September 2019 Member of the Month

Janelle Lawrence

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Janelle Lawrence, Founder and Artistic/Executive Director of Broad Views on Broadway,  writer, composer, costume designer, sound designer, light board operator… if the term “theater rat” had a definition, she would be on it. When it comes to singling out her preferred artistic identifier, “theater maker” is the language she has grown to. Having started Broad Views on Broadway in 2013 during her sophomore year in college in a sketchy basement, she eventually brought the company to our co-working tables here at TAC. The company has grown to having just held its fourth annual Summer Fresh Festival, where it produced over 20 artists works throughout the month of August. As Janelle was looking through old files and documents of Broad Views on Broadway from 2013, I got to sit down and talk about her years of development, activism, and a growing community that nurtures change towards a more equal society, which is one of the main reasons why we have chosen Janelle to be our September Member of the Month. 

How did you find the co-op?

I think Rachel reached out to Musical Theater Factory for desk exchangers and I applied. I think I was in the second round of desk exchangers.

What do you use the Co-Op for?

I do 20-30 office hours for Broad Views on Broadway, we’ll do our shows here sometimes for festivals, and we’ll have our board meetings here. Also, it’s just great to meet other people. A lot of people here are theater makers so it’s convenient to have these conversations. I remember when I met Yoni (Vendriger of Israeli Artists Project) I took him to this workshop at The Foundation Center, and he fell in love with them, and then he took me to a workshop. You build a community and you can have conversations with people. Yoni and I had a conversation about race, how folks identify, and how that plays into their dynamic in society. We are both artistic directors of a company and these conversations that we have, we can bring them down into how we do our programming, or how we go about inviting people to our shows. The casualness of coming across people who are doing really big things and who are making really big changes is so convenient here. 

What are you working on right now?

I just finished our fourth annual Summer Fresh Festival for Broad Views on Broadway, and I have a writing residency for my musical Black Church, which is a story that parallels the environment that you find in a black church environment. Like that person who is the protector, the person who is dramatic, the lecturer, and it parallels that to a black, queer woman who is an activist, and her life while going to Columbia University, and how she has the same sort of people in her life. Even though she is not a religious person like her family is, she still has the same sort of protectors and people in her life who guide her through her tough decisions.

Explain what it means to be a queer activist.

Constantly reflecting on myself and putting myself into other people’s shoes. I think that is what activism generally means: using the perspective you gain from putting yourself into other people’s shoes in order to decide what is the least painful, the long term, and the most successful route to equality among all people. We have not created a society because we haven’t achieved equality, and without equality, there is no balanced society.

What’s the hardest thing about being a theater maker?

I sat down with two other artistic directors and executive directors, who wear hats like me, and we had a moment of laughter or sigh of relief around the realization that so much of our job is putting out fires. Taking responsibility for things that are not even necessary for you to be taking, but you do it anyway because you know someone should. It’s unfortunate that that is a large portion of it because there could be so much more I could be doing. I could be thinking of so many more incredible ways to making programs, ways to minimize finances or maximize outcome, but instead I’m putting out small fires throughout the day, and spending an hour or two on the little things that I actually need to be getting done on my list. 

What’s the best thing about being a theater maker?

Seeing people on the platform. Seeing people shine. Watching works grow. Seeing people and their work develop. All of that is the beauty, that is the goal, that is the thing that reminds me that I can't give up. Just the little difference that your making. Sometimes you don’t know, but sometimes you’ll do a show for 20 different artists and at the end, one person will send you a thank you email, and that one email is all that I need to tell me that I’ve done something right. 

Are there any insights you have on getting support for Broad Views on Broadway?

We ask for donations constantly at all of our events. Crowdfunding can be anti-community engagement, and we are a community engagement based theater company. Change takes a village, and if you are not in a community that is willing to be a part of that, then you’re not going to get anyone on board. It’s the first year that I started applying for grants. I just got a grant from the Indie Theater Fund towards our Summer Fresh Festival. Now, I am looking for an assistant  grant writer so we can apply for more grants to get money from the people who have it, so we can sustain this community. And not just get their money, but to get their attention and to join the community. I don’t want donors to just hand me their check, I want them to come meet, do, and enjoy. Their money is helpful, but it’s really getting involved in the cause, and getting people involved that is going to make the ongoing change, while creating long run goals, and figuring out how to maintain those long run goals.

What advice do you have for artists who want to work for you?

Reach out to theater companies directly. Broad Views on Broadway keeps all our contacts on our website. I went to a friends table reading the other day, and someone turned around and said, “You’re Janelle right? You run Broad Views on Broadway, don’t you?” and I was like “I do.” And they were telling me how they’ve been trying to catch one of my shows, they follow us on Instagram,  and how they would like to audition. They just messaged us on Instagram the other day to see if we had any shows coming up that they can audition for, and I told them to send me their stuff. So, directly message people, and don’t be afraid to talk to someone in person. If you walk up to me and are interested in the company, I’m going to be incredibly excited that you want to join our community and be a part of a diverse, very queer, very POC community that honors and treats people as human beings.

Daryl Bunyan