A Conversation with Sutton Foster and Britton Smith

A Conversation on Accountability with Sutton Foster & Britton Smith of BAC

The murder of George Floyd was a pivotal catalyst for a national reckoning around racial injustice. Americans could no longer ignore these broken systems and policies that contribute to violence and divide. Simultaneously, the Broadway community began to acknowledge the ways that its own inner workings mirrored the very systems they were fighting against. In June, the Broadway Advocacy Coalition (BAC) hosted a three-day forum for the theater industry to process its own culpability in racism. Using its unique process of collaboration based on its work at Columbia Law School, BAC worked to connect the dots between the painful experiences of Black and brown industry members and the systems and policies that enabled those experiences.

Since the Forum, BAC has been interviewing industry leaders around “accountability” both on Broadway and beyond. What does it mean to hold each other accountable as a community? How can we ensure that when Broadway returns, every single industry member is able to participate fully and has the ability to speak up without retaliation?

Here, BAC’s Artistic Director (and Be More Chill star) Britton Smith joins Tony Award-winner Sutton Foster in a conversation about becoming engaged in advocating for Black lives and the importance of uncomfortable conversations.

This is an edited version of their 48-minute conversation. To view their full conversation on Instagram, click here.

Britton Smith: [Black people] are taught to protect ourselves very early on. But I think allies have to learn at a certain point, “okay, I have to step in and protect and participate and learn and listen.” What point was that [for you]?

Sutton Foster: I always thought I was. You know? But then I realized there’s this difference. I wasn’t being actively anti-racist. I was just sort of blind to [it]. I didn’t know. I didn’t know that people were treated differently.

Britton Smith: You were being kind and loving and like, that’s the job.

Sutton Foster: Yes. Without realizing. I’m from the South. I was raised to be, you know, a good girl, keep smiling. Don’t ruffle feathers. I’m not someone who gets involved with conflict. I always sort of stay on the side. And you had asked me, “Was there a moment where I was like, ‘I have to jump in here?’” and I shared with you, it was something that happened early on. I’m active on social media. And someone on Twitter called me a racist.

Britton Smith: Why?

Sutton Foster: They said, “I can’t believe I’ve wasted seven years on Sutton Foster when she’s a racist.” And I was like, what? But they called me a racist because I wasn’t posting after George Floyd’s murder. And I was shaking and so upset. And I was realizing that my absence or that my silence was reading as…

Britton Smith: Not caring or not participating, or-

Sutton Foster: Yeah.

Britton Smith: … a racist. Yeah.

Sutton Foster: Yes. Or racist, which was not the case. But I was so upset that my inaction was being perceived that way. I could cry. I was so upset by it. But I will say “thank you” to that person in a weird way on Twitter. Because it propelled me to have to put a mirror on myself.’Cause I’ve always been so afraid to engage in anything out of fear of what people will say or what people will think. Or, you know, maybe someone will unfollow me or, you know.

Britton Smith: Yeah. Especially in this time now. If you say the wrong thing right now, people will be like, “Forget about it. She’s trash, da da da.” And so that is scary.

Sutton Foster: Yeah. It’s really scary. So I was like, okay, how do I navigate this? So there was something about the pledge that allowed action and also imperfection. So I was like, I will learn, I will grow and I will be held accountable. There’s also this thing too, this idea of, like, what is for show?

Britton Smith: Right. My friend keeps reminding me about white allyship performance where you can post something and be like, “Okay, they posted something and it’s fine.” Or you say something every now and then, it’s fine. But beyond what you’re posting and beyond what you’re hashtagging, what are you doing? And something that I think I want people to hear again is that you said that you let that call out be a mirror. Which was about you going in and challenging yourself.

Sutton Foster: Yeah.

Britton Smith: I think when people go, “You called me out,” and they start doing this, there’s no way to reckon with it.

Sutton Foster: No, and I knew too, you know, social media. If you engage, there’s no win involved. And, and I just thought, I’m not gonna engage. I’m gonna take a step back. I started having major conversations with friends and my family and just talking about it. Because it was just something I had never even – I would never ever even have put my name with that word or I couldn’t even grasp the concept. But then it just unleashed, this idea of allowing the conversation to be uncomfortable, allowing it to not be solved. It’s just this. It’s talking. It’s listening and reading and watching.