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Diversity increases on Broadway but not for Asians

Hamilton
Courtesy: Hamilton Broadway

Views from the Edge

The lights of Broadway appear to be shining brighter for minority actors, singers and dancers but they dim when it comes to Asian American performers.
Though the 2015-2016 season was touted as the season of diversity with the musical Hamilton leading the way, there were fewer Asian American artists hitting the stages of New York City, according to a report compiled by the Asian American Performers Action Coalition. AAPAC released its annual report, “Ethnic Representation on New York City Stages” this week.

“It’s a very positive outlook for the industry,” said Pun Bandhu, a member of the AAPAC steering committee. “However, Latinos and Asians are very removed out of the diversity conversation still,” he told NBC News.

Diversity on New York’s stages shows overall improvement with 35% of all roles going to actors of color and disabled actors, a new high, according to the report. Overall, Asian representation dropped 5 percentage points from the previous season, to only 4% according to the latest report. It was the steepest drop among all minority groups.This drop came despite the short run of the George Takei-inspired musical Allegiance, which featured a predominantly Asian cast and marked the first time an Asian American composer and lyricist, Jay Kuo, was produced on Broadway, according to the report.”We hope this report will be used as a resource to track casting trends, point to inequities where they may exist and provide a measure of how much further we have to go. We are hopeful that these numbers hint at better days ahead and are grateful for your continued interest and commitment to these issues,” said the AAPAC steering committee in its report.

Although the last four years has shown a trend of increased use of minority actors, as has been the case since the AAPAC began its annual reports, White actors continue to dominate the stages. Caucasians are the only ethnicity to over-represent compared to their respective population size in New York City. According to the 2010 Census, Whites made up only 33% of New York City’s population while 26% were made up of African Americans. 26% Latino and 13% Asian American.

The season of Broadway hits Hamilton and The Color Purple was the most diverse in the 10 years for which AAPAC has data. Representation of actors of color hit a new high of 35% of all roles, besting last year’s record of 30%. Non-traditional casting has largely remained unchanged over the last 10 years, but jumped significantly this past season.

The news, however, is not as celebratory if you’re not a musical theatre actor. For the first time since AAPAC has been collecting data, the study was able to compare plays to musicals on Broadway to further analyze where opportunities exist and where they is room for improvement for minority actors.

READ the full AAPAC report.

Miss Saigon
The ‘Miss Saigon’ production employs an almost all-Asian cast.
Photo Courtesy Miss Saigon Broadway

While Broadway musicals hired 43% minority actors this season, plays on Broadway hired only 16% with the vast majority, 14%, awarded to African Americans) helped by productions such as Eclipsed, which also brought the rare instances of an African American female director and an African American female playwright to Broadway, The Gin Game and The Crucible.

While Hamilton and On Your Feet brought more Latinx performers to Broadway audiences by making up 11% of all roles, that good news was offset by having no Latinxs at all in Broadway plays. Asians did not fare much better with only one Asian actor who was cast in an ensemble role.
The racial breakdown for Broadway 2015-2016 follows:
  • Caucasian actors: 65% of all roles
  • African American actors: 23% of all roles
  • Latinx actors: 7% of all roles
  • Asian American actors: 4% of all roles
  • Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) actors: 0.83% of all roles
  • American Indian actors: 0.08% of all roles
  • Disabled actors: 0.67% of all roles

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