Broadway theater is an unbelievable experience, and it’s something I have enjoyed for over 30 years. However, one thing that I often notice when I go to Broadway shows is that there are not many Black and Hispanic people in the audience, unless it is a show like “In the Heights” or “The Color Purple.”
Many times I have felt that it was a shame that we were not more represented. Audience diversity is important. It should be developed and there should be a way to get more Blacks and Hispanics into Broadway theater seats. Now, let’s take that a step further and develop an audience for the future, which means bringing in teenage Black and Hispanic youth so that they experience the theater at a young age and develop a love for it.
Well, guess what? Such a program has been in place since the 2009-2010 Broadway season, and that program is Impact Broadway. Created and facilitated by marketing entrepreneur Donna Walker-Kuhne, head of Walker International Communications Group, and Cherine Anderson, Impact Broadway takes New York City high school students out of the classroom and exposes them to Broadway shows and so much more.
Students must be between the ages of 16-19 and attend one of the many schools that participate in the program. In the program’s first year, 300 students from 10 schools participated. In the second year, the 2010-2011 season, 280 students from nine schools participated. Now in its third year, the program has signed up 150 students from five schools.
As evident from the numbers above, the number of students and participating schools has decreased drastically, but there is a reason for that: lack of funding. “This is the first year where we need to fund it ourselves and we need help,” Walker-Kuhne said. “We were previously funded by a two-year grant that encouraged audience development from the New York City Theater Subdistrict Council [TSC]. We have to raise $150,000.
“We have an online campaign. People can go to our website, impactbroadway.org…We’re trying to raise the first $10,000 by the end of October or you can call the office at (718) 703-2260. Interested corporations should know there are sponsorship opportunities. They can sponsor the gathering [the season opening event], a school or the ‘Black to Broadway’ event [where students go and watch the Tony Awards], and there are naming opportunities for the gathering, like ‘the American Express-sponsored Gathering.’ This year’s gathering was held on October 24 at Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium at 1199, a partner of Impact Broadway.”
Impact Broadway has a focused mission, which is “to develop a multicultural, teen-based audience that has access to Broadway productions,” Walker-Kuhne said. “In the previous two theater seasons, we paid for tickets through the funding that we got through TSC and the students paid also. We created theater clubs in each school and the students paid $30 per year for three shows, plus dinner. At dinner we deconstructed the play.
“Students sit according to genre-dancers with professional dancers from the show, writers with show writers-and they are given questions to ask the professionals among them and have a moderator at each table, so the students work. They also get talk-backs and much more.”
This program is vital for the cultural development of minority youth. “They get exposure to Broadway productions that most did not have. They have a deep understanding on how theater works by seeing shows and talking to the cast and creative teams behind the shows. Then the students come back and talk to other students-that’s the impact,” Walker-Kuhne said. “We have 30 industry volunteers who go with us to the schools and speak to the students. My goal is to change the face of Broadway audiences. We’re trying to create a familiarity and access to Broadway theater.”
In the past two years, students have seen and met with the cast and creative teams of “Fela!” “In the Heights,” “Memphis,” “The Lion King” and “A Free Man of Color.”
If you can help fund this program, get in touch with Walker International Communications Group by calling (718) 703-2260. If you are a theater professional-actor, dancer, choreography, costume designer, etc.-and you would like to become one of Impact Broadway’s volunteers and share your experiences with New York City teens, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. You’re only asked to commit six hours a month.
Walker-Kuhne hopes that Impact Broadway will succeed in developing loyal future audience members for Broadway shows. “The students involved want to perform on stage or work backstage, but there are also others who just love theater. The students post their experiences on Facebook,” she said.