Dear Culture

Broadway’s Black Renaissance: Tyler English-Beckwith

Episode 105

Read the full transcript here. 

Black stories are taking center stage on Broadway. This week on the Dear Culture podcast, our hosts, theGrio‘s Social Media Director Shana Pinnock and Managing Editor of Politics Gerren Keith Gaynor talk with playwright and TV writer Tyler English-Beckwith about the Black theater-makers telling today’s stories on the world’s biggest stages and how Black playwrights help shape the culture. 

This season, all seven of the new plays premiering on Broadway are written by Black playwrights. Considering that just a few years ago only 20% of shows on New York stages were written by people of color, the 2021-2022 season looks to be a massive turning of the tide.

English-Beckwith, who currently writes for season seven of Outlanders on Starz and received the 2018 Kennedy Center Paula Vogel Play Prize, says the lack of diversity on Broadway is due, in part, to mostly white producers being unwilling to invest in Black artists for fear of not breaking even or making a profit.

“I think at the end of the day, just like just about everything, it boils down to capitalism and folks not wanting to lose money,” said English-Beckwith. “I saw some stats about Thoughts of A Colored Man, which had to close early because of COVID. It had the newest audience members of any other play in this past season. Like, people who had never been to a play before and never been to Broadway before we’re coming to see that play, which is not a musical, in the middle of a pandemic.”

She continued, “That is a huge, huge feat, and that’s a Black playwright, Black lead producer, Black director. I think it’s important that we actually look at the numbers because there’s a perception that Black plays don’t make money, but when we look at the stats, they absolutely do.” 

Black playwrights are also populating TV writers rooms as well. Jeremy O. Harris—whose play, Slave Play, just finished its second run on Broadway—is a consultant on HBO’s Euphoria. The TV show P-Valley is an adaptation of a play with a similar name by Pulitzer Prize winner Katori Hall. 

Zendaya/ Euphoria

English-Beckwith says playwrights crossing over into TV is not new, but this current age of prestigious television is lending itself to much more publicity about who is behind some of our most beloved characters and storylines. 

“I think strangely about the moment of crossover has been happening since films became talkies—like they always took playwrights from New York and brought them over to L.A. to write dialog,” she explained. “I think it’s just more highly publicized now because of the age of television that we’re in, and because television is much more [prestigious] than it has been in a long time.”

English-Beckwith added, “I think more people are interested in bringing sort of different writers who may work in different mediums to expand what television can look like. I’m really excited about how TV has grown over the years, and I think playwrights can only add to that, like, beautiful new mosaic of whatever is happening on television.” 

Tune into the Dear Culture podcast to hear the entire eye-opening conversation, including theater’s role in Black liberation movements.