In response to the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd and the false accusation by Amy Cooper in Central Park this past May, the Black Lives Matter movement returned to the fore of the national stage. This led the theatre community at large to reconcile with acts of racism on its stages, as well as the diversity, equity, and inclusion (or lack thereof) on Broadway and across the nation. Amber Iman, one of the founding members of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, noted during one of three June re-education sessions “Broadway for Black Lives Matter Again” that while some show casts are more inclusive than those of productions past, “it starts from the top.” If you want more Black artists onstage and backstage, you need Black directors, designers, choreographers, and casting directors. If you want more Black directors, designers, choreographers, and casting directors, you need Black producers.
“Producer” is a term that can mean many things. Typically, a lead producer is not only a primary investor or moneyraiser but the creative lead on the show. They put together the creative team for a production, often pairing writers with composer-lyricists or composer-lyricist teams and directors. Most importantly, a lead producer controls the message—how to market and advertise, final approvals on anything to do with the show. Producers at a lower level have varying degrees of creative input and varying degrees of financial commitment, depending on the show. The current demand for more Black (and Indigenous and POC) producers is a rallying cry for inclusion at every level.
Though, there are not enough producers of color on Broadway, there are a select few who have broken down barriers. This series, Spotlight on Black Broadway Producers, highlights them. Of course, there are other marginalized communities that also need more representation in leadership positions; the Black community is a place to start. In this series, read these producers’ personal stories, hopes for what theatre looks like upon its post-COVID return, and individual approaches to producing for the stage. Next up: Dale Mott.
Creating a Whole New World of Theatre: Dale Mott is just getting started, and when he’s done, the theatre industry will be a whole new landscape. After being a producer on The Lifespan of a Fact in 2018, he joined the team for Keenan Scott II’s Thoughts of a Colored Man, which aims to debut in 2021. With 30 years of non-profit fundraising experience, Mott knows how tough it is to keep the pipeline filled with new investors and new projects.
“The Black Lives Matter movement amplified my anger and frustrations and reopened old wounds,” says Mott. “Pushing through the gauntlet of ‘that’s not the way it’s done,’ and ‘we don’t have the resources,’ and overcoming invisibility and biases is exhausting.” Successful projects by Black creators, performers, writers, and all creators, often get below the industry standard when it comes to salaries, accolades, and positions, the producer adds.
For Mott, the dream of becoming a producer on Broadway started with Lou Bellamy and August Wilson during his early days at Penumbra Theatre Company. Finding guidance and inspiration from Robert Barry Fleming, Molly Smith, and Edgar Dobie, the producer attended the Commercial Theatre Institute, and there he connected with classmate Brian Moreland. The two worked together on The Lifespan of a Fact and are back at it again with Scott II’s play exploring the inner lives of Black men.
On top of the two Broadway shows, Mott is working on Grace, a new American musical about family, food, legacy, and love by writer and composer Nolan Williams, Jr., with sights set on a premiere in the 2021–2022 Washington, D.C., theatre season. It was announced last month that AKA NYC selected Williams, Jr. and Mott as part of the agency’s 500-hour initiative to support independent Black producers.
His approach: “I’m a native Louisianan,” says Mott. “We’re born storytellers, and I am committed to storytelling in all forms, across the performing arts and the visual arts. My husband and I are avid art collectors focusing on work by Black artists. It’s such an exciting time we are in—seeing more BIPOC narratives in all mediums elevated is gratifying.” Never one to venture solo, Mott is always seeking advice from more experienced insiders, like four-time Tony nominees Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones Harvey; theatre, film, and record producer Kurt Deutsch; and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Artistic Director Maria Manuela Goyanes. “The achievement is the path and the people that move you along the journey.”
A strategy for visibility: Bring in as many Black and Brown makers as possible, says Mott. “If you’re not having exponentially more conversations with BIPOC prospective investors, makers, and leaders—and extending invitations and opportunities to these people—then you are not doing the work.” The focus shouldn’t be on hitting quotas, but rather, including anyone who’s interested.
A new outlook on theatre: Currently there are 41 Broadway theatres, which leaves very little room for visibility in the upper echelons of the industry. “What if we broke from the confinement of this number?,” poses Mott. “I don’t have a perfect answer, but I prefer looking at the question through the lens of abundance as opposed to scarcity.” When theatre returns, the producer hopes to “see fewer silos, hear far fewer ‘nos’ and more ‘yeses,’ and see more BIPOC leaders in roles from press agents to general managers—and frankly, the beginnings of a more decentralized Broadway.”
The stories we need: Mott wants to move quickly and draws energy and inspiration from young producers like Sammy Lopez and Ben Holtzman (producers of Gun & Power), and Cynthia Tong and Rob Laqui (founders of The Industry Standard Group). “In the time folks waste sizing you up and determining which box to put you in, these producers have already opened the sandbox, built diverse teams, engaged new and unexpected allies, and taken their ideas to the bank.”
For more information about Mott's work, check out his production company Edgewood.com.