Open Stage Project is a New York City nonprofit closing the gender gap in behind-the-scenes careers in film, TV, and theater. We offer free afterschool programs and paid fellowships to young women and non-binary students passionate about working behind-the-scenes.

Founder's Note

I began Open Stage Project in 2016 when I observed that behind the scenes, creative teams–from lighting, to set, to sound design– on every production were mostly white men.

Then in June 2017, the New York Times article “Theater Jobs Skew White and Male” confirmed my observation, and I realized that the increase of women working in all areas of the theatrical arts would not happen organically. It must be deliberate. In 2018, with the mentorship of the Actor’s Fund Creative Entrepreneur Program, I founded Open Stage Project as a way to introduce behind-the-scenes careers to young women.

Open Stage Project was the first nonprofit to introduce high school girls and non-binary students to careers in the behind the scenes crafts. We are now in our fifth successful year. With the generous support of a wide network of enthusiastic and committed industry professionals, Open Stage Project has grown into a robust changemaking organization. We have crafted a groundbreaking, high impact 3-step approach to promote change. We reach hundreds of students annually in our interactive ACT 1 jobs seminar. From there, students can apply to our flagship ACT 2 program, a robust and creative backstage job-readiness program. ACT 3 places our over-18 graduates into custom summer fellowships, working directly with top industry professionals. In the inaugural year of our ACT 3 program, 100% of our fellows received full-time job offers. This enthusiasm and willingness among the industry and students provides further evidence of the obvious need for this work. And for that, I am exceptionally grateful.

We do much more than offer free tickets to Broadway shows. We help underserved young women and non-binary individuals tap into an industry ecosystem that is changing the very white, very male backstage industry.

When I reflect on the beginning of Open Stage Project to now, I can’t help but recall the work of Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens. Harari says that what sets humans apart from other species is our imagination, and through this imagination, as a collective, we create stories. In the framing and telling of these stories over centuries, we learn to live by them. For the most part, women’s voices have been largely absent in the creation of the stories of our culture, in theater, television and film.

Open Stage Project seeks to change this story.

~ Elsa Ward, IATSE designer


Elsa Ward - Executive Director

Elsa Ward

Executive Director

Jean Egdorf - Director of Programming

Jean Egdorf

Director of Programming

Autumn Angelettie - Program Consultant

Autumn Angelettie

Program Consultant


Arabella Powell - Program Director

Arabella Powell



Kimberly Griffith - Dean at New York's Uncommon Schools

Kimberly Griffith

Dean at New York's
Uncommon Schools

Susan Hilferty - Set and Costume Designer

Susan Hilferty

Set and Costume Designer

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Jenny Kane

Electrician, Local 52

Margaret Leigh

Founder of Turnkey Theatrical

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Patricia Meadow

Former Financial
Services Executive

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Kendra Moore

Company Manager of Broadway's
The Lion King

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Jenna Segal

Tony Award-Winning Producer
and Impact Investor

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Stephanie Vardavas


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Elsa Ward


Inaugural Mentors Circle

  • Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS
  • Dan Cayre
  • Diana DiMenna
  • Lily Fan
  • Carson & Joseph Gleberman
  • Naomi Grabel
  • Jenny Kane
  • Sharon Karmazin
  • Abby Leigh
  • Patricia Meadow
  • Ogden Capital Properties
  • Daryl & Steven Roth
  • Fiona Howe Rudin
  • Jenna Segal
  • Jayne Baron Sherman
  • Antonio Soddu
  • Dan Sternberg and Debbie Cooper
  • Valerie Tootle
  • Stephanie Vardavas
  • Elsa Ward
  • Katherine Weller
  • Barbara Whitman
  • Anonymous