Sometimes bringing thrills and joy to nearly 38 million people just isn’t enough.
Fairly early in its record-shattering run of 10 years (and counting), Wicked made a concerted effort to leverage its popularity among fans into philanthropic acts. To quote the show’s own initiative as well as one of its best-known songs, it has enlisted the entire Wicked family in affecting change “For Good.”
“The feeling is that if we are doing well, we should also do ‘good,’” says Wicked producer David Stone. “And so, when Wicked took off, we thought it was very important to give back.”
That impulse has played out in some traditional ways, including an extremely successful series of fundraisers in the Broadway community’s annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS drives. “We have raised more money, faster, than any show in history,” Stone says. But Wicked has also played a major role in expanding and, in one instance, even creating major new philanthropic efforts.
Like many other people, Stone saw the Al Gore documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and resolved to find ways to reduce his carbon footprint. “And one day it sort of hit us like a thunderbolt,” he says, “that having a lead character who was green lent itself to focusing on green initiatives.”
The entire Wicked cast and crew began brainstorming different ways to be green, and the effort culminated in a 2008 Town Hall meeting that was open to the entire Broadway community. The lessons learned and the questions raised during that Town Hall led to the creation of the Broadway Green Alliance, which is designed to educate both the theater industry and its audiences to become more environmentally conscious.
“When David puts himself out there for something, people show up,” says the Alliance’s cochair Charles Deull. “I don’t think there would be a Broadway Green Alliance if it wasn’t for David’s leadership.” Now, just for starters, every Broadway theatre and show has a “Green Captain,” and 100 percent of the marquee lights are energy-efficient, saving 700 tons of carbon a year.
Another major component of the For Good campaign has brought Wicked and its beloved characters into schools all over the country. It’s part of the National School Climate Center’s ‘BullyBust’ initiative, a bullying-prevention program that encourages students as well as teachers to become what it calls “upstanders” — people who stand up against bullying in school or anywhere else. And the characters and plot of Wicked are a central part of the group’s curriculum.
The idea for such a pairing actually came when the London company teamed up with a U.K. antibullying campaign. “Elphaba is certainly bullied and is an outcast,” Stone says, “so we thought this could be an important stand to take here in America too.”
In addition to the ‘BullyBust’ study guides, Wicked cast members have also spoken to school groups at the theatre as well as at the schools themselves. One such speaker is Kyle Dean Massey, who played Fiyero for several years and has spoken at many schools, including one near his Arkansas hometown.
“Wicked seized an opportunity where its story can really help,” Massey says. “Young people really identify with these characters, especially in a school situation. They talk about Elphaba and Glinda like actual people, like friends.”
“One great thing about the show,” Massey continues, “is that it’s not like one of the characters is the teacher and the other is the student. They each learn from one another.”
And through efforts like ‘BullyBust’ and the Broadway Green Alliance, the hope is that audiences worldwide will learn from the two of them as well.