Broad: The Mark Morris Dance Group is part of the upcoming season at Santa Monica’s Broad Stage. Kenneth Friedman

The Broad Stage is an artistic powerhouse that opened in 2008 and churned out nonstop performances until March 2020 when suddenly the lights went out, the audience disappeared and the stage began to gather dust.

Now, after a long and dreary artistic hiatus, the theater is gearing up for a star-studded 2022 season that will be more diverse and community oriented than any season past.

While the pandemic pause on performances was a gut punch for The Broad Stage and its artistic community, it allowed the organization a rare opportunity for reflection, which the artistic team took full advantage of when curating the upcoming season.

“There is always so much going on. Anytime that you’re trying to put in place transformation and change, you’re trying to change the wheels on a moving bus,” said Director of Artistic Planning Eric Bloom. “The pandemic did offer us the opportunity to just pull off to the side of the road and then fix the whole bus.”

As part of this change, the new season will focus heavily on the work of BIPOC artists and on elevating their voices, experiences, history and culture.

Highlights include “Yemandja: A Story of Africa” a new musical theater work set in 19th century Dahomey by and starring three-time Grammy Award winner Angélique Kidjo; an oratorio dance and music telling of the Sufi mystic poet Attar’s “The Conference of the Birds” composed by Fahed Sladat; and “Being Future Being” a performance inspired by First Nation creation myths choreographed by Emily Johnson of the Yup’ik Nation.

Each of these performances was commissioned by Artistic and Executive Director Rob Bailis, who came on board in 2019 and sought to steer The Broad Stage into a new era of its programming.

“With Rob’s entry into the organization he really brought with him a deep authentic desire to put forth culturally significant, important social justice issues, so we’ll be doing a lot of work with BIPOC artists, really placing those artists at the center of our organization so that their work and what they do on stage makes a very kind of public facing articulation of our values,” said Bloom.

The Broad Stage is also trying to increase engagement between its staged works and the Santa Monica community.

Instead of maximizing the number of performances that can be staged in a season, major works will remain on display for a longer period of time and have what Bloom calls a “community activation component.”

For example, the upcoming presentation of New York Times science journalist Alanna Mitchell’s one woman show about the deterioration of oceans “Sea Sick” will be accompanied by a beach clean-up hosted by local non-profit Heal the Bay.

Recently, the chamber opera Birds in the Moon partnered with the Santa Monica College art program and asked students to create works of art inspired by the show. Students’ pieces were then displayed around Downtown Santa Monica. Three students won cash prizes and one student was later commissioned to create a poster for the show’s tour.

This community activation is also part of an ongoing effort to strengthen the connection between the Broad Stage and the students at Santa Monica College. Although the venue is on SMC’s campus, Bloom said that most students are commuters and don’t often have the opportunity to stick around until the evening to watch performances.

“There’s a lot of complication in that we live in a very sort of rich, upper middle, upper class, mostly white community that is centered on a college that has primarily minority students from a much more economically diverse background in a city that actually had at one point a much more thriving African American and Latino community,” said Bloom.

Bloom said the organization is striving to acknowledge that history and that conflict specifically through the works it commissions and the themes they explore.

In the upcoming artistic season, there are 27 performances scheduled covering a range of genres including opera, musicals, plays, cabaret, dance ensembles, classical music, and jazz. Tickets and show information can be found at thebroadstage.org.

Clara@smdp.com