Josh Groban, Sara Bareilles, and Stellene Volandes Talk Philanthropy on The ‘Broadway Gives Back’ Podcast

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Lucia Tonelli
·4 min read
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Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Town & Country

Jan Friedlander Svendsen asks the same question to every guest on her new podcast, Broadway Gives Back: “If you could wave a magic wand, what would you want to see changed when Broadway reopens?” Friedlander Svendsen has championed philanthropic initiatives for years—she’s the Charity Network’s chief creative officer, and spent 18 years running cause-related programs for the Tony Awards and Broadway League—and her latest project is another example of her dedication to her mission.

Broadway Gives Back, which first aired on January 6, 2021, spotlights actors, shows, and organizations through the lens of social impact and philanthropy. So far, guests have included Lin-Manuel Miranda, Judith Light, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and more. This week alone, Josh Groban, Sara Bareilles, and T&C's own editor-in-chief Stellene Volandes all sat down (virtually) with Friedlander Svendsen to share stories of their favorite charities, how they got involved in social activism, and what others can do to support a community that has been hit especially hard by the pandemic.

Theaters around the globe have gone dark in the past year, but Friedlander Svendsen believes that “this pause has made everybody stop and think about how Broadway could be better.” While those who join the podcast each week are powerful members of the Broadway community, the overarching message Friedlander Svendsen hopes to convey is that everyone can feel empowered by the work of these big name guests.

“The goal here is to shed more light on the notion of giving, and to have interesting conversations about how we can be socially active,” she says. “The idea of ‘sweat equity’ or offering your time or voice is just as important as donating money.” These ideas of diversity, inclusion, and access are not lost on Friedlander Svendsen either. “We’re not going to return to a Broadway as it once was, so defining what a ‘new normal’ goes hand in hand with raising awareness towards various organizations and charities.”

Photo credit: Jamie McCarthy - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jamie McCarthy - Getty Images

Volandes echoed that message during her episode, reflecting on how her upbringing shaped her views of philanthropy. “I grew up in a very tight Greek community in Brooklyn, and no one used the word ‘philanthropy,’ but we all knew that we had an obligation to support the other members of the community in any way that we could,” she said. “For some people it was about donating money, but for other people it was about making food, or showing up at a fundraiser and being there to open the building and close it.”

While guests share their broad views on philanthropy during each episode, listeners can also expect to learn more about the specific organizations each guest champions, and the strategies they adopt to make the most of their time, money, and voice.

Josh Groban, who appeared on this week’s episode, is the founder of the Find Your Light Foundation, dedicated to providing children with a quality arts education. In addition to his work for Find Your Light, Groban shared the ways in which he supports other causes—and more specifically how he decides which causes to champion. “[Deciding on which charities to support] is always a challenge, because there are endless amazing causes that are all doing valiant and important work.” That said, “there can be a situation where you really want to dive headfirst into something, but you know it’s at a time where you wouldn’t be able to give everything that you want to give.”

Photo credit: CJ Rivera - Getty Images
Photo credit: CJ Rivera - Getty Images

In regards to his charity, Groban doubled down on the message that “arts are important, and a part of [supporting the arts] is getting rid of the stigma that they are a luxury or an extracurricular. We’re in a time when the data is proving that an inclusion of the arts in schools helps with graduation rates and helps with performance in other academic areas and helps with home life.”

At the end of the day, giving back is a “selfish act,” as Friedlander Svendsen puts it. Nothing feels better than making someone else feel good.

You can tune into the Broadway Gives Back podcast on the Broadway Podcast Network and other podcast platforms.

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