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Alia Jones-Harvey, C'95, Credits Spelman for Helping Her Choose the Perfect Career Path

September 2014

Alia Jones Harvey"Broadway is feast or famine,” says Alia Jones-Harvey, C'95, about the opportunity to produce on Broadway. “You strike when the iron is hot.”

And she should know. Jones-Harvey is the only African-American woman lead producer currently on Broadway. She and her Front Row Productions Company partner, Stephen Byrd, have been heating up the Great White Way since 2008 when they co-produced the revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Directed by Debbie Allen, the duo’s debut effort featured a star-studded all African-American cast including James Earl Jones, Terrance Howard, Phylicia Rashad and Anika Noni Rose.

A Modern-day Renaissance Woman

“I had no idea I could combine my background in business with the arts,” says Jones-Harvey, who parlayed her former financial career into producing. She credits the dual-degree engineering program at Spelman for her foundation in mathematics and leading her to become a financier.

When she was growing up, her parents would take her to New York to see shows, and she recalls annual field trips to the theater with her middle school. “In business school, I had a little bit of exploratory course work in arts administration but didn’t think I would make a living in that field.”

For admirers of the arts, she says there’s an opportunity in the business side of the theater, acknowledging the billions of dollars Broadway generates annually. Determined to raise awareness, Jones-Harvey has taken her own role at City College of New York, flagship of the City University of New York, where she’s teaching the course, Producing for Broadway. “I want people to be aware of what it is and how they can get into it.” 

The Call That Change it All

Jones-Harvey got into it in 2006 when she received a call from Byrd asking if she would partner with him to produce "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

“I immediately jumped at the opportunity,” she recalls. The show opened in March 2008 and became the highest-grossing play of that season. It was so successful that they were invited to bring the show to London’s West End where it earned a coveted Olivier Award, making the pair the first African-American producers to win that award. 

Front Row Productions’ other credits include "A Streetcar Named Desire" and, most recently, "The Trip to Bountiful," which received four Tony Award nominations, including Best Revival of a Play. Next up for the power-producers is the Brazilian classic, "Black Orpheus." They acquired the rights to the film and are in the early stages of developing it to present as a musical on Broadway. 

“I have to say that it’s quite addictive,” Jones-Harvey confesses about her love for producing and collaborating with theater royalty. “Working with people so passionate about what they do and so invested in doing excellent work on the stage, and having a transforming experience with an audience is a rush. I have it running through my veins now; it’s something I want to keep doing.” 

Read Jones-Harvey's Interview here.
*Portions of this article appeared in the Fall 2014 edition of the Spelman Messenger

 

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