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Can We Rebuild the Renaissance? What We Need to Learn From The Historic Black Broadway


As technology rapidly advances and we gain more avenues of exposure via streaming and social media, we have yet to reign in theatre, as we have in film, as much as our counterparts. This may have always been the case in the epic comparison of theatre and film; however, theatre is still a multi-billion dollar industry and we are not even getting a third of the pie as we should be. Our stories and culture have taken Broadway to new heights. We should be up there too.

Can We Rebuild the Renaissance? We need to…

We have to keep our eyes on the success and the dismantle of Black Broadway and The Harlem Renaissance. In the early 1900’s it was BLACK theatre and performances that made the majority of theatre and entertainment revenue. First-rate AA-owned theaters and nightclubs that hosted the biggest stars in American music — Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Jelly Roll Morton, among many others were OWNED by us and EMPLOYED us. We could take a lot of seemingly nothing and make empires. Our culture, ideas, and productivity were appealing and sought after.

“Never before, anywhere had I seen such persons of influence — men with some money, women with some beauty, teachers with some education — quite so sure of their own importance and their high places in the community.”


~Langston Hughes~

Take a look at early 1900’s Broadway and you’d see that, it was not the empire it is today. Slowly, black productions trickled into the scene and kept Broadway afloat with hits like “Shuffle Along.” And like always, when we see white, we think it’s right (post traumatic slave syndrome). The legends started to fade and the blacks that kept our art thriving felt as though they could do better elsewhere. Harlem and Black Broadway were infiltrated and taken over, like many black institutions and communities, creating black broadway dreams that we still have not seen in full fruition.

“Broadway was a no-mans land, neither the East nor the West. It ate up your past and your tradition. The Big Street was where you went when you had nowhere to go.” 

-Jerome Charyn

Times Square was seedy and crime-ridden, and Broadway’s once-great theaters were empty and dilapidated by 1972. New York was bankrupt. Many would say that Andrew Lloyd Webber saved Broadway with CATS.




2016 and 2017 set a new bar for black cinematic success in revenue, production, and content creation. Black movies have been poppin’ the last two years with no signs of slowing down as we approach next years box offices. Why are we not seeing the same amount of success in Black Theatre?

Take a look at the numbers:

Jordan Peele | Get Out

Released February 24, 2017
Distributed by Universal
7th top grossing movie of THE YEAR.
The movie grossed $252,195,162 worldwide.

Black writer. Black director. Black producers.
Introduced Daniel Kaluuya to mainstream America.

Hidden Figures

Released December 25, 2016
Distributed by FOX
14th top grossing movie of 2016
Worldwide Gross $230,274,643

Black producer. Black talent.


Tyler Perry | Boo – A Madea Halloween

Released October 21, 2016
Distributed by Lionsgate
42nd top grossing movie of 2016
Worldwide Gross $74,827,344

Black err’thang.


August Wilson | Fences

Released December 16, 2016
Distributed by Paramount
57th top grossing movie of 2016
Worldwide Gross $64,414,761

Come on…it’s Denzel & Viola in an August Wilson classic.


Compare to:
There were four black productions on Broadway last year (2016).

The Color Purple = Gross $36,962,503 (52wk run – Avg. Paid Ticket $127/Top Ticket $193)
Shuffle Along = Gross $15,174,445 (30wk run – Avg. Paid Ticket $111/Top Ticket $373)
Eclipsed = Gross $5,744,145 (25 wk run – Avg. Paid Ticket $84/Top Ticket $198)
Jitney = Gross $3,598,741 (11wk run – Avg. Paid Ticket $81/Top Ticket $140)

More Comparison:

Hamilton = $105,471,174 (52wk run – Avg. Paid Ticket $188/Top Ticket $512) STILL RUNNING
Waitress = Gross $27,758,536 (52wk run – Avg. Paid Ticket $119/Top Ticket $270) STILL RUNNING
Dear Evan Hansen (2017) = $32,293,872 (27wk – Avg. Paid Ticket $149/Top Ticket $374) STILL RUNNING


Kristen Chenoweth is worth $10 million dollars while Audra McDonald is worth on $2 million. Audra has the most Tony’s. Black artist do not thrive in white theatre spaces; however, most of the time we have no place else to go. Too often black millennials have limited options in the black market of theatre.  We train brilliant professionals just to lose them to institutions that will grossly profit off their skill sets for decades as we struggle to produce ONE show. The Harlem Renaissance and Black Broadway thrived because of their use of synergy. We must bring our resources to the table and not our egos. We can rebuild together.

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