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BWW Blog: What's the Best Broadway Can Be?

“Broadway can’t come back. It has to come forward.”

For my final blog post of 2020, I want to write about the future. More specifically, the future of Broadway. Everyone is tired of hearing how difficult this year was to the live performances industry. So, let's shine the spotlight into what's to come.

For the past nine years, Damian Bazadona and Jim McCarthy have been hosting TEDxBroadway in NYC. This year they went virtual and I was able to watch the event all the way from Brazil! Every year, they ask the same question to speakers: "What's the best Broadway can be?" Naturally, each year there are different answers. This industry is flexible, it is always changing (isn't that the magic of live theatre, after all?). But this year calls for special conversations on diversity, resilience, and re-invention. So here are my main take-aways from TEDxBroadway 2020.

BWW Blog: What's the Best Broadway Can Be?We began with the wise words of Tony Award winner, LaChanze. She talked about how in her life she had to be resilient to keep moving forward, from being a 9/11 widow to constantly hearing no's in audition rooms. With theatres in the dark, LaChanze urges actors, friends, the audience and herself to focus more in the "being" and not in the "doing."

Becky Leifman, executive director of CO/LAB Theater Group, talked about the power of "yes, and." She challenges us to instead of saying no, we say "yes, and" to new opportunities and ideas.

Vanessa Williams, who co-founded Black Theatre United, said "The pandemic is an opportunity for Broadway to reset and commit to an anti-racist system of practices so that we can come back better."

David Gallo (Tony Award winner scenic designer) shared his favorite weapons to fight the war we are currently in:

1. Scale: take some time to analyze the relationship between you and another human being

2. Perspective: is the angle of an audience's relationship to the show. As a scenic designer his job is to see things from an audience's point of view. Put yourself in other people's shoes.

3. Courage: to move forward.

BWW Blog: What's the Best Broadway Can Be?
Gallo's Tony Award winner design
for The Drowsy Chaperone

Hassan Sayyed, previously known as "The Callback King," founded his own natural line of skin and body care for professional performers called "Haus Urban." Here are some of the learnings he shared:

1. The best time to dream big is when everything is falling apart

2. You can only dream as big as you can heal

3. You won't always be the best fit, but you can always find your light

My favorite speaker of the night was Bruce Barish, the fourth-generation owner of Ernest Winzer Cleaners, aka Broadway's premier dry cleaner since 1908. I'm always in awe of what it takes to put on a Broadway show. Can you imagine how much history has this business experienced by being open for 112 years? Barish likes to think he is a "helping hand to Broadway." He has delivered clean costumes from 9/11, to snowstorms, to hurricane Sandy, to protests, because in his words, the show must go on. My biggest takeaway from his talk was "if I ever begin to believe that I'm the best and stop continuously trying to be better than I will never reach the top of my game."

BWW Blog: What's the Best Broadway Can Be?
Bruce Barish at Ernest Winzer Cleaners

Stephanie Riggs, former Disney Imagineer and Refinery 29/Vice Media Experiential Creative Director shared three great lessons:

1. Diversify your relationships - by having a supportive network, when things don't go as planned, we have a new perspective on how to move forward.

2. Look to the future - and adapt to new technologies

3. Create something new - the darkness fades away when we create something new (as an example Riggs talked about a virtual reality play that's being developed in France, while live performances are still not encouraged).

As one of five black producers on Broadway, Brian Moreland talked about how we as humans are the return on investments to people who believed in us. There are three types of investors:

1. Unconditional investors - the most genuine type of investment. They do it because they believe in you. With unconditional investors, you build a community of kindness.

2. Risk investors - they decide for you, but they will grow and learn with you.

3. Conditional investors - the ones who expect something back from you.

Stephanie Yabarra, artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage, opened her heart in an emotional talk about when your personal life and your professional career collide. She learned, after being in a dark place, that the missing ingredient to reactivate her imagination was vulnerability. When you go through hard times, and face the most challenging of challenges, you build armors to protect yourself. However, sometimes these armors prevent you from being emotionally present in times you need the most.

BWW Blog: What's the Best Broadway Can Be?
Watts as Ike Turner.

The grand finale came with Daniel J. Watts, who was recently nominated for a Tony Award for his supporting role in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. More than an impressive and immersive talk, Watts created visual art, while he painted with his tapping feet. Going through his busy career from stage to studio, to screen, he affirmed he never gave time for the paint to dry. And why would he? With so many opportunities, you have to grab them with all that you can, right? He started to feel the consequences of not letting the paint dry in his body, hardly being able to perform. The pandemic and the events of this summer came to teach him how to let the paint dry.

I would like to end this article, with a quote from Watts, that is now my wish for the future: "Broadway can't come back. It has to come forward. And when it does, it has to be more expressive with the colors that it uses."

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