Skip to content
Follow Us

Get the best of Capacity Interactive delivered to your inbox.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Broadway for Black Lives Matter
Episode 85

Broadway for Black Lives Matter

CI to Eye with Britton Smith

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

0:00 / 0:00


Britton and Erik talk about the recent Broadway for Black Lives Matter virtual forums, a public conversation about racism in theater that brought together thousands of industry players. The forum's mission was to "heal, listen, and hold itself accountable to its history of white supremacy while moving towards becoming an anti-racist and equitable space."

Erik Gensler: Britton, thank you so much for joining me and especially on your vacation in Aruba (laughs).

Britton Smith: No, it feels great. Thanks for having me. And I’m actually happier to be doing it here than in New York. I will be speaking much more clearly and zenned-out because the ocean is behind me and it’s encouraging that.

Erik Gensler: I’d love to start out by asking you just to talk a bit about the Broadway Advocacy Coalition and then, we’ll make our way to the events you did recently, but just sort of the global umbrella organization, if you could just tell us what that is.

Britton Smith: I’ve been very fortunate and excited to have a cool career in theater on Broadway, off-Broadway, doing some TV and film. But what happened during 2016 was, I was in Shuffle Along at the time and it was also at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m learning from George C. Wolf and Savion Glover, but I’m also learning at the same time that my Black body is very scary and that the police actually fear me. And I’ve always heard, “F the police.” I never really understood it. And so, it brought many different, like, conflicting ideas about my value to the forefront and I wasn’t alone in feeling conflicted and I wasn’t alone in feeling a little helpless with, like, “Yo, I’m making great money singing and dancing with all this all-Black cast in front of all these white people, but what am I doing to participate in the Black Lives Matter movement? And so, we decided—Adrienne Warren, Amber Iman, Christian Dante White, Cameron Ross—people who we were connected with, where, how do we use our tools and our resources, our platform, our art, our craft, our understanding of gospel and the spirit to affect systemic racism and social change? So, we did an event in 2016, which is our first Broadway for Black Lives Matter event and it brought out thousands of people. It showed us that when leaders in the arts, education, injustice come together with people who are most directly affected by mass incarceration, that there’s a new understanding of how it was built, who it’s meant to police ,and where points of power and change are. So, we created this methodology of collaboration that brings together those groups and when policy, education, and art come together, that is a real opportunity for humanity and change to be placed in the center. And so, we teach this at Columbia law school. But because when you follow in the impulse to do something that the land needs, I really believe that it supports you. About a month ago, we produced Broadway for Black Lives Matter Again. And it was very similar. You know, George Floyd felt very different with us sitting at home with this lockdown and we’ve … I cried watching the news every morning, like, “Wow, oh my God.” It was … it felt really personal and it should have and I think it did for a lot of people. So, we use this moment as a chance to amplify the issues in our own industry because when you say, “Black lives matter,” it doesn’t just matter when there’s a cop’s foot on your neck. It matters in all spaces. And we see our producers saying, “Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.” Oh, well does it really matter? Because A, B, C, and D are still happening in your rehearsal room, are still happening in your casting office, are still happening in these institutions. So, let’s, let’s say you really believe that Black lives matter and let’s show you what looks like when that idea becomes a pledge and when idea becomes actualized. So, the event was a three-day event. The first day brought together Black artists that get together, pull together on our own community, nbody listening. Black people tend to … I tend to, as a Black male, speak differently when I know that white people are listening

Erik Gensler: You said that in the second day. You called that out, yeah.

Britton Smith: It’s true, it is real, and I have to remind myself that I don’t have to lie to kick it in no spaces. I can talk like this with my grandma. I can talk like this with you here. I can talk like this at Columbia Law School and still be my authentic self and not have to be different for the, like, benefits or the uncomfort of my white institutions or allies. So, we created a day to just be on our own, be safe, be heard, be … We laughed. We danced together. We really felt a sense of community that I have not felt yet in the community, the arts community. Then, day two, we asked our white allies and institutions to take a backseat. Don’t say shit. Listen, listen, listen. And what does it mean to listen? What does it mean to listen at your house and not feel guilty or angry or, like, defensive? Listen to these people you may know or may not know and what does it do to you to know that Amber Iman got her hair touched in the room? Does that sound violent to you? It sounds violent to me. And learn that when she spoke up, that she lost her job. What does that mean? And so, if that’s one example of a story, imagine all the other stories that we have not heard that link to the systems and policies in place. And then, on third day, we talked about, what are those systems and policies in place that perpetuate these stories and that perpetuate racism in the industry? And we were asking people to be held accountable. And we made a pledge about what we think accountability looks like and over 5,000 people have signed it. And, I mean, some of the names on the list of people who have hired me, who I’ve tried to be in the room with, so it’s exciting to see, “Okay, like, so when I come back to work …” and I know who signed this pledge and I’m going to hold them accountable. And so, since then, man, it’s been a really exciting, fruitful time. We’ve been having a lot of phone calls with people like, “Hey, what does the work look like? Hey, how do we collaborate with BAC? What is this moment and how do we maximize it before we go back into work?” So, it’s a exciting time. And so, thank you for having us, listening to our work and our hopes.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, It was an incredibly just moving event that second day. I was, I was sitting at home and my husband and I were both watching and just, like, taking it all in and I’ll never forget those stories and hearing that it was just so, so, so powerful. So moving. And so … just at the, at the time, it was there so much about like, not only what you did being amazing, but like, it just, it came at this time where people were paying attention. You could just feel that there was such an energy to this event. And for those of you listening to this podcast who haven’t watched those, they’re on YouTube and have gotten a lot of views since, which I was really happy to see, but please watch them. And there’s so much to learn there. And I just want to thank you for doing that because you don’t have to do, you shouldn’t have to do that work, but you did and we’re lucky that you did.

Britton Smith: And not alone. I got to say, you know, we, it was about 17 individuals who planned that event in 10 days and only three of them were not Black artists in the industry. So, that means everybody except for those three people were personally wounded or personally pained and still showed up to do the work and to make space in it. It tells a lot, you know, like, when someone is wounded, they’re allowed to rest and get well and heal without fixing somebody else, you know? But I think it’s important to acknowledge that the people who plan that were very wounded.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, at that time, and also, there’s a risk in doing that. I mean, it’s so clear and you’ve talked about this, but, like, the risk of an industry that has so much power concentrated with white people, the risk of doing something like that. Did you guys talk about that?

Britton Smith: Yeah, I mean, I called the team together and I said, “Guys, I want to do a two-hour Zoom about racism in the industry!”

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Britton Smith: And they were like, “Okay.” So, as we began to talk about it … and what’s great about having lawyers, artists, advocates in a room together talking is that it’s never enough until we find the most impactful way of maximizing time. So, that two-hour idea that I had turned into a three-day forum, you know? Because it’s like, “Well, if we’re going to do that, we need to hold space for Black artists. And if we’re going to do that, we have to make people listen. And if we’re going to do that, we got to make sure that everybody who’s going to be on this panel really knows what they’re risking.” So, we were very aware of all of the layers. And I think that can only happen when people who are most directly affected by the issue are at the planning table. We know, “Oh man, it’s going to be risky to have LaChanze and Lisa talk about this. So, let’s get on a call with them before and let’s really say, ‘Hey, LaChanze and Liesl Tommy, so great to have you. This is going to be great. I want to acknowledge that you guys are also risking something. How can I support you? What should I not ask you? What should I lean into?’” And they were both like, “I’m grown. This is no new news to me. You know what? Even after this conversation, there will still be work to be had. let’s lean in.” So, we made it very clear to everybody that there is a risk and a benefit to this. And I’ve made it our responsibility to make sure that the people listening could be grateful for this risk, as well. Not on camera. You know, everybody was at home with a camera off, watching people risk it. So, I hope everybody took that breath of gratitude with me (laughs) for their effort, you know, and their willingness to just give.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. What was one or two of the most meaningful moments you remember over those days?

Britton Smith: Audra MacDonald said on the third day, “We have to have a diversity of tactics. We can’t fight issues of systemic structural 400 years and older racism one way and we have to really enable ourselves to see what we have within us that are useful sources in this fight.” And I think what’s exciting about that, to me, is that people may assume that we’re all prepared and that we’re all experts or that we’re all people who studied law and policy. No, no, no, no. We’re all people who have a vision—because we’re artists—of what the world should look like. And so, we see what it is and we’re like, “Okay, who do we have near us and what are their tools?” I mean, we link tools. That’s a diversity of tactics. I mean, we all show up in our best way and fight the fight together. That’s a very meaningful, useful way of coming at this, instead of being paralyzed. That’s the only thing wrong to do right now is to do nothing. You know? So, another thing that was powerful that stayed with me is that Black people are awesome. Black people are awesome! My ancestors, my grandmother, my dad, my mom, their parents, their parents, their parents, their parents, have all felt what I feel right now and worse. I have privilege. Like, I’m on a Zoom with a white man. My grandma has never been on a Zoom when a white man, you know what I mean? I don’t know that my mom … Like, so, every generation, there’s work to be done. And I can’t imagine what they, my ancestors, feel about this moment. And I’m sure it hurts them to see that it’s still … I’m sure they’re also like, “Damn, that’s fucking great. They’re doing the work to further our freedom that we have passed on to them.” And so, the first day, we got together and we did something through music and dance that I know our ancestors were a part of. Music and dance always been a source of healing for the Black body. And so, to do that with 800 Black people on Zoom on the first day was very healing.

Erik Gensler: That’s fantastic. You started to mention some of the conversations that came out of it. And, I mean, I came out of that very transformed. I think a lot of people … We ended our staff meeting early so our whole staff could watch it at home. And so, a lot of people I just know were so moved by, by watching. And I’m curious of what some of those conversations have been and who were you talking to? And what did you feel like were some of the immediate impacts?

Britton Smith: A lot of people are in this industry—because it’s an industry for money—are really afraid of being called out, are really afraid of being seen as racist, are really afraid of being seen as people who have used their power for their own gain, even though they have.

Erik Gensler: Let’s accept that. As a white person on here, let’s just all accept, unless we’re being anti-racist, we’re all racist and we’re all using our power cause that’s capitalism. So, I feel like the conversation, when you start there, is just a lot easier. Like admit it! We live in this racist system, we’re all racist. Start there (laughs).

Britton Smith: So many people are not willing … You just said that with a smile on your face and you didn’t say, “they.” You said, “We.” And you … but you would also acknowledge that, like, it’s the world we live in. So, yeah. We are racist! But you said that with a smile on your face, so start there. So many people are coming to us with their institutions and saying, “Hey, we acknowledge that there’s some things and we’ve heard from students of our, you know, programs and our art, and we don’t know where to start and you know, do we have to burn it down and start over again? How do we do this? How do we do that?” And it’s just like, “Whoa, man. First thing is to acknowledge where the power lives and what they look like (laughs) and who their power was meant to benefit. If that power wasn’t meant to benefit everybody, that’s racist.” And so, we’re having a lot of hard conversations with institutions. We’re also trying to figure out how to use our methodology that we do at Columbia Law School and place that into casts. You know, what does an anti-racist rehearsal room look like? If you really want to do that, you have to kind of start that with the cast. You cannot do that without cast. So, what does it look like when the cast is in the same room as the producers, the administration, the GMs, and we’re having a week-long, like, session of, like, workshops that really enable us to see, “Oh, okay, a Black man feels differently taking up space than a white man because Black people have been taught to shut the fuck up. Okay, that’s why you talk too much. Okay, I need you to talk less because I want you to see that when you speak as a white man, the time you take up is violent because you were not taught to be quiet. So, the Black people listening may feel like, just in the time you’re taking up, that your silencing them.” So, there are things nuanced that a DI training and an equity and inclusion training of, “This is what a microaggression is,” is not going to do, that we’re excited to do because we do this work in the criminal justice space. We’re also holding more forums. We have one coming up called “The Miseducation” that is really going to center Black students who are existing in their training in white institutions and what that does to their mind, their body, how they’re told to … what you have to do to get an agent, what you have to do to your hair, how you have to sing to be booked. And we’re going to have a new fellowship where we link 10 Black women in the industry with 10 Black women who have been previously incarcerated and see what is the connection between being the most directly affected by racism in the criminal justice space and most directly affected in the industry and create art together and then share that and make that a rollout of fellowship? So, maybe every two months, there’s a new group of artists who are working with advocates. And there’s nothing more exciting to me than when arts and advocacy link and it’s a blessing to have resources to be able to support people who want to do this work.

Erik Gensler: We certainly saw the power of that. You talked about space and the violence of white voices or white over-talking. And I really … One of the things that was so clear from your livestreams, that’s … I’ve heard this before, but I never understood it in the same way: it was just seeing the mental health burden of navigating white spaces and, like, how that was clarified and the examples of that are just so undeniably clear. And I just, I mean, so just want to thank you for giving people the forum to share those stories the way you did it. And just … I think it was the opening of day two, where you had a number of actors just telling the stories of their experiences and the one you mentioned, of a stage manager asking if they could touch her hair, and then, was it the day of George Zimmerman was acquitted and that story?

Britton Smith: That hurt me so much, what he said. Oh man, what an attack! And we don’t, I guess you don’t see it as an attack because your body wasn’t attacked and his body was attacked by that news. And he wasn’t even allowed to post something on a call board in a show that he was valuable in. He was a key … he …Yeah. So, it’s, that really hurt me. I didn’t even, there are so many like levels to silencing Black pain and there’s this notion in theater, “The show must go on! Leave it out-“

Erik Gensler: And he had to go on right after that!

Britton Smith: Oh! And then do the show and then get on a train, where are you going to be looked at very similarly to a Trayvon Martin, very similarly to an Erik Garner. So, it’s like, we have to shut all that off and then become hyper-aware to what your Blackness really means on that train nd when you’re walking home or if you’re around somebody white who doesn’t know you’re a Broadway star. We know who Adrienne Warren is, but does a cop know that Adrienne Warren is an angel and a national treasure?

Erik Gensler: (laughs) Well, you asked that question. Well, you asked it of LaChanze, right? Where she says, just like, when she’s in other spaces, like, I don’t know … It was … I thought that was a really smart question of like, we know who they are, but not everybody does when they’re walking down the street, yeah.

Britton Smith: There are people who were treating LaChanze (laughs) devalued because of the color of her skin. And she’s LaChanze!

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Britton Smith: You know, there are people in the industry who will treat LaChanze differently than they will Kelly O’Hara, even in the industry. And she said that, you know? She has to be acute to it. So, I’m excited for people who know this to be cute with us now.

Erik Gensler: I can’t imagine how this is not going to have a huge impact. I mean, that’s why I wanted to ask, like, in these conversations … So, the conversations that you’re having, you said you wouldn’t name names, but is it, like, with like general management offices, press offices? Like what were the kind of people that reached out?

Britton Smith: They’re big producers, man. They’re big producers. People who I’m like, “Well, I’ve worked for you before,” or people like, “I can’t believe you are on my phone right now, man.” I don’t know if they’re always there with the right intention but they’re … they see the value of linking efforts or they see the value in doing the work. So, there … We’ve been talking to, like, regional theaters. We’ve been talking to casts. We’ve been talking to major producers. We’ve been talking to our union. There’s nothing in the books that say that what happened to Amber is violent, so there’s no consequence. There’s no accountability. I’m not going back to work when this is all over—and I know that I’m not alone in this—with the ability to ignore that we’re in a new standard of treatment. You’re going to have to, on the first day, say something very explicit about this not being a racist environment and that we will all be accountable and we will all hold each other to the standard that is here. There was a standard here and now the standard is here. And if it’s not acknowledged, I don’t feel safe. And I know I’m not alone in that.

Erik Gensler: Were a lot of these conversations, conversations that you’ve had for years in, you know, non-white spaces?

Britton Smith: I think that’s a complicated question. The answer is yes. My mom taught me to survive, right? She didn’t teach me to be an advocate for justice and an advocate for liberation. She taught me, “When it gets dark outside, bring your ass inside. Don’t talk back to police.” She told me all the things to keep me alive, as she had to. Therefore, when things happen, a lot of Black people are aware of the consequences and have to weigh that, you know? So, we talk to each other grow. “Girl, can you believe what just happened to me? Did you see how that director just talked to me? You saw that? Okay, good. I know I’m not alone.” (breathes deeply)

Erik Gensler: And you’re carrying that.

Britton Smith: Long. You know? “Did you see how that coworker just asked that I moved that chair and not her? Why’d she do that? She felt like she didn’t need to move that chair. Okay. Did you see that?” So, a lot of shows have Black text threads so that we can exist and understand each other and not feel alone and a lot of times I have to call back home and just really fill up a bubble wrap, as Ciara Renée would say, of support and care and then, try to take that as much as I can into white spaces. But, you know, I have white friends who love me, who watched the form and were like, “Wait, what?” and I was like, “What do you mean, ‘Yeah, what?’ Yeah, absolutely. And you still love me. You still … You’re learning and I don’t think you love me any differently but it’s exciting to know that you see me differently and also frustrating that you didn’t see me before, completely. But you couldn’t because you don’t have to.”

Erik Gensler: I think that’s one of the biggest things of this is, like, I mean … I think one of the most painful things is, I didn’t understand a few years ago when we started doing a lot of this work … First of all, like, it ties into, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about this today cause I know it’s hard to talk about, but why we, why white people should not ask Black people to teach them this because it’s so freaking obvious. And, like, we live in a society that doesn’t make it obvious. And so, it’s just, (laughs) it’s … I can totally understand how it’s crazy that it’s not obvious to people but that was, like, one of the biggest “Aha!” recently is like for a lot of people, like, “No, this is so obvious to Black people who have been dealing with their whole lives. Like, why should they have to teach you?

Britton Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I’ll also share, you know, on the forum, there were about 10 or 14 of us of color who were planning it. And I’ll say, we were talking about, you know, “We should give a resource sheet and tell people what they should read and what they shouldn’t.” Some of us were like, “Fuck that! They can Google it.” And some were like, “No, no, no, no, no, no. I want to teach them so that I know where they’re going.” So, everybody Black doesn’t feel the same way. Blackness is nuanced and so is, like, education of the black experience. Some people really want you to know and they want you to call them. Some people really want you to stop calling them and do the work yourself. So, that’s tricky because then it puts the white person in a position to have to be aware enough, curious enough, compassionate enough to learn and see where they can learn from this Black friend or Black family member or Black lover. You have to be willing to be all those things and then go, “Okay, great. You don’t want to talk? I get it. Absolutely. Thanks for telling me.”

Erik Gensler: I love that nuance because, you know, especially during the month of June, you’d look on social media and it would say, you know, “Check in with your Black friends to see how they’re doing.” And then, the next post would be, like, “Leave Black people alone.” It’s like, there’s no rule. (laughs) It was all over the place.

Britton Smith: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah. But I think we want a rule so that we can check it off a box like it’s a (laughs) like it’s an application. No, it’s life and there’s evolution and there’s nuance and there’s, “This is a Black person from Jamaica. This is a Black person from London. This is a Black person from Texas. Those are all different Black experiences and if you see them all as one, you’re not seeing the beauty of them all uniquely.” And so … And same for whiteness. Everybody white it ain’t just white. Some people are Irish. Some people are … You know, and so we’re more forced to see the nuance of whiteness because of media and because of movies and we don’t get the same … I don’t want to say privilege, but opportunity to be seen as nuanced.

Erik Gensler: I thought another really incredible effort in your event was the social media and, particularly, the social media templates that you released afterwards were masterful. I almost thought, like, they reinvented the form. Like, I’ve never seen templates like that where, you know, you gave out these tools to keep the momentum going. Can you just talk about how you did those templates and how that worked for you?

Britton Smith: I almost don’t even want to say her name cause I don’t want people to take her from us (laughs).

Erik Gensler: Oh, you don’t have to.

Britton Smith: But I want to because she’s so brilliant. Her name is Micayla Brewster and I actually met her doing Be More Chill and I have a funk liberation band called Britton & the Sting and I was just like, “I need someone of color to help me with my social media.” So, I asked her if she would work with me for that. And then, she’s brilliant. I was like, “Hey, if we do something for BAC, will you join us?” and she was like, “Absolutely.” So, her tactic is getting people engaged and getting people engaged in the way that the mass does. So, she has an understanding of how people want to engage on social media and she links that understanding with the need to mobilize the work that we’re doing. So, that was her. We also have a content creation team of three people who think about content and they all work together and figure out, you know, “If we’re asking people to tune in and not just tune in on this one off, but also tune in and be held accountable and tune in and stay engaged with us, let’s do something after they watch to have them participate right away. And what did you see? What’d you learn? And here’s a template. It’s already done. Don’t make a post. Just take this template and share it back.” And we live in an age of people don’t want to miss out. So, when you make a sexy template and 20 people start doing it and 40 people start doing it, a hundred, you’re like, “Oh yeah, I want to do too!” And then, you have all these people—predominantly white because those were the main people listening—sharing, this is what they learned and this is what they gained. This is what they’re going to be doing differently. And Hugh Jackman, my stage manager, Sutton Foster, my old producer … I saw so many people really responding to that. So shout out to Micayla Brewster and the content team of BAC, because that is their tactic and they’re doing great, great work.

Erik Gensler: It was so good. I mean, we always say, like, “When an organization says something is one thing but when your friends and family say something, it’s even … you know, there’s stats showing that’s, like, 13 times more meaningful. So, and the fact that I saw so many people sharing your content with their own learnings on it, it was, I was like, “Oh my gosh! The amount of endorsed impressions that this thing got was really incredible.” I want to turn to some of the other momentum that we’ve seen building online, the “We See You, White American Theatre” effort and that came out around the same time as your livestream. And it seems like there’s a lot of the same end-goal in mind, but perhaps different approaches. And I’m curious, have you collaborated with that group? Have you thought about building a coalition? How do you see the sameness and difference and all that?

Britton Smith: Yeah, so, one thing we are excited by is linking all of the bullets of chains together and coalition building is really important to BAC. It’s not important for us to lead the coalition but we’re positioned to set the table and ask everyone to come together and learn and work together. So, internally, we had our first industry activism, coalition-building meeting last week and we met over 40 industry-affiliated activist groups, some new, some old, and we all linked and we formed, out of 40 different organizations … we learned from each other. Like, we had a phone call with each of them and said, “What do you want from this coalition? How can we support you?” and we split up into certain rooms and said, “Okay, all of you guys are about policy change. All of you guys are really excited about education. All of you guys are really excited about creating Black spaces.” So, we’re all now working together and, you know, we’re using all of our resources at Columbia Law School to support any of these things and we’re learning from each other. And so, once a month, we’re meeting up, and we support each other and whatever is out with Broadway for Racial Justice, we’ll always amplify. Whatever is out with Broadway Cares, we’ll always amplify. You know, it’s important that we support each other because a part of white supremacy is making Black people feel like there’s only one space for one of us, so we all have to duke it out. Whoever the best fighter is wins. And we want to dismantle that and work together because there’s room for all of us at all of these tables and it’s more impactful when we’re actually all at the table then when it’s just one of us.

Erik Gensler: That’s awesome that you all organized and, yeah, that sounds amazing.

Britton Smith: That’s a secret! I haven’t told … I don’t think people outside of the coalition know that. So, now, how many people listen to this?

Erik Gensler: We send it to a list of arts administrators across the country. So, it’s people who work in theater, symphony, museums, performing arts centers, music schools …

Britton Smith: Dude! Well, we’re about to expand this coalition, it sounds like. Let’s go, let’s go!

Erik Gensler: (laughs) I hope so. Which actually brings me to my next question, where this … your event had a lot of focus on Broadway. And I’m curious, you know, we work with a lot of regional theaters and performing arts centers and when you say the industry, are you generally referring to Broadway? And, of course, a lot of the people who are on your livestream have perform at regionals. I’m just curious how you think about that and if there’s plans to roll it out more regionally.

Britton Smith: We’re already rolling it out more regionally, man. We had a panel yesterday with the Broadway League and the Broadway League has people all over the country and we’re trying to spread our reach so that people know. I mean, up until the forum, for the last four years, people who are into advocacy efforts in New York knew who we were. So, now it’s exciting to be like, “Wow.” When we say the industry, we mean the industry. That means students who are training to be in the industry. That means institutions who are teaching people to be in the industry, whether that’s performance, lighting, design, that’s part of the industry. We mean our stage hands and crew members. We mean our creatives, our directors. We mean our unions. We mean our managing directors. We mean (laughs), I mean, the industry is all of us and we all cross-pollinate each other. I mean, I can be on Broadway now, but then I have a regional theater gig that’s fabulous and I want to be treated with the same respect, understanding of my Blackness. I want the same safety. I don’t want to just have safety when I’m in a Broadway contract. I want to have safety when I’m in DC. I want to have safety when I’m in Oklahoma. So, therefore, I need my union to acknowledge the industry and what that means. And so, we’re trying to challenge the industry: don’t just think about these shows that are in this, like, radius of Times Square, man. The industry is thick and we all exist within and without it, several spaces. And so, for sure, I want to be treated with the same equity in Dallas as an actor as I am in New York, for sure.

Erik Gensler: So, we’ve come to your last question and-

Britton Smith: Oh!

Erik Gensler: (laughs) … we call it your “CI to Eye moment,” and the question is, if you can share a message with the executive directors, leadership teams, staff, board of thousands of arts organizations across the country, what message would you provide to help them improve their business?

Britton Smith: I immediately think about power and how you’re using your power—I think you said this today—is either racist or anti-racist and you don’t have to call on your Black colleagues or your black previous cast members to understand if your practices or your ideas are racist or anti-racist. You, as a leader, know that leadership starts from within and asking yourself hard questions, asking yourself, “Am I? am I? am I? Are we? Are we?” So, if you can do that work and acknowledge whether your practices have been racist or anti-racist, it’s important to acknowledge and it’s important to reckon with that and move forward in a way that is anti-racist and use your power for that. You know, that’s what I would say. I want to see eye to eye with people who are using their power for good. And if you’re going to be having shows or staff or anybody of color on your roster of who’s in your institution, think about them when you’re thinking about the power that you have and if they are seeing eye to eye to your power.

Erik Gensler: That’s amazing. Thank you, Britton.

Britton Smith: Yes. Thank you, man.

Erik Gensler: This is awesome.

About Our Guests
Britton Smith
Britton Smith
President & Co-Founder, Broadway Advocacy Coalition

Britton Smith is an actor who has appeared on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regionally. He is also the President and co-founder of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, which builds the capacity of directly impacted advocates, artists, students, organizations, and communities to use the arts as an integral part of their social change work.

Read more

Related Episodes

Staging Classical Works for Today’s Audiences
EP 126
Apr 16, 2024
Staging Classical Works for Today’s Audiences

What do we do when “the classics”—those canonical treasures that embody the rich traditions of our genres—start to feel outdated for today’s audiences, or even at odds with our missions?

In today’s episode, we take a close look at celebrated works from the classical Western canon that include harmful portrayals of non-Western cultures, and hear how one artist is taking action to prune and preserve the art he loves.

Decolonizing Classical Music
EP 122
Feb 20, 2024
Decolonizing Classical Music

Join us as we journey deep into the world of classical music—how we define it, how we enjoy it, and how we ensure everyone feels welcome and represented in our concert halls. This conversation is just the start of breaking down barriers to attendance and ensuring classical arts organizations connect with audiences for generations to come.

Don’t Miss an episode

Don’t Miss an episode

Subscribe to CI to Eye and have your insight and motivation delivered on demand.