The line outside BB King's snaked down 42nd Street as families of every kind waited patiently (and not so patiently) for Playbill's Family Day, organized with Disney Theatrical, Amtrak and the Family Equality Council. Children — from toddlers to pre-teen — waited patiently (more or less) to get inside the iconic music venue for a unique brunch that would include theatre-based activities like an autograph table, storytelling, coloring and a drum circle, all inspired by Disney musicals like The Lion King and Aladdin.
Once inside, kids ran from station to station, learning about the art of making art. Throughout the room, activities covered everything from designing a mask to storytelling. On the small stage where jazz and blues legends perform regularly, Gugwana Dlamini — who plays Rafiki in The Lion King — had her stage makeup applied in front of the crowd, demonstrating for a wide audience exactly what her job entails each day. More than a few members of the crowd would get to see Dlamini onstage after the event, as several families would go to either of the Disney shows after the festivities.
As he watched kids running around the room from activity to activity, Gabriel Blau, executive director of Family Equality Council, stepped back to take a breather. "We have a longstanding relationship with Broadway, with Playbill and with many of the shows here on Broadway," he said in a green room just off the mainstage. "Coming together with Playbill and with Amtrak and Disney Theatrical to have a family day out is a really awesome way for families to celebrate our history, our appreciation of art and Theatre and to bring our families into it. It's a wonderful way to celebrate Pride Month here in New York." Blau feels that the theatrical community is a perfect match for the LGBTQ community, and for the journey that many lesbian and gay people need to make in order to feel comfortable and accepted: "Broadway is about expressing yourself," he said. "It's about exploring other worlds and storylines. It's about bridging the gap between our fantasies and the reality we live in. Today, with so many advances for our rights, for families, being able to bring that to Broadway is really a tremendous gift." Beyond that, he added, the LGBT and Broadway communities are more family-friendly than ever — a notable achievement in its own right. "Today, we're able to be out and to celebrate and to bridge these two worlds. It's really wonderful."
Every year, Blau continued, the Family Equality Council conducts a survey to determine the top priorities of its members. And every year, he said, the number one priority from members across the country is that they want to meet other families like theirs. "It's not that they always need to live in those communities, but having that around them really strengthens them and builds confidence," he said. "Being able to do that at the same time that we're exposing our children to the great art that is Broadway theatre is a fantastic way to bring our families together, to bring our children together and to bring culture into the mix in a really beautiful way, linking them to an industry that has entertained millions and millions of Americans every year, and to which our community has been such a part."
"For so many of us, the first time we come out, we come out to the theatre," Frank Bua, a board member for the Family Equality Council said while holding his daughter, Zoe. (His son, Holden, was taking advantage of the activities in the room.) "It's hard to think of Broadway without thinking of Disney," he added, and then amended his statement. "It's hard to think of family without thinking of Disney. The fact that you have Broadway as a vehicle for some of the greatest Disney productions is just a natural fit." He noted Playbill's replacement of its yellow banner with a rainbow one for the month of June, which he called "a great message of inclusion."
"Theatre is about storytelling," Jack Bamberger said as he held his three-year-old son Lucas in his arms. "It's about all different kinds of people and families, so us being a part of the LGBT community — we're just one group of many groups that represent the world of theatre. We're super excited to be a part of today."
"Theatre has a way of exposing us to stories that not only would we not necessarily think about otherwise, but doing it in a way that feels safe," Blau noted. "We get to experience the expressions and the artistry of actors and writers and musicians and begin to ask ourselves questions about the world around us." A good play or musical, he added, encourages an audience to think more deeply about themselves and the world. "For the LGBTQ community, theatre has been a really special role. It's allowed us to be big and out, even when we weren't really allowed to be out. It's allowed us to express ourselves and bring our artistry to the masses and be respected for it.
"Today," Blau continued "it's taken on a whole new role. It's about seeing the world together in new ways. It's about telling old stories and thinking about those stories in new ways. A lot of the shows that we love, the classics, mean something different today than they did when they were first put on. That's magical! And watching live theatre, where the directors and actors and musicians are able to make the subtle changes that allow us to experience the shows in different contexts, is tremendously powerful. It's a powerful cultural institution that helps us not only see the world in new ways, but ask ourselves what kind of world we want to see."
For Bua, Family Day was an important way for his children to see (and engage with) a wider range of families. "It's important for them to grow up recognizing that their daddies aren't very different," he said, "that they're not alone, that other families are just like theirs...They recognize that they're part of that spectrum, and it's really great to see other people like us celebrating together." See more highlights here!