Eight weeks ago, Broadway marketer Whitney Britt of the Brand Partnership Group Two Dog Circus got a text from the Brooklyn Nets. As part of the NBA team’s Black History Month commemoration, they planned to host a themed night for each of the seven home games in February. For example, one evening was devoted to Caribbean culture and another to historically black colleges and universities. February 28th would be a tribute to Black Broadway. Would a partnership with the Main Stem be possible?
Britt shifted into high gear. While Criscia Long, the Nets’ senior director of entertainment, already noted that former “MJ” cast member Darius Wright would sing the national anthem before the game and highlight Nets dancers in a tribute to “The Wiz” on the halftime show, was working Britt with Nets staff to “up a few more levels” by bringing in Broadway connections.
The event turned into a 360 degree Black Broadway experience. Britt integrated her client Black Theater Coalition (BTC) as a partner. “The players — NBA and WNBA in particular — are activists driving social change, which of course is the perfect combination with the Black Theater Coalition trying to change the face of the industry,” Britt said. BTC was thrilled to join in a unique way, as co-founder T. Oliver Reid said, “to celebrate the work of black professionals in American theater and Broadway.”
BTC grantees and apprentices, along with cast members from Broadway’s upcoming “Fat Ham” and pros from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Entertainment Community Fund, filled part of the stadium to represent Broadway at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
In the arena’s concourse, Britt arranged for the Museum of Broadway to display pieces from his “Wiz” exhibit, including the signature “Ease on Down the Road” neon sign. Throughout the night, select viewers could take quizzes on Broadway to win tickets to shows like Fat Ham, Aladdin and Some Like It Hot, as well as tickets to the Museum of Broadway. Dance routines during downtime highlighted shows like Dreamgirls.
But the highlight came at halftime.
Not only did Broadway dancers Justin Prescott and Olutayo Bosede co-choreograph a medley from The Wiz – coordinated by the Nets’ Long – but the show starred André De Shields in the role he created, the title character of the Musicals the stadium’s jumbotron. Britt said: “Being able to bring André to the table to use a sports analogy was my help [Long’s] Goal.”
“When you have to produce so many games per season, [the Nets] would still be selling tickets and hosting a basketball game whether I have André De Shields there or not,” Britt admitted. “But I think if you really want to call this play ‘Ode to Black Broadway,’ I don’t know how I could not Get André De Shields.”
To make this happen, BTC co-founder and Hadestown choreographer Reid reached out to his Tony Award-winning former castmate De Shields, who proudly accepted the invitation. The legendary performer pulled on his own showstopping ensemble to pre-record the video that was set to air as part of halftime – and which marks his first appearance in the role of Wiz since 2015.
As Britt said, each part of the experience enhanced the overall event so that basketball fans and Broadway supporters would hear as that “Broadway tree falls in the woods.”
At a time when audience development — particularly reaching new audiences — is vital to the health of the industry, the evening provided Broadway with a massive stage away from the usual neighborhood. “Building relationships outside of the normal Broadway arena allows us to expand audiences where we never would have looked and hopefully show another generation of potential theater professionals that there’s a job, a career, a life for them too.” in the theater.” Reid said. “We continue on our mission to eliminate the illusion of inclusion in American theater and increase job opportunities by 500 percent with every partnership we enter into by 2030.”
In terms of public relations, Britt sees the link between sport and theater as a huge opportunity that has gone untapped for too long. “I’m just so keen on getting Broadway out of those 20 blocks, to develop the audience, to reach more eyeballs,” she said. “Obviously, sports and theater are so intertwined, so incredibly similar, and also so incredibly different, but basically the Nets are doing seven premieres – in our words – with different themes this month.”
This special night also provided a chance for multiple Broadway shows and organizations to work together. “This is an opportunity for multiple theater units to turn a profit,” Britt said. “I like playing in this type of space where it’s for the betterment of the whole ecosystem.”
“I think this is the start of something we could talk about for next season, further ahead and find other ways to involve people,” Britt continued. “Every game has so many points of contact. There are 18,000 people there every night. It’s a marketing opportunity that feels untapped. Sure, Broadway people sing the anthem all the time, but I think there’s just so many more ways to do it.”