By Darralynn Hutson
Not very many African American women are producing plays on Broadway these days. And fewer of those Broadway productions are featuring an all-black cast. Alia M. Jones-Harvey, 38, of Front Row Productions is working to change all of that. Collaborating with veteran investment banker Stephen C. Byrd to produce Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 2008, Front Row Productions made history selling over $700,000 in tickets opening week, largely to African American audiences. Before previewing the company’s encore production of another Tennessee Williams classic, A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker, Alia Jones-Harvey sat down with madamenoire.com to fill in the blanks of her path to Broadway.
Madamenoire.com: What does it take to produce a Broadway play?
Alia Jones-Harvey: Producing a play is like starting a new business. Each time you are selling the concept, engaging the right cast members, getting investors, optioning the rights and most important, building a team of people that will make the show happen.
MN: Your partner at Front Row Productions is also new Broadway, Stephen Byrd. How did you two meet?
AJH: He was introduced to me while I was in NYC Business School. After school, I’d gone into consumer producer and financial services but always kept a love for the arts in my heart. In 2006, I called him and he became a business mentor. He’d been working on the production (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) for many years and like the world of theater, all of the stars were aligned. It was the right time.
MN: What skills did you tape into for your first production; having no production experience?
AJH: I had a wealth of confidence and determination. I always say that people aren’t investing in the production as much as they’re investing in us as people.
MN: What were the steps involved with producing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?
AJH: First we had to option the rights to the material from Tennessee Williams’ estate. Then we had to confirm the ideal cast members. James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad came aboard first. Terence Howard was more of a challenge because he needed to be convinced that theater was the right way to go in his career. Anika Rose just felt right as a member of the cast. Then we secured Debbie Allen to direct and we felt that we had a strong team. Building the right team is vital to any production.
MN: How did you appeal to investors?
AJH: We reached out to investors in our own community. A lot of the investors were first timers to Broadway. We tapped into our business relationships and targeted people that were always curious about entertainment and the arts but had never gotten an opportunity. Because Tennessee Williams’ work is recognizable and the cast was exceptional, we were able to raise the money.
MN: Why do you believe Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was such a success?
AJH: We were able to carve out our position. An all black cast of classic work was our selling point. I attribute our success to the cast. Theater audiences had seen the work and it was successful to the general market. People were just curious to see the all black cast. Most of the cast members had huge fan bases and that always helps. We were able to bring in both traditional Broadway patrons as well as new audiences. General markets are being courted by every other play on Broadway. We believed that there was an authentic audience for our production and we targeted those people.