Study finds sustained lack of diversity on New York City stages

Study finds sustained lack of diversity on New York City stages

A new report from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC) found white actors, writers and directors still make up a majority of New York City theater. The report writers state that the findings point to “continued systemic bias.”

The study, released by the coalition Sept. 30 in partnership with the American Theatre Wing, reported that approximately 80% of shows on Broadway and Off-Broadway were written by white playwrights during the 2017–2018 season — an improvement from last year’s release, which found nearly 87% of all shows were penned by white writers. Of the productions surveyed, 93.8% of shows on Broadway and 84.6% at non-profits were led by white directors.

On stage, white actors occupied 61.5% of available roles in New York City. Though representation increased year-over-year for most groups, Asian Americans cast in parts dropped from 7.3% in the 2016–2017 season to 6.9% in this year’s report.

The study culls data from Broadway’s 41 theaters and the city’s 18 largest non-profit companies. This year, 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 — scaled back its reporting on gender and disability statistics to focus on racial inequities within the city. In step, the group added data on “who gets to shape the stories” and how much money organizations allocated to actors, finding that, overall, non-profit companies compensated white actors $1.70 for every dollar paid to BIPOC actors.

The study noted with caution that some advancements were made. For instance, the 2017–2018 season saw the first Asian American woman to produce a play on Broadway (Young Jean Lee’s “Straight White Men“) and “The Band’s Visit,” which is set in the Middle East, took home the Tony Award for Best Musical.

“Such examples often serve as the poster child of diversity for a particular season, encouraging a false sense of progress,” co-chairs Pun Bandhu and Julienne Hanzelka Kim said in a statement. “But when we look at the season as a whole, larger patterns of inequities are revealed, deeply entrenched within the system.”

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The report also assigned grade letters to non-profit organizations based on employment statistics and the racial diversity of artistic directors. Ars Nova, which produced “KPOP” with Ma-Yi Theater and the Woodshed Collective, hired BIPOC actors for 73% of all roles, landing it on the top spot of the study’s most diverse theater list. In contrast, Irish Repertory Theatre ranked as the least diverse organization, with only two out of 87 positions going to BIPOC talent.

“The biggest question is: what, now, are theatre companies and producers going to do with this information to create the change that needs to happen?” the co-chairs said. “We hope that our work will continue to be used to tip the theatre industry towards an equitable future – one where BIPOC artists, leaders, administrators and even patrons, are an equal part of the stage story and accurately reflect the story of America.”

The full report from AAPAC can be found here.

Top Image: New York City, Times Square.