Meet the two sisters teaming up to bring more diversity to Broadway
Who They Are: Sisters Victoria Velazquez and Alexia Sielo are the co-founders of Women of Color on Broadway, an upstart nonprofit geared toward increasing musical theater opportunities for women of African, Latin and Asian descent. Founded in June 2018, the nascent organization has spent the last year developing educational programs and events that provide a network for aspiring performers.
Their Story: The nonprofit began as a conversation between the two sisters. Sielo, who was studying theatre performance at New York Film Academy, had grown frustrated with the dearth of roles available and the typecasting she experienced. It seemed to her that women of color were encouraged to audition for the same handful of parts, regardless of their specific cultural background. Meanwhile, white actors had the privilege of going out for a far greater number of roles earmarked specifically for them — filling roughly 77 percent of roles during the 2016-2017 season.
“I was told to only go out for five or six shows,” Sielo told ALL ARTS in a recent interview. “…But I’m not spending thousands and thousands of dollars for someone to tell me I can only audition for what they think is right.”
She told her sister about her frustrations, and Velazquez, who attended New York University and studied executive entrepreneurship, came up with a plan. It was small at first — a one-night cabaret to reassert the legacy of Melba Moore, Stephanie Mills, Lea Salonga, Chita Rivera, LaChanze and other trailblazers Sielo admired and wanted her peers to discover. But, as it turned out, the event provided such a welcoming and necessary experience that the duo decided to expand their vision.
“A lot of times, to a lot of people, they can’t see it unless it’s done,” Velazquez told ALL ARTS. “With kids growing up, they need to see people who look like them achieving amazing goals and succeeding in life in general.”
With an initiative titled “The Conversation,” Velazquez and Sielo’s next steps are to create a digital database to share research about women in musical theater history. This fall, they’ll also be continuing to mentor young women through a series of interviews at local schools, during which they’ll stage performances and invite prominent Broadway actresses of color to attend — all in addition to partnering with local theater houses to provide internships, as well as developing a writer’s workshop.
“There is a lack of diversity not only on stage, but behind the scenes too,” Velazquez said, noting the dizzying statistics on the disparity. “So, while performance is at the forefront, we also want to introduce to young girls that there are a lot of things you can do in the musical theater industry. You could be a stage manager; you could be a music director; you could be a producer, director, writer. We started off with performance because it was the initial conversation, but it’s definitely growing into something more.”
Learn more about Women of Color on Broadway, and find out about upcoming events, on the organization’s website.
Top Image: Victoria Velazquez and Alexia Sielo of Women of Color on Broadway.