Study Finds Decrease in Broadway Diversity Following a Record-Breaking Year

Study Finds Decrease in Broadway Diversity Following a Record-Breaking Year

A newly released report from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC) points to a lack of minority representation in New York mainstream theater.

The study, released by the coalition Monday, found that 86.8 percent of all shows produced in the 2016-2017 season were written by white playwrights and that roles filled by minority actors dropped to 33 percent from a record-breaking high of 35 percent the previous year, which likely saw a bump in part to musicals like “Hamilton” and “On Your Feet,” according to the survey.

Charts representing the 2016-2017 season Broadway and non-profit actors, playwrights and directors, broken out by ethnicity. Courtesy: The Asian American Performers Action Coalition.

The report, which has been published annually for the past 10 years, was created to document the employment statistics of performers as a way of gauging diversity on New York City stages. This year, the coalition expanded its scope to survey representation among playwrights, composers, lyricists and directors, in addition to adding a component that quantifies gender breakdowns in each category. The move, the coalition states in the report, will allow them to answer the questions: “Does producing more playwrights of color lead to an increase in the hiring of actors of color?” and “Does non-traditional casting increase as more directors of color are hired?”

In the overall industry results, the study found that while the number of available roles for minority actors decreased according to a year-by-year assessment, the long-term forecast still predicts an upward trend. Notably, Asian American performers saw a 3.3 percent increase in hiring (up to 7.3 percent from 4 percent in the previous year), while roles for African American performers decreased from 23 percent of all hires to 18.6 percent. The study also concludes that white performers occupy 66.8 percent of roles and are the only group over-represented in relation to their demographic footprint in New York City. In the playwright category, 75.4 percent of the works surveyed were written by males, with 24.6 percent written by females and zero percent by non-binary identifying writers.

After a banner year for inclusion on Broadway, representation of minority actors in main-stage productions dipped to 29 percent from 36 percent in the previous season. Among those affected, Latinx actors saw the most drastic decline, swinging from 8 percent to 2.9 percent. The study also found that 95 percent of all plays and musicals on Broadway were directed and written by white playwrights.

According to the study, non-profit theaters increased roles for minority actors, with 37 percent of all roles going to minority actors (up from 31 percent in the year prior). Of all plays produced at non-profits, white playwrights directed 84 percent and wrote 82 percent. The study found that gender breakdown in the non-profit sector skewed male, with 69.7 percent of all plays written by males and 64.4 percent directed by them. One percent of all non-profit plays were directed by non-binary playwrights.

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The report also noted that Playwrights Horizons hired the greatest number of minority actors and that among the five highest-ranking theaters (which includes MTC, New York Theatre Workshop, Atlantic Theater Company and Signature Theatre), all companies hired more than 50 percent of minority actors for roles. The study also ranks the lowest number of minority hires, with Vineyard Theatre ranking lowest representation, followed by Primary Stages, MCC, Lincoln Center and Irish Repertory Theatre.

The full report from AAPAC, whose mission is to “expand the perception of Asian American performers in order to increase their access to and representation on New York City’s stages,” can be found here.