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Arts and Education: Obligation to the Classics and Implications for Diversity and Inclusion

Roundabout Theatre Company is committed to producing the classics. But how do artists and institutions decide if classics need to be re-interpreted or experienced in their original form? How can they create scalable initiatives to help programming reach new audiences and adapt programming in innovative ways?

At the latest Talks@Columbia, Dean Jason Wingard convened a panel of theater luminaries to broach these questions.

Wingard was joined onstage by actress Vanessa Williams, playwright, and Columbia theater professor David Henry Hwang, playwright Ming Peiffer, producer Alia Jones-Harvey, and Artistic Director/CEO of Roundabout Todd Haimes.

The discussion quickly evolved into a wider debate about the business of and diversity in contemporary theater.

Haimes, who has led Roundabout for 35 years, is also an Executive in Residence at the School of Professional Studies. He grounded the discussion by outlining the changing business model of theater in New York City. The burgeoning audience of international tourists, he said, has combined with the diminishing audience of Tri-State area theater-goers to boost Broadway blockbusters—and endanger off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway plays, the bread-and-butter of not-for-profit theater.

The other panelists picked up the thread, examining how diversity further complicates these conditions.

Soon, it became clear that a paradigm shift has taken place in both musicals and plays, from London to New York and beyond: productions with diverse casts were once seen as niche “ethnic theater;” now diversity is demanded and rewarded by mainstream audiences.

“Racism is no longer a viable business model,” declared Hwang.

The School of Professional Studies maintains an extensive focus on the intersection of business and diversity, especially with the growth of its HBCU Fellowship and its Girls In Stem Initiative.

Talks@Columbia provides a venue to connect experts across key industries including entertainment, sports, and medicine.

Watch every episode of Talks@Columbia here.

Additional Authors

Nick Schiff