There’s a timeliness to Broadway, with its neon lights and marquees, but it’s also changing with the times. The last 20 years have seen classic theater evolve with more diversity of performers, new productions, and a wider range of topics covered on stage. Perhaps the most interesting development is how performers are using social media to showcase their talent, market themselves to casting directors, and create new performances.
Many critics see this new method of talent scouting as another way the industry is closing doors on up-and-coming performers without some previously established clout or cache. But the role of social media in the broader theater landscape is more complex than that. Sometimes, a large following doesn’t matter. Talented performers like Nichelle Lewis are using their social platform to showcase their talent, and even without a lot of followers, they're receiving invitations to audition and skip the 5am queue for open casting calls.
Stunt casting has always taken some pivotal roles away from hopeful performers looking to make their mark, but now, these opportunities are available to anyone—famous or not—who utilizes their talent to create a social presence.
One of the hottest tickets in town this season is Back to the Future, drawing mass audiences from tourists and local theatergoers alike. It is no coincidence that they have used social media stars in their cast to market the performance, like Amber Ardolino as Linda McFly—who swept the stage in Moulin Rouge during her rise to fame on TikTok (573k followers)—has done behind-the-scenes takeovers on the Back to the Future IG account. JJ Niemann (1 million TikTok followers), Marty McFly’s understudy, routinely takes followers behind-the-scenes during rehearsals, and relied on social takeovers cross-promoted on the Back to the Future and Playbill IG accounts to widen his visibility and make him more marketable to future casting directors.
Before Deanna Giulietti’s rise to fame on TikTok (with a whopping 1.8 million followers), she played many roles in regional theater and the touring production of Jersey Boys. Her social media success and talent were key factors in inviting her to audition for the Tony award-winning musical Six’s residencies on a cruise. Her audience was able to follow her throughout the audition process, from self-tapes to outfit selection. Recently, she garnered attention through her public performance on the Times Square stage for her birthday. With 1,000+ attendees, the scout who could make her career could easily be there. Such opportunities to network and share talents were never afforded to newcomers before—even as many incredibly talented performers have yet to land a spot on a Broadway stage despite their following size.
However, a huge follower count is not the only way to make your mark: Nichelle Lewis (1.1k followers) was recently cast as Dorothy in the highly anticipated 2024 production of The Wiz after casting agents discovered her on TikTok and invited her to audition. With her talent, it is no surprise that she landed the role—even getting a spot in the casting room is an accomplishment in and of itself. Without the power of social media, who’s to say if we ever would have seen Lewis in the limelight?
This new form of discovery offers hope that most future performers will use social media as a tool in their arsenal, like a website or portfolio. Social media is a free tool with a low barrier for entry; all you need is a phone and an email address. Even if someone’s journey begins with singing to a tripod in their living room, it may lead to some of the most coveted roles in the world. This level of accessibility could pave the way for more underrepresented communities to have their shot at performing on a Broadway stage. But there’s also a strong argument to be made that it should be limited to that - a tool, not a requirement. Those who do not have a large following still need the opportunity to make their mark. Otherwise, Broadway will continue the cycle of only giving a narrow archetype their shot at the stage, reversing some of the progress made over the last few decades.
Giuliana Truppi is a Project Management Manager at Fohr, focusing on the Sephora Squad. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.