On March 6, Stephen C. Bryd and Alia Jones-Harvey will make Broadway history as the “only pair of African-American lead producers” when Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed opens at the Golden Theatre in New York.
The historical significance will also highlight the fact that Eclipsed is an entirely female cast and creative team, and further, an entirely Black cast and creative team.
Set in Liberia, Gurira’s Eclipsed comes to Broadway on the heels of its sold-out, critically-acclaimed production at The Public Theater last fall. The critics embraced the compelling story line and superlative acting. Jesse Green of New York Magazine called the show “mesmerizing and unmissable.”
The story of five extraordinary women brought together by upheaval during the civil war in their homeland of Liberia stars Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o joined by Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia (The Color Purple), Zainab Jah and Saycon Sengbloh, and is directed by Liesl Tommy.
Producers Byrd and Jones-Harvey, of FrontRow Productions are currently the only full-time professional Black producers on Broadway. They are regarded as “trailblazers” and have been applauded for bringing non-traditional casting and stories to The Great White Way. Their work includes the mutliracial casting of revivals of Romeo and Juliet, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cicely Tyson’s Tony Award-winning performance in The Trip to Bountiful.
ESSENCE spoke to Byrd and Jones-Harvey on the eve of the Broadway premiere of Eclipsed.
What inspired you into the line of work?
We stand on the legacy of William Alexander Brown, who in 1821, as a free Black man, used his savings to buy a building in lower Manhattan and founded the African Grove Theatre. His bold and audacious vision became the launching pad for James Hewlett (first African American to perform Shakespeare) and Ira Aldridge (world famous African American who went on from the African Grove to perform Shakespeare throughout Europe and Russia).
What’s the most rewarding part of your journey with Eclipsed?
Giving African women a voice has inspired Danai Gurira to write this beautiful play and inspired us to bring it to Broadway so that a larger audience could have this transformative experience.
The controversy around the 2016 Oscar nominations, have re-opened an important issue on inclusion and broadening of the definition to be more inclusive. What are your thoughts on this?
Often, our productions are mistaken for “color-blind” casting. We are “color conscious” in our vision for each of our productions. This may be subtle to some, but is extremely important to us. We are creating worlds on stage where color informs our choices. We are not ignoring color as “color-blind” would suggest. We are also conscious in hiring our team. The only way “inclusion” becomes a non-issue is with conscious decisions by the studios, show runners, producers, directors, casting directors and department heads.
Leaning into the positive, how do you both suggest using “SAG”: short, attainable, goals —to move the needle forward?
The challenge for all of us is to continue to expand our thinking on people, cultures, what is possible, even, what is Broadway! We are passionate in our support for the artists and young people that test the boundaries of what is possible. S.A.G.—go see Eclipsed on Broadway this Spring!
Previews for Eclipsed begin on Feb. 23. The official opening is March 6 at the Golden Theater on Broadway.