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How playwright Jeremy O. Harris wants to make theatergoing more accessible to all

The creator of the acclaimed ‘Slave Play’ developed several creative workarounds to make sure that more than just rich white people saw his show.

How playwright Jeremy O. Harris wants to make theatergoing more accessible to all
[Photo: David Needleman/August Image]

Racial trauma. Sexual repression. They’re not the average topics for a Broadway comedy, but Jeremy O. Harris is not an average playwright. When he got the chance to take Slave Play, his uncompromising comedic drama about three interracial couples, to the Golden Theatre last year, he told his producing partners that he’d only do so if young Black and brown theatergoers had the same access as the older white ticket buyers who typically patronize Broadway. Already, Harris had been appealing offhandedly to his “rich friends” via Twitter to purchase tickets and leave them at the box office for anyone to use. That concept became the basis for Slave Play‘s Broadway Plus One ticket initiative, in which people could pay an extra $25 at checkout to subsidize seats for others. Producers later said that first-time ticket buyers made up more than 30% of sales, a number usually in the single digits.

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Fast Company: A lot of plays offer premium seats exclusively to credit card members before they go on sale to the general public, but you resisted that. Why?

Jeremy O. Harris: I wanted to make sure that when young or Black people came, they didn’t march past white wealthy people and go upstairs to the balcony, like they were on the Titanic or something.

FC: You also held “Black Out” nights, where you reserved every seat for Black audience members [through student organizations and personal invitations to artists]. What inspired this?

JOH: We were getting the critique that this play was made for white people because so many white people were enjoying it. I thought, Why not try it in a room full of Black people and see if the audience has a similar experience? What we saw was it felt like Black people were enjoying it even more.

FC: Was there a difference in terms of, say, where people laughed?

JOH: Not just where they laughed but how they laughed. A laughter of pure, unadulterated recognition. [Focusing on access to ticket sales] was a way to stand by the morality of this production. It’s about the history of chattel slavery and what that has done to the Black body. It couldn’t walk in step with that same chattel slavery and profit off Black trauma.

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About the author

Christopher Zara is a senior staff news editor for Fast Company and obsessed with media, technology, business, culture, and theater. Before coming to FastCo News, he was a deputy editor at International Business Times, a theater critic for Newsweek, and managing editor of Show Business magazine

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