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Behind the Curtain: Arvind Ethan David and Brian Moreland Explain #WHILEWEBREATHE

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#WhileWeBreathe: A Night of Creative Protest Will Premiere on Wednesday, July 29

Behind the Curtain: Arvind Ethan David and Brian Moreland Explain #WHILEWEBREATHE

Due to the global health emergency, Broadway theaters have found their bright lights dimmed and their houses dark for the first time in history. As the world works together to stop the spread of COVID-19, the theater industry has been put on hold indefinitely - theaters around the world have closed their doors in compliance with social distancing rules, and Broadway has been shut down in full since March 13. The shutdown has impacted the lives of all who work in theater industry, who are now facing uncertain and unprecedented circumstances.

In our Behind the Curtain interview series, we are speaking with theater musicians, stage managers, ushers, choreographers and more, talking about how they are handling the current circumstances, and discussing the impact that the shutdown has had on the theater community.

Today, our Behind the Curtain interview is with Arvind Ethan David and Brian Moreland, the producers of #WhileWeBreathe: A Night of Creative Protest


What is your job title? Tell me about what you do within the theater industry.

AED: I'm the principal of Prodigal Inc, an entertainment company based in Los Angeles where I get to write and produce stories across pretty much all mediums: theatre (Jagged Little Pill), film (Garden of Evening Mists on HBO), TV (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency), escape rooms and now more than ever, in ways we can ship to your house: games, comics, audio books etc.

In theatre specifically, I'm one of the lead producers of Jagged Little Pill which was my Broadway debut. Perhaps that makes #WhileWeBreathe my sophomore outing?

BM: PRODUCER. I am a creative lead producer for Broadway.

My view on producing is that it is one of the most collaborative jobs in the world. Nothing I do can be done alone. For me, producing is all about the community of theatre. There is a fellowship of like-minded people who gather to create what we do onstage. Most of my time is spent getting to know new people. Learning about who they are and what we could do together.

What were you working on when the shutdown was put in place, and what are you working on now?

AED: Jagged was 4 months into its run and we were starting to plan our Tony campaign, and our National Tour. We were also in construction of our newest escape room, The Ladder, which was due to open in July. Also, a lot of TV and Film stuff, though thankfully, nothing actually in production.

Then, you know, COVID. The first 6 weeks were all damage control all the time: health and safety, unions, lay-offs, furloughs, insurance, insurance, insurance, cash-flow, deals with suppliers, contingency planning. All that fun stuff. But also the reason producers are producers: solving problems is our job.

Then, we started being able to think about the future. International productions in countries that have done a better job with COVID than the US, spin-offs in other media, brand extensions. We have a responsibility to the story, the company, our cast and to keep Jagged alive and thriving even during intermission, and we are finding interesting ways to do that.

Then of course, George, and Breonna, and Ahmaud... and this crux moment of reckoning in America's long and tortured history with itself. And that's when #WhileWeBreathe was born.

BM: While we might be on hold until the pandemic has passed...I was/am producing a show written by Charles Randolph-Wright (Motown the Musical, recently announced Trouble in Mind), a play called BLUE. Directed by Tony Winner Phylicia Rashad and starring Tony and Emmy Winner Leslie Uggams, Emmy Winner Lynn Whitfield and CBS' Star Brandon Michael Hall.

Also, I was working on American Buffalo with Laurence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell and Darren Criss. That too is on hold until the pandemic allows us to return.

Since the shut down, I have been donating my time to theatre companies in need. Recently I produced Blair Underwood (recently seen in A Soldier's Play), Emmy winner Joe Morton, Tisha Campbell, and "POSE" favorite Dyllon Burnside in Cuttin Up. All proceeds were donated to the Classical Theatre of Harlem. Now, I am reading new works for NAMT and working on #WhileWeBreathe, again for our community.

What has communication been like since the shutdown with the people you work with?

AED: So. Much. Zoom. For me, because I'm California based, the communications on Broadway projects have gotten easier. Because before this, I was frequently the ONLY person on a video call whilst everyone else was eating expensive sandwiches in a conference room in Manhattan and I was having to shout or TYPE IN ALL CAPS to get my POV across. Now, we're all on the call together, all equally far/close from each other...

#WhileWeBreathe, 100% of the work - the writing, directing, shooting, editing, music etc. has been done remotely and virtually. It's been incredibly effective and focused and sometimes even fun. It's also been joyous to be on big production video calls and have 100% of the team be people of color. Sort of the opposite of normal production where I'm used to being the only brown face.

BM: ZOOM! I have been doing a lot of Zoom. While all of communication has been left to my computer only, I do enjoy the comfort of being in my home office.

How do you feel that people in the theater community have come together during this time?

BM: You know, theatre is a place we come to "co-feel". Theatre is a place where ALL people are welcomed to be entertained, educated, enlightened and changed. We have awakened and activated. I sit at many different tables within our community, there is not one table where "change" is not being served. This type of meal is being served because of who we are as people. When times are hard the theatre community responds in love. That is what I am feeling and seeing now.

AED: Clearly Broadway has also been confronting, or being forced to confront, its own structural and long-standing issues with inequity, exclusion and racism. What's good is that Broadway is full of liberal, thoughtful people who want to do the right thing. So, there's been a lot of positive statements and a lot of activity taking place at the Broadway League and within individual companies and productions to try and be better.

What's more complicated and challenging, is that the power brokers of Broadway are, and have been for a hundred years, a very homogenous, similar group of white, rich people. So there is a great demand on imagination and empathy being made of them to understand exactly how bad things are and what is required for change. Fortunately, imagination and empathy are the qualities that theatre people are meant to be best at...

What ways have you found to best deal with the current circumstances?

BM: I learned in this moment of stillness that I have zero hobbies. I attend theatre for pleasure and work. Most of this time was spent trying to find "peace" and some deeper meaning. Well, I learned that my peace is contributing to our community at large. Now, I spend my time learning new ways to support our community here on Broadway and beyond. Being of service is the best way to deal/cope with our current state.

AED: I focus on the things I can change, the areas where my efforts can make a difference: making art, using that art to shine a light on the issues that matter, and loving and protecting my family. In these bleak times, art is the candle in the dark, it's the ghost light on the stage that will guide us home. Those of us who are privileged enough to be able to keep making art, keep telling stories, provide creative outlets and generate employment, we have a responsibility to keep doing that.

Which is a long way of saying, my work and my family keep me sane. I have a two year old, Odetta, and it's very hard to be depressed about the future when the future's right in front of you, dancing and exploding with possibility.

How do you think this will change the world of theater going forward?

AED: I think the complacency of Broadway has been fundamentally challenged by COVID. Business as usual is meaningless in a context where no one knows when "usual" might return, if ever.

BM: For me, I hope our theatre community will remember this time. Remember, when we were all forced to stay home. Remember, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds we watched a man killed on TV. Remember, the protests and continue to support members of our community. I hope that when we return to theatre, that all people choose to work, create and support all people in all fields.

Remember that we will be ALWAYS stronger together.

Do you have anything else you would like to share?

AED: Tune in Wednesday 29th July to #WhileWeBreathe on YouTube .

BM: I hope that as we begin to rethink, reshape and redefine how we gather, people see the process through a patient lens. Remember, that it will take each and every one of us to make these changes possible. Lastly, when we can buy tickets again, buy a ticket to a show that tells a story you don't know. Learning is the only way we grow.

And if we are not growing, then we are dying. Let's live.


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