Broadway Performers Condemn Scott Rudin, Industry Racism at Protest

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Broadway performers and activists came together Thursday afternoon to demand that the Actors’ Equity Association address long-standing racism and abuse within the industry. Organized by performers Nattalyee Randall and Courtney Daniels, the March on Broadway gathered hundreds of Broadway actors, dancers, and activists at Columbus Circle to listen to speakers, including Eden Espinosa. “This is the first day that I have not felt heartbroken,” Espinosa told the crowd as she called on white performers to get more involved. “If you think a year later that the black square was enough, I’m telling you you’re wrong.” Another speaker, Diamond Essence White, shared the racism she experienced during her Broadway debut as an understudy for both the Alana and Zoe roles in Dear Evan Hansen. “When discussing the costumes and hair for me, the very first comment made to me was, ‘Alana needs to look as ethnic as possible, so can you wear your hair natural?’ as if my skin weren’t enough,” she said. “And to add insult to injury, they asked me to straighten my hair for Zoe.”

It wasn’t the only time White said she experienced racism during the production. “There was a time when another understudy was on for the role of Zoe and she had an emergency in the middle of the show and I was called down to get into costume and mic and all this shit in the wings,” she said. “After the show — my hair was natural at the time — after the show, the stage manager said to me, ‘You don’t have to straighten your hair for Zoe anymore, because the other girl can pass as more WASP, and we’re not gonna fool anyone with you.’ It was said as though either one of us had to fool anybody into believing that we were more white, or in close proximity to whiteness, in order to play the role in the first place, when we were hired to play the role regardless of our skin color.”

Another performer, Sis, shared an account of auditioning for the role of Alana in Dear Evan Hansen and making it through several rounds of auditions before a work session where she was expected to sing “You Will Be Found” in the soprano key. “Now this right here ain’t no soprano throat,” she told the crowd. “I left that audition and I was like, ‘Well, what can I do?’ I did what I could with what I had, with the gifts that were blessed upon me, and it was still a no, because I was not enough, and I felt, ‘Oh my God, what could I have done? What could I have done better? What could I have done more?’”

Demonstrators didn’t shy away from naming producer Scott Rudin, and the culture of complacency around decades of reports of abusive behavior, as further evidence of the industry’s biases. “Equity said that they cannot put Scott Rudin on the ‘do not work’ list because he’s a part of the Broadway fucking League. So that means that this industry is so far up Scott Rudin’s ass that we are at a point of no return. That is telling,” said Sis. “They put Tyler Perry, a Black man, on the ‘do not work’ list with a swiftness. They are willing to put Black people on the fucking stake.”

The crowd marched down Broadway to chants of, “Hey hey, ho ho, Scott Rudin has got to go!” And once the demonstration had reached the Actors’ Equity Association building in Times Square, more speakers addressed the crowd. Among them was James Pierce III, a performer who came forward two years ago with accusations of racism during his time in the production of Anastasia on Broadway. He recounted conversations he’d had with Actors’ Equity Association executive director Mary McColl. “Two years ago when I met her and talked to her about my situation at Anastasia on Broadway, even then she admitted to me that the harassment from people in power has become normalized, specifically on Broadway,” he told the crowd. “Why hasn’t Equity done anything about it?” He went on to recount that he was told to “lay low” after reporting the situation, specifically to avoid professional repercussions from the stage manager and company manager. “I was told that they were very strong figures in the industry and would do anything to destroy my career,” he said. “What the fuck? Does Actors’ Equity want to be responsible for abetting the future Scott Rudins?”

Broadway Performers Condemn Scott Rudin, Racism at Protest