the pandemic, as well as new work seeing the Broadway stage for the first time.
There are seven new plays under the current fall lineup, and all of them were written by black playwrights.
A Broadway debut for some playwrights
Five of these playwrights are premiering on the Broadway stage, including Douglas Lyons, writer of Chicken & Biscuits. The comedy will begin showing in September at the Circle in the Square Theater with Broadway’s youngest ever black director, Zhailon Levingston, 27.
The show had to quickly end its run at the Queens Theater last year due to the pandemic. However, despite its non-traditional route to Broadway, Lyons said the opportunity to reopen theaters with work now feels “in time”.
“I think people will be refreshed to be back in the theater, but also refreshed by the stories they get in the theater,” he said. “There’s a whole generation of artists who haven’t been seen and I feel like this COVID thing stopped the world and didn’t give Broadway an excuse not to see us.”
Lyons ‘play, written in 2018, has only existed for about three years, but the new playwright will see his work this season alongside plays that lived decades before they were performed on Broadway, including the late Alice Childress’ Trouble In Mind, that was originally written in 1955.
Eyes on Broadway’s long-term commitment to Black Stories
While Lyons is optimistic the lineup is a step in the direction of progress, he said he and others will be watching Broadway’s next move when it comes to keeping Black Stories on stage.
Drew Shade, founder and creative director of Broadway Black, an organization that highlights the achievements of blacks in theater, also wonders if Broadway will keep the momentum. Five plays are already planned for 2022, and none have been written by black writers so far.
“Seven black shows are coming to Broadway – that’s unprecedented. We’d love to see that, especially after the race reckoning we’ve had in this society and especially in the theater industry over the last year, ”said Shade. “But we also have to be realistic about the placement of the shows. We have to be realistic about what this can mean for black artists in the future.”
The trouble opening a Broadway show amid a pandemic
The coming season also presents ticketing challenges. New York tourism is still recovering from the recent wave of the pandemic, and with the rising Delta variant, New York tourism remains low. Games – especially new ones written in black – are under extreme pressure to be immediately financially successful, Shade said, and risk being quickly closed and closed when they aren’t.
Making it big is already a challenge for any show, and even more so during a pandemic.
“Most Broadway shows don’t do well,” said Britton Smith, president and co-founder of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition. “There are some shows that have incredible impact and history that we should consider, but they don’t always make the most money.”
A look at safety items being distributed as the St. James Theater on Broadway reopens with an exclusive performance for frontline workers as part of NY PopsUp on April 3, 2021 in New York City. Cindy Ord / Getty Images Hide caption
Cindy Ord / Getty Images
Cindy Ord / Getty Images
But COVID-19 logs in the theater and the reception of plays in a post-Broadway shutdown world present their own unique mix of challenges, especially for the first returning shows like Pass Over, written by Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu. The three-person play will reopen the August Wilson Theater for the first time since the Mean Girls performance.
“We’re back for the first show, everyone’s seeing us,” said Nwandu. “People look at the August (theater) on Broadway: ‘What are you guys doing? How are you going to deal with this moment?'”
Regardless of the reaction, Nwandu said she and her team are ready to embrace the historic moment in Broadway history and share their work with the world.
“It is our responsibility to face this moment with so much authenticity, so much friendliness, so much honesty and so much severity, to tell the truth,” she said.
Here are the seven new plays from Black Playwrights slated for fall, in order of opening date:
- Pass Over, written by Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu and directed by Danya Taymor.
- Chicken & Biscuits, written by Douglas Lyons and directed by Zhailon Levingston.
- Lackawanna Blues, written and directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
- Thoughts of a Colored Man, written by Keenan Scott II and directed by Steve H. Broadnax III.
- Trouble in Mind, written by Alice Childress and directed by Charles Randolph-Wright.
- Clyde’s, written by Lynn Nottage and directed by Kate Whoriskey.
- Skeleton Crew, written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
Josie Fischels is an intern at the NPR News Desk.