“There is not a shortage of female BIPOC artists. There is a shortage of imagination and willingness to expand your network.”
Macy Schmidt, BA Music 2018
With Broadway shut down until Summer 2021, New York City’s theatre scene is exhibiting a quieter, more subdued energy than usual. But for UF alumna Macy Schmidt (BA Music 2018) and current theatre student Leah Vicencio (BA Theatre 2021), the absence of noise was an opportunity to make some.
During quarantine, the duo founded the Broadway Sinfonietta, an all female-identifying, majority women-of-color orchestra. The idea stemmed from Schmidt’s experience in the Broadway community, which she entered after graduating from the UF School of Music in 2018.
“I had been feeling infuriated for a while,” Schmidt said. “There have been situations where I have recommended female players of color who were outside of the Broadway circle yet had amazing resumes, and I was constantly met with lazy excuses. It is just mind-boggling to me the way we conceive who is qualified.”
Schmidt, who is an Egyptian American, began her studies at UF as a vocal performance major. In her first voice lesson with Associate Professor Dr. Anthony Offerle, she noticed the posters across his wall of various musicals. After being invited to assist Offerle during orchestra rehearsal for a UF production of The Drowsy Chaperone, Schmidt said something clicked.
She switched her major to music theory and got involved with the Florida Players, a student theatre company, where she served as musical director of several productions. Three years after graduating, Schmidt is establishing herself in the Broadway scene as a music director, orchestrator, and copyist.
“I confidently think I would not work on Broadway right now if it was not for Florida Players,” Schmidt said.
A string of mentor relationships with the Florida Players led Schmidt to meet Vicencio at the 2020 UF Actor Showcase, an annual event in New York City to help acting and musical theatre students present their work to agents, casting directors, and other representatives of the entertainment industry.
The two quickly bonded over a shared artistic goal: “Create a space where women of color are in charge.”
Over the summer, Schmidt called Vicencio with her pitch for The Broadway Sinfonietta: “to orchestrate some big, flashy, traditionally white Broadway music, and hire an all-women, mostly women of color orchestra to play.”
Initially, Schmidt was under the impression that this project would be a small Zoom performance, but after conversing with Vicencio and director Sammi Cannold, the idea grew to something bigger.
On October 21, 2020, Schmidt and Vicencio officially launched The Broadway Sinfonietta, an all-woman orchestra with a mission to uplift the existence, excellence, and equity of BIPOC women musicians on Broadway.
“As women of color, you are used to being told ‘this is your corner’ when you know you're meant for something greater,” said Vicencio, who is a Filipino American. “So we also need to fight for something greater, and I think that’s what we are doing with the Sinfonietta. Saying who can make art—and that’s everyone.”
The launch was commemorated with a music video of the song “You’re Gonna Hear from Me,” which featured actress and singer Solea Pfeiffer, known for her role as Eliza in the U.S. tour of Hamilton.
Schmidt saw Pfeiffer as the obvious choice to be the face of the launch, after having seen Pfeiffer perform the lead role in a 2019 production of the musical Evita.
“There was just something about seeing a role that has been traditionally, if not exclusively, cast as white being played by a woman of color,” Schmidt said. “Seeing her not as the diverse character role but as this glamorous, elegant icon, I still get chills even thinking about it.”
For the company of musicians, Schmidt was cautious not to fall into the habit of creating opportunities only for those in her circle. She made it her mission to expand her network, filling the orchestra with players she had never met before, from accomplished pop musicians to recent university graduates.
The premiere caught the attention of major news networks and overall received positive praise.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive and inspiring," said Vicencio, who takes on the role of managing director and head of marketing. “I think it’s been touching a lot of people. I’m speechless over it.”
Although creating a space for these women to play was fulfilling in itself, an unexpected reward for Vicencio and Schmidt was the ability to provide these artists with work during a time where very little of it is available.
“It’s a humbling reminder that there are way more basic needs right now,” Schmidt said. “People aren’t working, and the ability to give people work, I think had a more humbling impact on me than the advocacy mission.”
The Sinfonietta more recently performed in the new musical Ratatouille, a virtual, crowd-sourced production that grew out of internet memes. Content creators on the social media platform TikTok began writing songs based on the 2007 Disney/Pixar film, which then snowballed into costumes, choreography, and concept art. Multiple Broadway producers and artists took the inspiration to develop a full virtual show.
Schmidt served as an orchestrator for the production, which premiered online New Year's Day as a benefit for The Actors Fund, raising $2 million for performing arts and entertainment professionals.
Schmidt and Vicencio already have future projects in the works for the Sinfonietta.
“People of color displaying excellence in spaces outside the box that we are often put in I think is often its own form of advocacy,” Schmidt said. “So I want to continue to do that. I want to continue to showcase people and create work that is truly excellent. Create work that leaves no excuse for titans of the industry to not want to hire people of color to play their shows.”
Photos by Em Char: https://www.emchar.com/