Camille A. Brown is Making (Modern) Broadway History

Photo: Ebony Magazine

( ENSPIRE She Did That ) Brown to Choreograph and Direct a Broadway Show About Seven Black Women

ENSPIRE Contributor: Sophia Kang

Camille A. Brown will be the first Black woman to direct and choreograph a Broadway show since Katherine Dunham 66 years ago. Brown, a Tony-nominated and Bessie Award-winning choreographer, will revive Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreopoem, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, which tells the “survival stor[ies]” of seven Black women living in a world of racism and sexism.

The choreopoem, set to make its return in 2022, will follow seven plays coming to Broadway this fall, all of which were written by Black playwrights and tell Black stories.

“This show has been part of the fabric of my life, and I’m gonna give it my all!” Brown wrote on Instagram. “I look forward to diving into the divine Ntozke Shange’s choreopoem and celebrating her legacy.”

In a conversation with Lara Downes last month, she revealed that her joy for dance comes from feeling self-conscious about her “small voice” as a child. Then her mom introduced her to dance, and she began to narrate her life through movement—through turns and kicks and jumps—rather than words.

“Camille opens the eyes and ears of the audience as she vividly reads us a story about her grandmother through dance,” iDanz said about Brown’s performance in “Mary”, a dance dedicated to her late grandmother. “Bravo, Camille, for a beautiful performance and for waking up the spirit of your grandmother on stage.”

Brown shares her joy for dance through Social Dance for Social Change, a virtual school that is inspiring Black bodies to tell ancestral stories through movement. African American social dances trace back over 200 years to African diaspora culture: It was at first a means for enslaved Africans to preserve cultural traditions and feed their inner freedom, Brown explained to TEDEd. African American social dances are constantly evolving, shaping modern culture, and today, they remain about community, identity, and letting loose.

Video: “Camille A. Brown: A Visual History of Social Dance in 25 Moves”, TEDEd

“Through social dance, the boundaries between groups become blurred,” Brown said.

A schedule of upcoming virtual lectures and dance classes from Social Dance for Social Change is here.

New Deal for Broadway

Broadway’s unprecedented fall lineup comes after the widespread endorsement of a New Deal for Broadway among New York’s leading theater groups and names. The document, released by Black theater members, describes a series of commitments and reforms that will address concerns of equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging, or EDIAB, especially for Black professionals, in the theater industry.

In the 2018-2019 Broadway season, White writers created 80.5% of the shows produced, while Black writers created only 11.7%, according to the most recent annual report released by the AAPAC on “Racial Representation on NYC Stages.”

“The Broadway that opens in September 2021 will not be the same Broadway that closed in March 2020 [due to COVID-19],” the New Deal for Broadway begins. “For far too long, Black artists, theatre-makers, and technicians in all areas of the industry have been subjected to systemic and interpersonal racism that has harmed their lives and careers and diminished us all.”

The document was released earlier this year by Black Theatre United, a group of Black theater members created in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and recent and ongoing cases of police brutality.

Photo: AP News

“To elevate a cause or to overturn policies that target black people in any one state or community,” the group promises, “[we] will draw on members with local connections to use their visibility and influence for good in theater and on the national stage.”

The document includes commitments to mentoring and sponsoring Black talent in the theater industry, advocating for diversity beyond the Broadway community, and encouraging EDIAB principles among Tony nominators and voters.

Black Theatre United’s advocacy, plus Brown’s directorial debut, is energizing the Black theater community, who, along with the rest of us, waits to see if Broadway will stand by its promise to diversity on and behind its stages.

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