Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Celebrating Black History Month
Click Here for More Articles on Celebrating Black History Month

BWW Interview: Tamara Tunie Outlines What's Next for Black Theatre United

"Broadway would not be Broadway without the talented voices of Black people, both past and present," said Tunie

Awareness, accountability, advocacy and action- these are the four pillars on which Black Theatre United was built when it came to be last June. Following the horrific events that triggered a revolution last year, a powerhouse group of theatre artists came together to raise their voices and inspire change. "Our voices are united to empower our community through activism in the pursuit of justice and equality for the betterment of all humanity," reads the group's mission statement.

And empower they have. In the eight months since BTU was formed, the group has made huge strides in helping to create a better tomorrow- but the work isn't done yet.

One of BTU's founding members, Tamara Tunie, just checked in with BroadwayWorld to share some of the highlights of the organization's work so far and chat about what comes next.


What a year it has been for BTU! Let's talk about some of the initiatives that you guys have tackled already...

I know. Since June, when we first came together, we've been pretty busy! It's always a struggle to balance this work that we're doing, which of course is completely volunteer- and I so commend my fellow BTU members for all of the time that they are dedicating to our mission and goals.

We hosted a series of town halls in July and August of last year- the first with Sherrilyn Ifill from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She talked about activating Black artists and allies for racial justice, which was a really great conversation moderated by Audra McDonald. And then the second town hall was with Stacey Abrams and her sister, Jeanine Abrams McLean, which focused on the census and the vote.

We've also created a couple of PSAs that I think were amazing. The first was when we first came together, after the murder of George Floyd. We reached out to all of the Black artists to create a really powerful video about who we are and what we want to do, but also to invite people to join us.


The other PSA was for the census, entitled "Only One You." It focused on how important your single voice is.


Then right before the election we came together to do a music video- "Lift Every Voice." We recorded the song and edited it together- the final message being: Your vote is your voice.


There is such a message of unity in all of the videos that BTU has released...

Well, we are Black Theatre United, and we really take the 'united' part very seriously.

We've also been participating in the Ten Chimneys summit, which addresses systemic racism in the American theatre. There was a representative from every regional theatre in the country and we had deep discussions about this issue. That is still an ongoing process.

Then we also have a partnership going with the Williamstown Theatre Festival- it's a mentorship program. That launched just last month.

Wow, you really haven't stopped!

Yes, we've got a lot of things cooking.

I saw that you guys are involved with NYU Steinhardt on another project?

Yes, "Stand for Change" is a song that some of the members of BTU recorded. Wendell Pierce does this beautiful narration that is peppered throughout. And we're going to shoot a video that will accompany the release. Vanessa Williams has been spearheading this and doing a tremendous job.

I just watched Lillias White on Stars in the House earlier this week. I love that BTU has such a presence there as well...

Seth [Rudetsky] and James [Wesley] have been so very gracious to BTU to allow us to come on their show a couple of times last year, and for Black History Month, they reached out to see if any of our members would be interested in taking over. It's been really wonderful so far. NaTasha [Yvette Williams] did an episode celebrating the glorious Cicely Tyson. It's been an amazing thing.

There is obviously still so much work to be done. What is the vision for BTU for the future?

We're in the midst of forming a strategic plan for moving forward. We came together as a reaction, so we're taking this time now to focus on foundation, building and what our future can look like. It's very exciting to look at the scope of work that we've already done in a little more than six months, and then thinking about how we want to move forward. The process is opening up the possibilities that lie in the future- in creating an organization that will stand the test of time and will be here beyond the founding members.

And I'm sure that as theatre returns and the world starts to return to normal, that will only push BTU forward as well...

Absolutely. And we're very excited to be working with the organizations that exist, like BAC and BTC. Being 'united' is absolutely an action word for our organization. It's always about what actions we can take in order to move the needle forward. It's an exciting time. Though it's also been a challenging time, I look at it like growing pains- you've gotta go through the fire to come out the other side strong, powerful, and lasting.

What are you proudest of in terms of being a part of the creation of Black Theatre United and seeing what it has accomplished since June?

Firstly, I'm very proud to be a founding member and to be working with this group of people who are the most giving, loving, passionate artists out there. We're working together on a Herculean effort to bring meaningful change to our community. Everyone is so selfless.

Events-wise, working with the Ten Chimneys Foundation has been very gratifying to me. I'm very proud of the conversations that we've had, the take-aways... I'm very proud.

Speaking more generally about Black History Month- why is it so important, particularly within our theatrical community, to acknowledge those who've come before?

I have to start by sharing something a nine-year-old told me: every month is Black History Month! [Laughs] The focus that this month places on the contributions of African American artists and technicians is necessary to remind us how important those contributions are. And to illuminate to everyone that Broadway would not be Broadway without the talented voices of Black people, both past and present.


To learn more about Black Theatre United, visit: https://www.blacktheatreunited.com/


Featured at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More

Related Articles

More Hot Stories For You