Before Brian Moreland produced for the stage, he used to perform on them. But Moreland transmuted his passion for telling stories in order to determine which stories are told.
“Producer” is a term that can mean many things. Typically, a lead producer is not only a primary investor or moneyraiser but the creative lead on the show. They put together the creative team for a production, often pairing writers with composer-lyricists or composer-lyricist teams and directors. Most importantly, a lead producer controls the message—how to market and advertise, final approvals on anything to do with the show. Producers at a lower level have varying degrees of creative input and varying degrees of financial commitment, depending on the show. The current demand for more Black (and Indigenous and POC) producers is a rallying cry for inclusion at every level.
Though, there are not enough producers of color on Broadway, there are a select few who have broken down barriers. This interview with Moreland is part of a series Spotlight on Black Broadway Producers. Of course, there are other marginalized communities that also need more representation in leadership positions; the Black community is a place to start. In this series, read these producers’ personal stories, hopes for what theatre looks like upon its post-COVID return, and individual approaches to producing for the stage. Meet Brian Moreland.
Once a week, Brian Moreland sets aside a day where he responds to emails and phone calls from people he doesn’t know. Those he’s responded to in the past, he often gets coffee with. “I think people undervalue the importance of just saying hello to someone,” says the producer. “It's incumbent on all of us, producers, directors, choreographers, etc., to reach out to those [people].”
Only then can the industry start to change what’s being seen on stage. On top of the people, Moreland says it’s time to stop drinking from the same tap. “We’re all going to the same places—The Public, Atlantic Theater Company, La Jolla, and so on. If you’re looking to diversify the pool—you have to go someplace new. See a show outside of your comfort zone and you’ll often be surprised.”
The Main Stem works that he’s produced—The Sound Inside, Sea Wall/A Life, Lifespan of a Fact, American Buffalo, with Thoughts of a Colored Man and Blue on the way—are varied and were selected for their rich stories versus the names attached. “I don’t have a blanket mission statement or the show must have X,Y, Z,” Moreland says. “Let me be entertained...it just has to be good.”
When asked if there were barriers for producers of color compared to white counterparts, Moreland said a different challenge was more prescient. “I think more about my sexuality. I think, ‘Is this safe for me as a gay man?’ and I don't think about it as a Black man.” Still, he adds, there are definitely preconceived notions about audiences and the stories they’ll attend depending on the people and content on stage.
Beginning his career as a performer, Moreland didn’t know what to expect from producing. The mysteries of the profession, he says, create a challenge in building a pipeline, especially in the BIPOC community. “I don’t think anyone grows up wanting to be a producer,” he says. “In the wake of BLM and upheaval in the world, everyone is more heightened and sensitive to making sure that we don’t just walk through the door but hold it open for someone else.”
Producers Jeffrey Richards and Irene Gandy held the door for him with Lifespan of a Fact. After hearing Gandy on a podcast, “I said ‘I’ve got to meet this woman.’ I called her up, came to the office, had a lovely conversation and she connected me with Richards.” Next thing he knew, the producing team had sent him Lifespan and he was a producer. Now, Moreland is on the Broadway League’s Board of Governors—and recommend The League’s programs for producers as a resource.
“Start paying attention to every show you love, and who produced and what else they did, and then try to meet them,” he says. “September to January is the best time. Genuinely say hi and really learn. I make it sound simple, because it is, and there are a lot of good people and they want to be helpful and you just have to be patient.”
More Profiles in the Spotlight Series
Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey, Front Row Productions