“How the World Could Be in Spite of the Way That It Is”: Broadway as a Reflection of Contemporary American Sociopolitical Life
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Drawing on the plays and musicals of the 2018-2019 Broadway season, this thesis examines how theatre responds to the sociocultural, economic, and political conditions of society. Sociologists have largely overlooked theatre’s cultural influence, but Broadway productions act as social reflection by reproducing the conversations and inequalities of their context. Access to Broadway is limited, in various manners, by socioeconomic class, race, gender, ability, and age. As conversations about equity expand and audiences increasingly demand diversified representation, Broadway begins to shed the restraints of its conventions. In many regards, the recent changes fail in meaningfully transforming the Broadway institution. Those who control the stories on Broadway stages—producers, directors, writers—are disproportionately white and men, and the stories themselves predominantly uphold white privilege and heteronormativity. Economic pressures keep Broadway producers focused on high profit and cultural capital, at the expense of artistic and political risk. Broadway has particular affective power, employing the uniquely provocative effect of live theatre for unparalleled numbers of people. This influence is accompanied by responsibility to contribute to society’s progress rather than its stagnation, a responsibility which Broadway falls behind in fulfilling.