Advocating and Agitating, Connecting and Inventing

Andrew Lloyd Webber

There are producers serving on committees. Performers signing petitions. Then there is Andrew Lloyd Webber, the most successful living musical theater composer, who offered his body in an effort to resuscitate his beloved industry. The 72-year-old Briton, whose hit list includes “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” in August joined a vaccine trial in England, taking a shot of the experimental drug in his left arm while wearing a “Save Our Stages” T-shirt. And he’s been a relentless champion of theater’s return: In July he hosted the first West End pandemic show at his Palladium Theater in London (“This is a rather sad sight,” he said as he looked at the socially distanced audience), and he continued to press forward, recently presenting a holiday pantomime show whose audience included Prince William and his family.

Black Theater Coalition

When Broadway returns after the pandemic lets up, the revival of “Company” will include 10 young Black men and women as paid interns behind the scenes. Also ready to take up new roles in a more equitable theater — as producers, general managers, company managers and stage managers — are the nine Black participants who just completed an 11-week course at Columbia University’s Theater Management & Producing program.

The internships and the course are some of the nuts-and-bolts initiatives of Black Theater Coalition, founded by the businessman Reggie Van Lee, the actor T. Oliver Reid and the multi-hyphenate theater artist Warren Adams. Their mission is to replace the “illusion of inclusion” in theater by reshaping its ecosystem — and priming its pipeline.

In that they join a wave of Black-led organizations working to make real change this year, including Seattle Theater Leaders, Broadway Advocacy Coalition and Black Theater United. Change, they know, is a matter of necessary manifestoes — like the one issued by We See You, White American Theater, calling out structural racism in the industry — but also demands the grind of outreach, amplification and negotiation. That’s how 10 new jobs today might become thousands tomorrow.

Jenna Doolittle

Soon after the pandemic began, Jenna Doolittle started getting panicked text messages from friends: How can I get financial help? Are there discounted classes for those out of work? Were there still open calls for auditions?

As a Los Angeles-based career coach for actors who had previously worked in casting and as a theatrical producer, she had more than the usual amount of information at her fingertips. The result is the Actors Rise Newsletter, a free weekly email chock-full of advice, listings and links. The first blast went out to 36 people on March 19; now more than 6,500 subscribe — so many that Doolittle is about to hire an assistant. “I knew actors were scared,” she said, “and the only way to ease that was to keep them informed, engaged and inspired.”

Paula Vogel

The playwright Paula Vogel found herself at home on Cape Cod last spring, thinking that the coronavirus could have her name on it. If time was short, how did she want to spend it? The answer was producing. Since June, the Pulitzer Prize winner has used her splendidly cast online reading series, Bard at the Gate, to elevate overlooked plays by Eisa Davis, Kermit Frazier and others, all dealing with race or gender. Vogel is daring the theater: Make yourself better. Stage these scripts.

Jared Mezzocchi

Many theatermakers struggled to rethink their art form this year, but the multimedia designer Jared Mezzocchi was immediately at ease — and showed leadership — in the virtual world. A May production of Qui Nguyen’s “She Kills Monsters” at the University of Maryland, where Mezzocchi teaches, was among the earliest to glam up Zoom with imaginative filters. He is just as comfortable navigating digitally native waters, as in the online hit “Russian Troll Farm.” We are curious to see where he takes theater next.

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