A whitebox decorated with two carved wood chairs. The heel of a boot. The beaten leather of a suitcase. The brim of a hat. And then the familiar lyrics of Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia” begin… but in an unfamiliar way. Performers Brandon Kazen-Maddox and Mervin Primeaux-O’Bryant sing the classic soul track in American Sign Language as a “little queer kiki between two friends.” Suddenly, though I don’t speak ASL, the meaning of a song I’ve heard a hundred times is clearer than it ever was.
This music video from creators Kazen-Maddox and Kevin Newbury is one of dozens (soon to be hundreds) on the new streaming platform Broadstream. Due to officially launch mid-September, Broadstream is a new digital hub for short-form videos made by artists who have been hand-picked and funded by Broadway producer Jana Shea, creative whiz Cori Silberman, and their international stable of curators.
They find an artist they love who needs to be amplified, ask them what they want to make, and commission them to do it. What results is a platform full of stellar quality art specifically made for that platform.
Broadstream is commissioned art, not user-generated. They pay their artists well and it shows not only in the video or sound quality, but in the creative ideas. Supported artists are liberated artists.
Audiences are free from barriers, as well. Broadstream is free, and that is built into the media venture’s foundation.
“Art is a right, not a privilege.” Broadway producer Jana Shea stands on this mantra as her bedrock. And yet, she knows all too well that money and physical accessibility have limited audiences while scarcity and exclusivity have limited artists. “So that was our job,” says Shea. “To create a place where art can be made by all these talented people who never get a chance, and seen by everybody who feels excluded by all these places where we see art and experience art.”
“In a strange way, it’s like we built a theater that you don’t have to go to,” says Shea. Though Broadstream is bound to become the destination for all performing arts — and some visual arts to boot — at least digitally. Viewers will watch dance, film, music, sketch comedy, theater, animation, poetry, animé, and fandom. But the platform won’t use these silos to navigate users around its content library.
What dictates your “up next” video isn’t the category of art. It might be a narrative theme, or the audience its meant to reach, or the perspective it offers.
Not quite sure you get it? Open Broadstream (via the app or your browser). You see a few thumbnail teasers for videos and you choose the couple soaked and smiling nose-to-nose. It’s 2 minutes and 53 seconds. Click play and here’s what could happen…
“Sweat” by Pierre Marais
Water droplets suspended in air.
In summer 2020, Pierre Marais was working through the hottest chapter of his seasonal photography series. A New York City stage performer, Marais grew up in South Africa on American film sets — sometimes accompanying his stunt coordinator father and other times appearing in frame as a child actor. Marais understands the camera, he innately sees the world through it, and the natural observer in him reflects in his work.
That photo series was Marais’ lens. Summer captured melting heat. Fall captured tumbling and levitation. What if he combined the two? What if he looked at Sweat.
Marais created and directed the short dance film especially for Broadstream. Choreographed by Hamtilon cast member David Guzman and set to Jon Batiste’s “You,” it captures the wetness and sizzle of heat — its texture. But it also captures dance with a wholeness not often seen on screen.
When it comes to filmed dance, too often close-ups force you to miss shapes, formations, and the group story. Not so here. “I love long takes of dance,” says Marais. “It’s almost a trademark for me that if I can get something in one, I will. And I’ll move and make it feel interesting. But I think that’s maybe what you’re sensing and seeing: I’m allowing the dance to happen in front of you without getting in its way too much.”
Marais’ perspective is unconventional. Though he has performed on big stages, as an immigrant Marais considers himself the periphery. He is most himself in a scrappier setting, ignited with passion and fun.
So his video is a group of dancers showing up to a basement in Brooklyn just to dance. Just to be with friends. Just to jam to some music. Just to sweat.
And in that Sweat there is joy and there is power among the outsiders.
Which is how you might next end up watching…
“You’re Gonna Hear From Me” by The Broadway Sinfonietta
A conductor’s stand.
“When I get to decide what to say, it’s not going to be ‘I want this person to love me so much,’ it’s ‘I’m a woman, I’m powerful, and you should recognize that,’” says Macy Schmidt.
Power — sonically and lyrically — is what Schmidt seeks in her music. An orchestrator, arranger, music director and musician, Schmidt has worked on shows like Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical and served their visions. But when the pandemic hit and she realized the return of Broadway and her musical-directing day job would be later rather than sooner, Schmidt asked herself What do you want to make?
The answer: orchestral recordings with lush instrumentation… played by women… especially women of color. She bore The Broadway Sinfonietta.
Translated to “a small symphony orchestra,” the name sinfonietta expresses the elegance, femininity, and grandeur Schmidt values — all of which is evident in the Broadstream video “You’re Gonna Hear From Me.”
Written by Andre and Dory Previn for a Broadway musical years ago, the original is a sweet ballad — not exactly the strength Schmidt was going for. But the message was spot on. As she says, “I’m such a sucker for the Barbra Streisand don’t-tell-me-what-to-do songs.”
The drive and energy you hear in this video is due to Schmidt’s arrangement and orchestrations, and the experienced musicians she hired, mostly women of color. The results will give you chills.
Even on laptop speakers, the music is a rich cascade. You hear a fullness typically relegated to the overtures of Golden Age cast albums. “That sound is just missing in our canon right now,” says Schmidt. “I want to be making new cast albums that fill that grandeur, and I definitely associate that full instrumentation with power. I want to hear strings and brass and woodwind and I especially want to hear a harp. It was essential to me.”
As Schmidt expands the sound of the Broadway orchestra, she also expands the face of it. Her revolution — and that of The Broadway Sinfoniettia — is “providing paid work as often as possible and at a higher level” to majority women of color.
That emphasis on talent of color and the idea of revolution through music is why Broadstream might next serve you…
“Open Sesame” — Episode 1 of Little Monsters
A city stoop. Ripe for life lessons.
When sketch comedian Rob Wilson thinks about the kind of art he wants to make, his guiding principles are of revolution:“Number one, speak truth to power. Number two, to always be making people think or feel. I want to tell stories that make people giggle just a little bit but, moreover, they push conversations forward.”
So when Broadstream asked Wilson what he wanted to make, he conceived Little Monsters.
A riff on Sesame Street for adults, the short sketch series originated with puppets and music. Wilson theorized that puppets could stand in for ignorant people so “then the issues become the most important thing,” he says. “When the bad guy isn’t a specific thing, the action is what’s really pointed out.” Songs get you to the heart of the matter quickly.
In this video, little monster Chucky greets Rob and his co-host Jordan Stafford on that city stoop and proudly declares: “My parents, they’ve been teaching me all kinds of cool things. Did you know that All Lives Matter?”
Wilson doesn’t soften to make his points palatable to white audiences. He has a gentleness and thoughtfulness about him. That contemplative focus fuels his comedy with punch. A comedian with Chicago’s famed Second City, his quick wit is a given. He’s here to use it for fellow Black audiences. “When I was coming up, I wanted something that was kind of specifically for me,” Wilson says. “If, by chance, other people like it too, then I think that that’s a bonus.”
The drive behind Little Monsters is to disarm with humor and teach through song. Over six episodes, the series will inevitably have you giggling over and then reflecting deeply on everything from MAGA hats (“there’s a love song attached to that — when MAGA people see each other like ‘oh you’re just like me!’”) to the reflexive hashtags that follow police shootings.
Its realness makes Little Monsters so valuable.
That emphasis on authentic Black voices and Black perspective could lead you to…
“Midnight Train to Georgia” by SOUL(Signs)
A train station kiki.
“I’ve always been obsessed with that song,” says Kevin Newbury of the soul standard by Gladys Knight & the Pips. “There’s an actual theatricality to it because Gladys Knight’s character makes a choice and the Pips know what she’s gonna do.”
It may have been an obvious story to Newbury and his partner and co-creator Brandon Kazen-Maddox, but it honestly wasn’t until watching this Broadstream music video that this writer even noticed the narrative in the lyrics.
Though we’ve seen ASL-signed music sneak into the mainstream (from Deaf West musicals to the viral Super Bowl National Anthem), it’s not a staple in the way it can or should be. Which is exactly the reason SOUL(Signs), the ASL-music video series created by Newbury and Kazen-Maddox, belongs on Broadstream. It creates accessibility to art for the Deaf community but also exposes new audiences to the artistry in ASL.
Each of the ten videos re-envisions a soul standard through ASL. (Think Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind”). What’s more, SOUL(Signs) showcases multiple marginalized peoples in their joy.
“We are, in real-time, making some strides for not just our queer history but then Deaf history and BIPOC history and at the intersections of all of those places,” says Kazen-Maddox.
That intersection in the series emanates from Kazen-Maddox and his family. On one side, is his beloved grandmother from Washington state, where he was born and raised; she is white and Deaf. On his other side is his adored Nana, a hearing Black woman from the Bronx. “Both of them had so much influence on me — my nana with entertainment and Broadway, in general, and then my grandma with sign language,” he says. “This is basically a love letter from my grandma to my nana.”
Through writing that love letter, Newbury, Kazen-Maddox and their Deaf collaborators explore what sign language is musically and choreographically “to really make music visible.”
Kazen-Maddox and Newbury are in the business of visibility.
And so is Broadstream.
At its core, Broadstream is a content house dead set on bringing high-quality art for free to as many people as possible. They’re adamant in their support of artists through feedback and finances. The theater you don’t have to go to runs on trust and vision, and nearly overflows with it.
Go grab a cup.
Watch “Sweat”, “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” “Open Sesame”, and “Midnight Train to Georgia” NOW on Broadstream ahead of the official September launch.