The Tony Award-winning producer changing the narrative on Broadway
When people asked 14-year-old Julia Dunetz ’19 what she wanted to be when she grew up, she had an unusual answer: “commercial theater producer.” She pursued her passion with single-minded focus: interning with a theater company in high school, directing and producing plays while studying at Cornell, and producing shows on Broadway and beyond after graduation. Last June, Dunetz’s dream reached a new capstone when “Parade,” the hit musical she co-produced, won a Tony Award for “Best Revival of a Musical.” (The show also won for “Best Direction of a Musical” and received four other nominations.)
“It was a really competitive category, which made it that much more sweet,” Dunetz said. “For me, it felt like a celebration of a decade of work.”
Dunetz’s love of theater began in first grade, when her mother took her to see the musical “Wicked.” She was struck by the sweeping songs and a story that centered female friendship. “I felt very seen — that’s the power of theater,” she said.
Dunetz knew theater was more than a hobby but realized her acting chops might not sustain a career. When she learned about producers — who do everything from raise money to build and manage teams — the role seemed a good match for her organizational and analytical skills.
When Dunetz arrived at Cornell, a mentor advised her to focus on a subject beyond show business. She says she chose human development because, “I knew understanding human behavior was going to be part of this work, and I enjoyed those classes, which is really important.” She finds herself returning often to concepts she learned in courses on personality, self-regulation and motivation. “I’m constantly amazed at how much I take from my Human Ecology experience in theater,” she said. “The classes have been incredibly helpful in framing my experiences and navigating relationships.”
Dunetz minored in business and theatre. In the Performing and Media Arts department, she served as a TA for David Feldshuh’s Directing 1 course and received the Drama Book Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement in theatre.
While at Cornell, Dunetz directed two full-length plays in the Black Box Theatre: “Bad Jews” and “Constellations.” She also served as the first undergraduate producer of the annual 10-Minute Play Festival, which featured pieces written and performed by Cornell students. “I had so much support and really felt like I had the school behind me,” Dunetz said.
By the time she was a senior, Dunetz was already associate producer of a touring musical called “Hundred Days.” After graduating in 2019, she became an associate producer at Seaview Productions, where she worked on the Broadway production of “Slave Play.” Among many other credits, she also served as co-producer on “Sea Wall / A Life,” a Tony Award-nominated play and two-time New York Times Critic’s Pick starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge.
Dunetz wanted to co-produce the Broadway revival of “Parade,” which stars Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond, because she felt the tale had modern resonance. The musical tells the true story of Leo Frank, a Cornell alum who was wrongly convicted of a murdering a 13-year-old girl, then kidnapped from prison and lynched due to antisemitism in 1915. “The story felt more timely than ever, if you think about all of the people still facing persecution in this country just for existing as who they are,” Dunetz said.
Now a producer at Level Forward, Dunetz is focused on telling stories from traditionally underrepresented voices, especially those that spotlight women. Currently, that includes developing “The Queen’s Gambit,” which was based on a 1983 novel, that was adapted into the hit Netflix show, into a musical, among other projects. “I feel strongly that art can be a vehicle for social change, and I try to tell stories that empower people and narratives that haven’t had their due,” Dunetz said. “I want to allow other people to experience what I experienced as a little girl at ‘Wicked’ — that’s the magic of it all.”