EXCLUSIVE: A group of prominent Broadway theater producers, whose shows include The Band’s Visit, MJ: The Musical, Waitress and August: Osage County to name a few, are teaming with the Black Theatre Coalition and Columbia University’s Prince Fellowship to launch a major new nonprofit initiative to train and mentor a new generation of Black theater industry leaders.
Called The Theatre Leadership Project (TTLP), the organization will offer a program of three-year fellowships designed to diversify commercial theater’s leadership. Founding producers of the Project are Barbara Broccoli, Lia Vollack, Alecia Parker, Patrick Daly and Travis LeMont Ballenger in partnership with BTC and the Prince Fellowship (formerly known as Columbia’s T. Fellowship).
The fellowships are geared specifically for Black applicants. On its website TTLP writes, “It is our belief that by focusing on one of the most marginalized groups of people, we will ultimately create space for professionals of all races and ethnicities. For this current pilot program, we will focus on Black applicants due to the extremity to which they are excluded.”
The project’s advisory council includes entertainment figures including The View‘s Whoopi Goldberg; producer John Gore; Apollo Theater executive producer Kamilah Forbes; Obie-winning director Whitney White; SpotCo COO Aaliytha Stevens; Broadway producer Brian Moreland; Robert Fried, CPA, Partner at Withum Smith & Brown; entertainment attorney Stefan Schick; and talent agent Oliver Sultan. Leah Harris, formally of Dallas Theater Center and Milwaukee Rep, will serve as program manager.
The fellowships, which are set to begin in fall 2021, will be open to candidates across the U.S. looking to build careers in commercial theater management or production. The individual fellowships include:
- General Manager/Company Manager Fellowship: A three-year program in partnership with Black Theater Coalition, this fellowship includes two-year fellowships with six leading general management companies, with a third year devoted to developing job opportunities for the fellows. Six fellowships will be available;
- Creative Producing Fellowship: A three-year program in partnership with Prince Fellowship managed by the Columbia University School of the Arts. The first year will be in the one-year Prince Fellowship (named after Harold Prince). Year two will be spent in a producer’s office. During the third year, TTLP will work with the fellows to find job opportunities. One fellowship will launch in 2021, another in 2022 and a third in 2023.
- Stage Manager Fellowship, with details forthcoming. TTLP has also donated to the Cody Renard Richard Scholarship Program for stage management.
“It is our belief at TTLP that long-term financial support alongside training/mentorship and networking opportunities will provide successful outcomes for the program’s participants,” said Broccoli (Once, The Band’s Visit) and Vollack (MJ the Musical, Almost Famous) in a statement. “We are thrilled to be in partnership with existing organizations such as Black Theatre Coalition, supporting the leadership work they are already doing at the forefront of change.”
“We realized that there was a necessary element that no one has talked about: long-term, sustained, paid apprenticeships and fellowships,” said T. Oliver Reid, co-founder and artistic director of Black Theatre Coalition. “Through Black Theatre Coalition’s Management Fellowships, in partnership with TTLP, we can make certain that when these general and company management fellows are given opportunities, they are ready for it.
“Being in these rooms and building relationships, alongside the knowledge gained during the fellowship will help us move the needle towards equity in the American theatre.”
All TTLP Fellows will receive a compensation package including healthcare. Financial supporters of the project include the Dana & Albert R. Broccoli Charitable Foundation; John Gore, Lauren Reid and the John Gore Organization; K Period Media; Diana DiMenna; MGM Studios; Scott Delman; and the Shubert Organization. The TTLP is organizationally and fiscally sponsored by the Entertainment Industry Fund.
In a Zoom interview with Deadline, founding producers Broccoli, Vollack and Ballenger explained that the project has been under development for about 10 months, and that a key element of the fellowships will be in the follow-through with participants. The goal, they said, is “a long-term sustainable program.”
According to Vollack, a goal of the fellowship program will be to encourage community both among the newcomers and with the established industry. “We want to make sure that the theater community is welcoming,” she said, adding that while Black theater workers have entered the industry, “the retention has been much smaller than one would have hoped.”
Said Ballenger, “Being in a program for six months or five months but then after that not knowing where your next paycheck is going to come from is an absolute barrier” to maintaining career stability. “A lot of people leave the industry [after completing fellowships and training] because they need to go to a place where they can afford their lives.
“But there’s also the barrier of community,” he continued. “We want to make sure that as well as being able to sustain their lives – having health insurance and a stipend to move to New York if they’re not already here – that they’re also going to leave [the program] with a really strong community…We’re trying to build a network for them.”
In addition to health insurance, the fellowships include $50,000 in yearly compensation, and relocation stipends to New York if necessary.
The fellowships are designed to embrace applicants who, as Ballenger describes, “see themselves in the commercial theater world but maybe couldn’t find a pathway in and went off to do something else.” Formal education is not required for eligibility, nor is prior experience in commercial theater. Diversity of experience from comparable fields is encouraged.
Ballenger said the program is not geared toward graduating high school or college students (though anyone can apply), but rather for people looking to transfer from one professional field into the theater industry – or within the theater industry, as could be the case with actors or directors looking to transition to producing.
For more information on The Theatre Leadership Project, visit its website here.
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