NEW YORK - "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda hopes to increase diversity on Broadway and in theaters across the country with a new initiative announced Thursday.
The Representation, Inclusion, and Support for Employment Theater Network – or R.I.S.E. Network, for short – is launching a directory of diverse offstage theater professionals to make it easier for them to get hired for jobs ranging from stagehands to producers and general managers.
"There has been a lot of talk since 2020 about diversity and change," Miranda told The Associated Press, adding that the directory is coming at a "really wonderful time because theater, as a system, has learned to say the right things."
"Now," Miranda said, "it’s about backing that up."
According to a 2021 report from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, which studied Broadway shows in the 2018-2019 season, 100% of general managers and 94% of the producers were white. White actors were cast in 80% of the lead roles in musicals and 90% of the lead roles in plays.
Steps have been taken to improve diversity in the theater since then – most notably "A New Deal for Broadway" in 2021, negotiated between Black Theatre United and Broadway shows and their touring productions.
With R.I.S.E. Network, Miranda wants to make it easier for those hiring for offstage jobs to find diverse applicants.
"R.I.S.E. is really about making sure that the beautiful mosaic of people you see -- if you see a production of ‘Hamilton’ or you see a production of ‘MJ (The Musical)’ or ‘Fat Ham’ on Broadway -- is also reflected backstage, that it’s not just the folks in front of the footlights," Miranda said.
Wilson Chin, the New York-based set and production designer behind Broadway shows "Cost of Living" and "Pass Over," said he hopes R.I.S.E. becomes widely used by those hiring in the theater.
"People keep saying, ‘We can’t find anyone,’ but we’re out there," said Chin, who is currently working on several projects, including "Turandot" for the Washington National Opera and the new Hunter S. Thompson musical for La Jolla Playhouse. "We just have to be found. Having us all in one place is great for us to be seen."
Miranda said he got the idea for R.I.S.E. Network from director Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY initiative, which features a database of women and people of color working in the film and television industries in offscreen jobs. He began working with his friend, composer Georgia Stitt, who developed Maestra, a directory for female composers, conductors, arrangers and other musical jobs.
The Miranda Family Foundation provided the seed money to build R.I.S.E. Theater Network and will help support the directory, which is free for those looking to work and looking to hire.
Adam Hyndman, R.I.S.E. Network’s project director, said it will launch Thursday with nearly 1,000 theater professionals in the directory and will look to expand after its launch.
"Theater-making exists everywhere," Hyndman said. "There is diversity in all corners of the United States and in stories that can be told. We see the sky as the limit for the user base."
Robb Nanus, executive director of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, a nonprofit that fights racism through storytelling, said his group supports R.I.S.E. Network’s efforts because it provides the connections needed to create change in theater hiring practices.
"They understand the complexities of pipeline issues, that it’s not just about putting names in a database," Nanus said. "It’s about understanding how to support people holistically and how to make connections between people who want to work and people looking for team members."
Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League, the trade association representing commercial theater, said she loved the idea for R.I.S.E. Network as soon as she heard it.
"There’s a sincere interest by the theater community all over the United States to ensure that we diversify not only on stage, but backstage and in the audience," she said. "So this will help us do that."
St. Martin said increasing diversity in the theater not only creates more vibrant productions, but also more robust interest from audiences.
"This is good for business and the right thing to do," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.