Inclusion starts wherever it is being suppressed. The 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” is setting a new standard for who is seen on and behind the stage. Besides the obvious reflection of the culture the play represents, the local production of this one made a collaborative effort to open each and every role to anyone and everyone.
Three hundred African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American (ALAANA) theatremakers signed a letter —accompanied by a petition—demanding that “the white American theatre recognize its legacy of white fragility and white supremacy.”
‘Beauty and the Beast’ brings diversity and inclusion to the stage | king5.com
The 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is setting a new standard to who brings a show to life on and off the stage.
It is the theater’s first production since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first production since the implementation of its Anti-Racism Work Update.
“We are trying to evaluate and analyze the structures that exist here, and how we make theater and try to break those down and make it a more accessible and equitable environment for everyone that comes through our doors,” said Bill Berry, 5th Avenue Theatre’s producing artistic director.
That action was prompted by an open letter to theaters called, “We See You White American Theater.”
“In that document, some really shocking things were said that I think we as a primarily white institution didn’t realize were happening,” added Berry.
Staff spent the past year and a half looking at its practices and outlined several steps to amplify the voices of Black and theater-makers of color in all areas of production and education.
The first bullet point is: “We will develop work by, and amplify the voices, of Black theater makers and theater makers of color in our programming onstage, backstage, and in all areas of musical theater production and education.”
“Beauty and the Beast” is the 5th Avenue debut for Porscha Shaw, who plays Belle, and Riley Brack, who plays Beast. Both actors faced challenges because of their race in the industry.
Shaw and Brack said working with a diverse cast and crew for “Beauty and the Beast” was magical.
“The energy in this place was so endued with gratitude, and it was never lost in me for a second that our identities were being uplifted in that space,” said Brack.
After “Beauty and the Beast,” the 5th Avenue Theatre will show “Afterwords,” a new musical that Berry said celebrates how art helps heal from trauma and crisis.
Staff are planning next season and making sure to continue to live up to its objectives.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is going to be making sure that as an organization we don’t just do this quick thing right now and just move on,” said Berry. “This has to be something we work on to engrain and embed into our culture here at the 5th Avenue so that it’s ongoing and continuous.”