Alia Jones-Harvey never wanted to be a Broadway producer. In fact, she didn't even know it was on the table. After realizing she wasn't cut out to be a mechanical engineer, she went to business school and managed hedge funds. Luckily for us, it was at business school that she met Stephen C. Byrd, who would invite her to co-produce a Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with an all-Black cast. From there, Jones-Harvey started on her path as a prolific producer.
Reflecting on her unconventional route to producing, she admits: "I don’t think there’s one route [to becoming a producer] at all. Every producer I’ve met has had a different background and it just adds to what they bring."
At a recent Oral History Project presented by the League of Professional Theatre Women, playwright Lynn Nottage interviewed Alia Jones-Harvey on her journey to producing and her impact on theatre.
That impact has been far-reaching, as Jones-Harvey has consistently mounted productions with people of color in the cast and creative team. She and producing partner Stephen Byrd's Broadway credits include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Terrence Howard, James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, and Anika Noni Rose; A Streetcar Named Desire starring Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker; Romeo and Juliet starring Condola Rashad and Orlando Bloom; The Trip to Bountiful starring Cicely Tyson, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Vanessa Williams; and Eclipsed starring Lupita Nyong'o.
While the BLM movement has and may yet inspire changes in the industry, increasing diversity in the arts is not a new concept to Jones-Harvey. "Stephen and I have been on this crusade the entire time we’ve been on Broadway," she says. Even though their first production, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, featured an all-Black cast, Jones-Harvey had a wake up call when she realized that the production team was still predominantly white. Now, as an established producer, she's more confident telling management and marketing teams to bring in people of color.
As Lynn Nottage points out, "The play really begins the moment you let someone into the theatre," and to that end, Jones-Harvey advocates for diversity across the spectrum, from ushers and box office workers to stagehands and managers. She also believes that standardized diversity training for producers could go a long way.
But getting more producers of color on Broadway is the step Jones-Harvey is tackling at the moment. "The producers are going to decide what comes onto Broadway and what gets seen. If we had two or three more producers of color on Broadway, it would be significantly different."
To create a space for more producers of color, Jones-Harvey and Byrd are partnering with Columbia University to launch the Front Row Productions Fellowship: a program to help a commercial producer achieve the next stage in their career. Applications open at the end of May, with the first fellow being announced in the fall. But Jones-Harvey encourages young producers to look at Columbia's other fellowships as well.
Even while advocating for a fundamental change in the Broadway industry, Jones-Harvey is optimistic about the future of theatre. Reflecting on the shifting scene caused by a year of shutdowns, a greater emphasis on diversity, and experiments with filmed productions and streaming, she comments: "It’s an exciting moment to see where Broadway is going."
To learn more about Front Row Productions, Alia Jones-Harvey and Stephen C. Byrd's producing company, see below: