On Friday, March 12, 2021, Disney on Broadway presented Women’s Day on Broadway via virtual conference. The tagline for this year’s conference was “Reflecting Courageously, Transforming Collectively” and this rather beautifully sums up the two-hour event. However, I feel compelled to revisit some of the great stories and pearls of wisdom shared that bear repeating today and well into the future.
Lessons in Lockdown: Pivoting Personally and Professionally During a Pandemic
Following opening remarks and an introduction to Women on Broadway, the first session brought talented moms together “to discuss the unbelievable challenge of parenting and specifically mothering during the pandemic.” Overwhelmingly, despite having to juggle more than ever before, the consensus was how good an opportunity this time had given the women: (1) to reflect and come to terms with their own fallibility (“the quiet time has forced us to confront ourselves”) and to work through it in order to reboot, and (2) to “get to know” their kids and to become more in-tune with how the young ones are handling the pandemic and its challenges.
Actress Laura Benanti reflected on her early-March 2020 trip to the airport for a job before being told not to come just yet due to coronavirus concerns (and ‘just yet’ turning into what is now over a year). Benanti, like many of the women who shared their experiences, pivoted during the pandemic in unprecedented ways. She took to Instagram to post performances and free online concerts, as well as starting the Home School Musical Class of 2020 program. Broadway actress Karen Olivo similarly kicked off a program called Artists for Economic Transparency to start a dialogue about inequity in performances spaces. Advertising Executive Vanessa Javier transitioned from accounting to spearheading initiatives for inclusion and diversity. Production Stage Manager Julia Jones talked about picking up all kinds of work – from helping people move, to interior painting, to various other cash gigs – to get by. She emphasized the biggest change was becoming a full-time mom. This was echoed by each of the six women on the panel, as well as the two moderators, Cara Cooper and Jessica Rush.
Tania Birl’s professions were listed as “Mother, Movement Director, Systems Change Facilitator.” Birl was particularly engaging as she shared her journey from former movement director and choreographer for non-profit theatre to being a full-time mom while simultaneously transitioning her choreography experience into the social justice sphere. She explained that the pandemic was a “wide gaping opportunity” for her that took the form of various workshops and thrust her into action on how to tackle the triple pandemic (racism, economy and COVID-19) – all while raising her two daughters.
Moms are the most resourceful and inventive creatures in the world
One of the speakers stated that, “moms are the most resourceful and inventive creatures in the world.” I do not think anyone can dispute this, especially after listening to these panels. Although I am not a mother, I considered one of the most likely important lessons to come out of mother-child relationships discussed during this event was communication: have open and honest communications with your kids. Don’t hide from them that things don’t always work out. Make it known to them that sometimes you just must learn to go with it and discover what the opportunity is that is presenting itself. The sentiment was largely: “We are all figuring this out together, so invite your kids on this journey because it is new to all of us.”
Another interesting reflection raised by Julia Jones was being confronted with the notion that mothers may be raising their children in a world they are not very proud of. She emphasized the importance of finding a way to give her kids some sense of pride and joy while embarking on the necessary work – personally and professionally – required of us.
Putting Newfound Knowledge into Practice
Like many of us, Women on Broadway need to have “a driving passion” to keep doing what they do and making the seemingly impossible possible. The speakers highlighted the need for much more internal work and for that work to continue indefinitely to combat racist practices that exist in performance spaces and beyond. The women were largely excited to return to work with new, informed approaches to working towards giving more people opportunity, but also by allowing people to concentrate on their work rather than whether they are being treated properly. While there has been lots of learning and listening happening over the past 12 months, and while it must continue, the time for action is now.
Each of the women recognized that real change does not happen overnight and yet solid steps toward economic justice and spiritual reparations can begin now. Tania Birl urged listeners to bring what they know to this body of work: “I’ll teach you everything I know and you teach me everything you know.” This approach expands listening and learning and in doing so it also better equips us for action. Sharing has many facets and takes many forms. Putting shared knowledge into practice is key.
The second panel noted the following specific steps that we can do now:
- Educate yourself.
- Women should take the lead – “Make suggestions and don’t be afraid to get knocked back. We all must start somewhere and that is how we (and ideas) build and grow.”
- Keep trying.
The event concluded with a moving reading from playwright, essayist, novelist, poet and activist Pearl Cleage of Pearl’s own poem, “We Speak Your Names.” I strongly encourage everyone to seek out this striking poem, an excerpt of which has been reprinted on Amazon with permission below. Ultimately, the event reminded the panels and their attendees that there is much work to be done and now is the time to connect, empower, comfort and educate.
Excerpt of Pearl Cleage’s “We Speak Your Names. © Reprinted by permission on Amazon. All rights reserved.
Because we are free women,
born of free women,
who are born of free women,
back as far as time begins,
we celebrate your freedom.
Because we are wise women,
born of wise women,
who are born of wise women,
we celebrate your wisdom.
Because we are strong women,
born of strong women,
who are born of strong women,
we celebrate your strength.
Because we are magical women,
born of magical women,
who are born of magical women,
we celebrate your magic.
My sisters, we are gathered here to speak your names…
Jess Salafia Ward is an Aussie, an attorney and a die-hard Disney fan. She grew up in a city not too far from P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney; and she still enjoys dancing around in Snow White pajamas and serenading her family members with Sleeping Beauty’s “Once Upon A Dream” (though, unlike Princess Aurora, she is not blessed with the gift of song). Jess is an Elvis-lover like Lilo, and when she doesn’t have her nose stuck in a book, she delights in sharing with fellow fans all things Disney, books, movies and history.