Creating a Safe Space at BroadwayCon 2017

Theatre Features
Creating a Safe Space at BroadwayCon 2017

“Touching on topics that we don’t talk about, that’s what art is all about. We need to project this world to change the world.”

Hamilton’s Ari Afsar spoke from Chicago about the new Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen and its message towards teenagers but her words reflected the general atmosphere at BroadwayCon 2017. Held last weekend (Jan 27-29) at the Javits Center in New York City, the second annual BroadwayCon was filled with inclusiveness and empowering messages.

During the “Hamilton: The Next Administration” panel alone, there were numerous references to the Women’s March and President Trump—plus comparisons between the newly appointed leader of the United States to King George III—as the castmembers tried to make sense of how art could imitate reality and vice versa.

Broadway’s role as a safehaven for Others and Artists of the world permeated throughout the weekend, particularly on the third and final day. An early morning panel on activism told the tales of Broadway stars and their concerns about the world, including their worry over being blacklisted for expressing their opinions. The fear was palpable as In Transit’s Margo Seibert questioned whether she should speak out against Seven Brides for Seven Brothers for its positive light of rape and as other activists expressed being “overwhelmed” by American politics. An hour later, Theater People podcast host Patrick Hinds received a massive applause after summarizing the 24 or so hours prior to Sunday, January 29: “That crazy man signed some crazy shit, then everyone went to JFK.”

In its second year, BroadwayCon was more inclusive of the entire artform that is Broadway, and was better attended than the inaugural 2016 event, which coincided with the blizzard that blanketed New York City and surrounding areas the same weekend.

“We know what to expect now so we just took whatever problems we had last year then fixed them up and expanded on our creative mission. And here we are,” said co-founder Melissa Anelli, after pausing temporarily to watch several Hamilton stars stroll by. “This year, all the entities around Broadway get it and want to be a part of it.”

And a part of it they were. Broadway staples came out in droves—Anelli referenced a moment earlier in the weekend when Chita Rivera jumped on stage during Joel Grey’s panel and hugged him—and the marketplace was brimming with vendors, ranging from small jewelry stores and Broadway-oriented fundraisers to major brands like Playbill and Stubhub. And much of it was interactive; fans were able to participate in autograph and photo sessions with numerous stars throughout the weekend, and there were a lot of general different activities held at BroadwayCon, including a slumber party and star search.

The highlight of the third day, and perhaps BroadwayCon overall, was the First Look event. Upcoming shows including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Amélie, Bandstand, Come From Away, Hello Again (an upcoming film based on a musical rather than a new show to Broadway), Indecent, Miss Saigon, Significant Other, Sunday in the Park with George, The Play That Goes Wrong and Anastasia all were unveiled for the theatre-loving audience as directors, playwrights and performers took the stage. And, in Broadway and BroadwayCon fashion, many of the speakers took it upon themselves to address how their art relates to the current state of U.S. politics.

According to director and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand reflects, “What it is to be a part of a culture and not know where you fit in.” Indecent playwright Paula Vogel declared, “We are all Muslim” after relaying the play’s plot, which tells the stories of immigrants, artists, and LGBTQ characters in the ‘20s. Anastasia, the finale of the First Look programming, was described as an embodiment of the Women’s March “walking across the country to find out who or what she is. We all are.” (And of course, Cristy Altomare and Derek Klena, who star as Anya and Dimitri respectively, received warm applause after performances of “Journey to the Past” and “My Petersburg.”)

Broadway, a safe space for art and artists to thrive, was embodied by the weekend, but no more so than by Anelli’s finale speech during the closing ceremony where she implored people to remember the welcoming environment of BroadwayCon whenever facing hardships and intolerance. “Joy can be resistance, art can be power,” she said amidst tears, as thespians and theatergoers alike sung BroadwayCon 2017 to its close.

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