In an annual study released by the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, it has been found that there are major gaps in racial representation and wage amounts when it comes to white writers versus people of color writers on the New York stage. In the same regard, some theater non-profits were listed as spending up to six times the amount of money on white actors when compared to actors of color.
“The Visibility Report: Racial Representation on NYC Stages” analyzed the 18 largest non-profit theaters, as well as Broadway production companies in New York, that occurred during the 2017-2018 season. The report did find that the year gave Broadway it’s first play written by an Asian American, Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men, however, it also warned against celebrating small victories like this, as they can “often serve as the poster child of diversity for a particular season, encouraging a false sense of progress.”
The fact that it’s taken Broadway this long in general to hire an Asian American playwright has been staggering for many critics in the report, and many realize that the 2017-2018 season is only further reflecting the systemic inequalities of racial representation on and off the stage in New York.
In the 2016-2017 report, it was found that 86.6% of all Broadway and off-Broadway shows were written by white people and 97% of all directors were white. This year, the numbers dipped slightly with 80% of writers and 86% of all directors being white, but essentially, these numbers have always been around the same.
The report showed that when it came to on stage performers, 60% of all roles on New York City stage went to white actors; to give it some perspective only about 32% of all New York City residents are white, so the on stage roles aren’t reflecting the off stage reality. 23% of all roles went to black actors while only 6.9% went to Asian American actors. 6.1% went to Latino actors, 2% went to Middle Eastern or North African actors, and only .02% went to Indigenous actors.
The study was released months after more than 300 stage artists of color signed a letter addressed to “white American theater” as an institution, and called them out for the complete lack of representation on and off the stage, a well as the lack of opportunities made available for people of color on the NYC stage.
“We have watched you un-challenge your white privilege, inviting us to traffic in the very racism and patriarchy that festers in our bodies, while we protest against it on your stages. We have watched you promote anti-blackness again and again.”
The report also found that when it came to actor wages, non-profit theaters in NYC spent $1.70 for every $1 spent on an actor of color. The wage gaps vary by company but to give an example the Roundabout Theater spent $6.09 on white actors for ever $1 spent on actors of color; the Atlantic Theater was $1.46 for every $1, and the report claimed that a similar gap was “highly likely” to exist on the Broadway stage, however, Broadway productions don’t publish their salaries.
The end of the study worked to give a similar impact as the 300-page letter, and called upon NYC theater companies to start reflecting the diversity of the streets on the actual stage. When theater reopens in 2021 (tentatively) it will be a unique moment of opportunity for New York to expand their horizons and catch up with the rest of the world when it comes to equality.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.