by Alexia Sielo
I remember being in school discussing the quantity and quality of theatrical roles for women of color versus others, especially men. While I thought one way, many of my peers (the majority who happened to be white) admitted to feeling threatened by the popularity of shows like Hamilton, The Color Purple, and Once On This Island for fear of not finding work. However, what they failed to realize is that this trend won’t last forever, and women of color like myself will be type-cast into these same kinds of roles over and over again going forward.
A lot of them didn’t understand, so I did an experiment. I asked my classmates, “What kind of roles do you think I should pursue post-graduation?” I’ve gotten answers ranging from Joanne in RENT, to Celie in The Color Purple, even Schuyler sisters in Hamilton. It sounds flattering at first, given these are arguably the biggest musicals in recent history. Then I asked my second question. “What about Lee, my best friend who migrated here from Africa to also study musical theater?”
They answered “Oh wow, she would be great in RENT as Joanne. I think she should pursue The Color Purple as well.”
I remained silent for almost 30 seconds, then I asked “What about Genesis?” (another close friend who is from the Dominican Republic)
They replied, “Oh, she should do Hamilton!”
The three of us are all talented, but immensely different. Still, we were told to go for the same roles. While today’s Broadway may have various opportunities for women who look like me, we still face limitations. What is the next trend in Broadway storytelling? No one knows. There isn’t a vast catalog of musicals that I could draw upon as they can for continental or international work opportunities.
So why is there a need for an idea like Women of Color on Broadway (WOCoB)? Once a tribute concert paying homage to some of the greatest performers of color in musical theater history, WOCoB has developed into a 3-part initiative honoring women of color who paved the way to cultural diversity on Broadway, as well as a forum to encourage young female performers, writers, producers, and directors who want to pursue a career in musical theater. It’s so much more than just a cabaret, it’s a movement to put women of color into positions of power so we can create and promote new works that will benefit everyone.
Everything has a beginning… and that’s where we are today. Phase 1 of our initiative is the Women of Color on Broadway Tribute Cabaret at Feinstein's/54 Below in New York City. On Monday, Feb. 25th at 9:30pm, I, Alexia Sielo (We Are The Tigers & Cleopatra) will be performing in a concert with other talented individuals to trace our history through song.
“You can’t move forward unless you know where you came from,” - a proverb I truly believe.
With the help of Music Director Kevin David Thomas, and Broadway’s next generation of musical theater superstars, including Aisha Jackson (Frozen), Alena Watters (The Cher Show), Arbender Robinson (The Book of Mormon), Majeste Pearson (Contestant of “The Four” on FOX), Genesis Collado (How The Westons Won), Felipe Joglar (Beauty and The Beast/regional), and Barbara Douglas (Int’l Recording Artist), we will go back to 1930s to present day to show some on the greatest contributions women of color has made to Broadway. Songs from Porgy & Bess to Hamilton and almost everything in between will be showcased. It’s going to be a great night of music. Come and see the start of something new!
While I am the face of WOCoB, my sister Victoria Velazquez is the brainchild and the work-woman of this initiative. Besides the cabaret, there will be a college lecture series conducted by working minority female Broadway performers to speak about their truths in reaching their goals. They will also talk about behind-the-scenes careers such writing, producing, directing, designing, managing, etc. Finally, Victoria is developing a Broadway musical with an all female cast and creative team. She just wants to give a chance to those who may never have opportunities elsewhere.
WOCoB’s next steps are to gather more support, especially online, and sell tickets for our Women of Color on Broadway Cabaret at Feinstein's/54 Below, Monday, Feb. 25th. It’s hard and scary starting something new. Others have to hear and like the things you are doing and have a desire to support it. So far, the response has been outstanding, especially from Women of Color currently working on Broadway like Christiani Pitts (King Kong), Kayla Davion (King Kong), Brittney Johnson (the first Black Glinda in Wicked on Broadway), Marisha Wallace (Waitress/West End), and the legendary Melba Moore (Hair & Purlie), who will be in attendance for the Women of Color on Broadway concert.
So why did we produce this show and initiative? The answer is… someone had to! Someone has to look into the future and encourage our young women of color to reach beyond established boundaries and create new outer limits that reaches as far as our dreams will take us.