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BWW Feature: How Broadway Women's Alliance Is Changing the Game for Women in Theatre

BWW chats with BWA members producer and co-founder Jennifer Isaacson, talent manager ChiChi Anyanwu, and Tony-winning producer Jane Dubin.

BWW Feature: How Broadway Women's Alliance Is Changing the Game for Women in TheatreIn November 2017, a small group of Broadway's leading female professionals congregated at iconic theatre haunt Sardi's to discuss the working realities of women on the business end of Broadway.

That night, the group began outlining the most prevalent issues facing female and female-identifying professionals in the theatre industry. The meeting proved so productive that the group quickly resolved to hold further events geared toward enacting long-term solutions.

Over the next two years, the women gathered regularly, inviting more ladies to attend each and every session. With membership quickly expanding, participants eventually expressed a desire to create a formal organization aimed toward uniting and educating both established female professionals and young women making their way through the ranks of the theatre industry.

It wasn't long before these meetups blossomed into the advocacy and advancement group the Broadway Women's Alliance.

Since its official launch on January 23, 2020, the Broadway Women's Alliance has developed into a legitimate and thriving enterprise. Over the past year, BWA has hosted numerous salons, seminars, happy hours and networking events, creating a tight- knit community of women from all corners of show business, unified in the cause of empowering and advancing female professionals on Broadway and beyond.

Despite its infancy at the time of the Covid-19 shutdown, the group persisted, quickly pivoting to online programming. Throughout 2020, BWA hosted a number of notable events including a professional advancement seminar with Tracy Geltman, COO of Stacey Mindich Productions and Aaliytha Stevens, COO of SpotCo, financial Insight training with Jodi Carter, CPA, a confidence building workshop with Jenny Gaither, confidence coach and founder of the Movemeant Foundation, a curated conversation on the election with the founders of Broadway for Biden, Producing Blue, and Swing Left Broadway, as well as book club meetings, female mentorship programs, and self care seminars.

As it approaches its one year anniversary, BWA is showing no signs of slowing down with several 2021 events already in the works including a LinkedIn optimization seminar with Sara Barton on January 13, BWA's First Birthday Celebration on January 20, and 'Celebrating Women: Trailblazers & Emerging Leaders', a curated panel and conversation led by Aaliytha Stevens, presented in partnership with Women of Color in the Arts, on February 10.

As Broadway Women's Alliance completes its very successful inaugural year, we touched base with three of its members to learn more about the group, its goals, and its positive impact so far.

BWW Feature: How Broadway Women's Alliance Is Changing the Game for Women in TheatreJennifer Isaacson

Producer & Co-Founder of Broadway Women's Alliance

Are there any long-term goals for BWA in terms of achieving gender and racial parity in the industry? How does BWA plan to use its coalition of female and female- identifying professionals to bring about change?

We believe our mission of 'women supporting women' is a baseline for achieving gender parity within the industry. We often say how we want to walk into every possible room, event, opening, and know each other, regardless of level or company. This is a way of strengthening and seeing each other and will be so key for when Broadway comes back. BWA is pushing for racial parity within the industry as we broaden our membership outreach and programming and prioritize partnership opportunities with BIPOC organizations.

Through our virtual events we've fostered connection during the shutdown, and our hope is that once we all return, the women who have stayed in touch will still be allies in helping to better the industry.

What are some of the biggest lessons from BWA's inaugural year? What issues have been illuminated by this widespread connection with other industry women?

Our biggest takeaway this year has been our need for connection - to be part of a network working towards a common goal. We are an industry built on collaboration. It's in our DNA. In our programming this past year, we've looked for ways to feed into that need even though we all are at home behind our screens. Zoom fatigue is real. But, personally, I always come away from our events feeling energized. The energy of our events is incredible.

One of our goals as we move into 2021 is creating opportunities to partner with other women's organizations and BIPOC organizations. To achieve parity, we must not only connect on an individual level but also an organizational level.

How has the current racial reckoning in our culture, both on Broadway and off, affected your mission? How does the BWA plan to move forward in better supporting BIPOC professionals?

We have closely examined how we can better build and engage a diverse membership base not only by reaching out to those currently within the industry but also by amplifying those who are building a pipeline for BIPOC theater professionals. As part of this we are working with Miranda Gohh, who recently launched Theatre Producers of Color (TPOC), to create a resource guide and on February 10th, 2021, BWA is collaborating with Women of Color in the Arts to present 'Celebrating Women: Trailblazers & Emerging Leaders', a panel to be moderated by Aaliytha Stevens, COO Spotco.

How has BWA supported its members throughout the coronavirus shutdown? Are there any collective plans for BWA to help get the industry back on its feet when the time comes?

Through our programming we've aimed to foster community and connection and also provide concrete skill-building. This involves constantly finetuning our events to meet the ever-evolving needs of our membership base during this shutdown. In the early days we focused on connection - just having a space to collectively share our experience - who has a new pandemic hobby, what shows are you watching, who is still employed, what resources does our community need. Then over the following months we shifted to skills building, volunteer opportunities, and personal and professional development events.

As the industry gets back on its feet we are not going anywhere and will be there in person and will be more visible.

Tell us about some of your events and initiatives so far and what the response has been! What has the rate of membership growth been like throughout 2020?

During the pandemic, virtual events became key, before that, it was often happy hours or after work events, including our launch event in January 2020. As everything went virtual, we quickly shifted gears and during this time have grown tremendously as an organization. BWA started 2020 with about 150 members and now has well over 400 members and growing. Immediately following the shutdown our programming focused on community building and forging a virtual point of connection for our members. As the needs of our members evolved with the shifting landscape of the new normal, our programming shifted.

Programming has included personal and professional development events, financial wellness during the shutdown, mentoring opportunities through a partnership with CreateHER, and career building events, particularly focused on those who are job seeking or looking for opportunities outside the industry during the shutdown. As a peer-to-peer network, some events are generated by our membership base. During the shutdown we had several highly successful member-created events including social and game nights and an ongoing book club.

Heading into 2021, what are some of the main issues on BWA's agenda?

At our core, BWA is a community of women here to support other women, and that will always be a top priority of ours. How we do it might shift - during the pandemic, virtual events became key, before that, it was often happy hours after work. We'll see where 2021 needs us to go!

We are actively pursuing opportunities to collaborate with partner organizations across our industry and the arts. One of our first events of 2021 is a collaboration with Women of Color in the Arts to present an evening 'Celebrating Women: Trailblazers & Emerging Leaders', a panel to be moderated by Aaliytha Stevens, COO Spotco. This will happen virtually on February 10, 2021.

What are some of the ways involvement in BWA has impacted you for the better so far?

Our industry can often be so siloed where we only interact with others in certain contexts. BWA has connected me with so many women across all levels of the industry, some of whom I had only 'met' over email. BWA put a face to those names and at same time introduced me to so many new ones. This goes back to that idea of walking into a room, a meeting, an opening night, and being a friendly face for one another.

ChiChi AnyanwuBWW Feature: How Broadway Women's Alliance Is Changing the Game for Women in Theatre

Talent Manager & Founder of CHI Talent Management

What are some of the ways involvement in BWA has impacted you and your work for the better so far?

Its inspiring to be part of a strong, group of female leaders in the entertainment industry. We share ideas and chat about our experiences in the industry. During Covid, its been refreshing to do virtual check ins and talk about ways we're staying positive and proactive during this time. I've met a handful of members who started their own companies and were brave enough to venture out on their own. Hearing these stories of strength and resilience gave me courage to step out on faith and know that I could be a entrepenuer as well.

What are some of your goals in terms of broadening opportunities for BIPOC artists and arts professionals? How do you think your involvement in BWA will enable you to better achieve those goals?

As a talent manager, my main objective is to advise, guide, and empower a diverse array of talent in the entertainment industry. Also, I plan to participate in leading mentorship programs for artists of color and do monthly consultations to develop talent. BWA provides additional access to resources and information that will help my talent management company grow. There are Broadway producers, general managers, publicists, etc. all part of BWA with a wealth of knowledge I can learn from,

What does it mean to you to have a network of female support in this industry? What ways do you hope to see the industry change for the betterment of women in the future?

BWA has been very supporter of my careers endeavors. When I started fundraising for business expenses for my new talent management, a handful of BWA members donated and share info on my company. Its been great to have support from the BWA community. I'm hoping to see more women of color produced on the professional stage and more female directors as well. Overall, there needs to be more employment opportunities for women of color on Broadway & Off Broadway theatre.

What are some issues specific to women of color in this industry that you hope to see addressed by BWA and the industry at large?

Education is key. Strong internship programs are how I got started in the industry. Also, my current interns are females of color and would be great to set up some kind of internship or mentor program for theater arts professionals. There should be more recruitment of getting more diverse members in BWA as well.

Beyond the shutdown era, what are your plans for the future?

Hoping to expand my company in the future to literary and production. I would like to develop more skills in producing in the future and create more opportunities for writers of color.

BWW Feature: How Broadway Women's Alliance Is Changing the Game for Women in TheatreJane Dubin

Veteran producer & President of Double Play Connections

What are some of the ways involvement in BWA has impacted you and your work for the better so far?

First and foremost, BWA has created a community of women working on the business side of Broadway. You can't put enough emphasis on how important it is for producers (like me!) to get to know as many people in the industry as possible and to share resources and experiences, particularly now, when so much of our theater world is upside down. In fact, several of the women have been guest speakers in the producing master class that I teach (with BWA co-founder Jen Isaacson). And, it has been great to get to know folks on a more personal level - people I've worked with on shows but through BWA events have gotten more of a sense of who they are - and vice versa. That will inevitably make for better working relationship when the time comes to get back in "the room". Plus, the events themselves have helped develop some new skills and added some fun at a time when we really need it!

What does it mean to you to have a network of female support in this industry? How do you think an organization like BWA would have been useful when you began working as a producer? How do you think it will be useful to women just entering the industry going forward?

I did come from the finance world (I was a principal of an investment firm) - which helped in the sense that much of producing involves understanding finance. But I lacked the theater network many producers bring with them from school programs or acting or behind the scenes jobs they had before, like house manager, company manager, designers, etc. I would have loved to get involved with BWA when I first started, to get to know women from all sides of the business. It would have accelerated my learning curve, most definitely and as important, made it easier to walk into any room, whether at the theater or in marketing meetings for shows or at readings and the like. This is a business of relationships and organizations like BWA provide a space to get to know people outside of the formality of an office or conference room.

You put up your first Broadway show in 2009. In just over a decade how has the theatrical landscape changed in terms of female influence? What ways do you hope to see the industry change for the betterment of women in the future?

Almost every show I've worked on has had a female lead. But there seem to be more women in lead producing roles than when I first started; and in prominent shows as well. We have a long way to go but there seems to be more awareness of including and highlighting female creative teams and stories; since so much of the audience is female that has to be a good thing! Organizations have developed to bring more exposure to women in different aspects of theater, such as Maestra for women in music and the Lillys for creatives and BWA for women on the business side. Hopefully, as more women gain experience across all aspects of the business, more women will rise to leadership roles, notably at theater ownership levels and artistic/managing director roles at non-profit and regional theaters. There needs to be more diversity in the ranks of the decision makers so that there is more diversity in the stories being told and who is telling them.

Beyond the shutdown era, what are your plans for the future?

That is the 64,000 dollar question. We don't know when things will return to "normal" or what the new normal will look like. So I'm focusing on what I can do now that will make it easier to create when we can be live in person again. I am Chair of the Board of Houses on the Moon Theater Company, a non-profit with a mission to amplify the unheard voice. We have been active (virtually) during the shutdown showcasing some of the work of our company, including a new podcast highlighting our stories, our artists and our work with community partners. That will continue. And we're hoping to have our next show be live on a stage next year - it had been scheduled for last March.

With my producer hat I've been working on a new musical as well. Like so many others, our momentum came to a crashing halt in March, but we decided to keep moving forward by adapting the show into a radio play. It has been a fantastic process to refine the story, and the music is so powerful. So stay tuned for more news about The Village of Vale. As for my next Broadway show....?

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From This Author Alexa Criscitiello