Broadway is hurting and it needs help as the closure is extended.
While many industries have taken a hit during the pandemic, one that people likely rarely stop and think about is the entertainment business. While some of the aspects of the entertainment business- such as television and films- have come up with novel ways to still make SOME income (such as premiering movies on demand instead of in theaters), the world of live theatre is really struggling.
Specifically, Broadway, which is located in New York City (which was the initial epicenter of the coronavirus) has really taken a beating. Broadway actors and actresses, as well as producers, directors, set designers, stage managers, orchestra members, and more depend on their live performance schedule to make an income.
When the coronavirus pandemic began here, it seemed like Broadway would be closed for a few months. Then, it was recently revealed that Broadway would be closed until at least next year. To only be open barely three months out of a year for an industry that relies on thousands and thousands of people PER day, six days a week is undeniably a huge hit. Aside from just the financial hit, though, there’s also an emotional hit for both the performers and patrons who go to the theatre to get away from their real lives and be entertained for a few hours.
Broadway Members Talk About The Closure…
While we have our own personal feelings about Broadway being closed- positive, from a health standpoint, but negative from an emotional one- we were curious as to how people who actually work there feel about the extended closure.
We spoke with Fredi Walker-Browne, who played Joanne in the original Broadway cast of Rent (inarguably one of the most important Broadway shows of all-time, and certainly the biggest hit of the 90s).
On the extended Broadway closure, Walker-Browne told us that “It is the only decision. Until there is a vaccine, a Broadway theatre is not safe for anyone – ESPECIALLY the actors!”
Walker-Browne went on to give examples of why it is not safe, noting that “Singing in each other’s faces? Dancing, sweating, tight hallways, small dressing rooms, changing quickly in small spaces… [it’s] a Covid playground.”
So what can shows do to keep their audiences engaged?
Walker-Browne shared that “If shows are smart, they will do more and more online ‘tease’ events to keep audiences engaged.”
Regardless, though, Walker-Browne did share her honest- and somber- opinion of what will likely be the fate of this extended closure.
“Sadly,” she shared, “many shows will not make it through. My heart is breaking for those kids who just opened. But, in the end, there will be another job – another show AS LONG AS YOU ARE ALIVE TO DO IT!”
“Buckle in because this won’t be over soon,” she wrapped with telling us. “To all my fellow artists I urge you to create in quarantine! It keeps you sane and who knows? You might come up with something that can pay those back bills!”
A Broadway Director’s take on the closure…
We also spoke with Jeff Calhoun, a well-renowned theater director who directed hits like Grey Gardens.
“Of course, there is no alternative but to close down all theaters until it’s safe for people to once again congregate,” Calhoun shared with us. “That said, what other outlets do we have? I did read that certain shows in the UK are performing at drive-in movie theaters where the audience watches from the safety of their cars. This sounds very resourceful and something I would definitely like to see. Especially the show SIX, which I saw 3 times on the West End and am obsessed with.”
“Also, there is the obligatory ‘virtual’ market,” Calhoun continued sharing. “I was fortunate enough to produce and direct a virtual benefit for Covenant House International called A Night of Covenant Stars with Dolly Parton, Bon Jovi, Morgan Freeman, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Martin Short, etc.. Although everyone’s participation was voluntary, it was exciting and inspiring being able to marry my directing skills with my favorite charity.”
Calhoun also had some somber thoughts to share, stating “That said, I don’t hold much hope for this ‘go-to format’ that’s trying to keep audiences engaged with theater. It just doesn’t have the immediacy and magic of the live experience. And, how can an art form intended for the stage compete with content written, directed and produced specifically for the screen.”
“As much as it pains me to say this,” he added, “I would much rather watch television shows or movies on HBO, Netflix, Prime, etc. than virtual theater. There are, of course, wonderful exceptions such as Live From Lincoln Center and National Theater Live from London. “
Calhoun also shared that he battled coronavirus himself, telling us that “In mid-March, I was hit with the coronavirus and needed to spend 1 week in Mt. Sinai hospital recovering. As painful as that was, the time in isolation allowed me to contemplate this alternate universe we find ourselves in, and to try to examine things to do that upon reflection would make this time as productive as possible.”
“As many have said,” he continued, “this is the time to go back to basics. I think the world was becoming all icing and no cake. So, in addition to the obligatory zoom meetings and cocktail parties, I’m trying to read a book a week. As simple as this sounds, can you think of another time when we have been able to revel in the beautiful of silence and solitude? A time when we can actually decide NOT to turn on the tv but to sit with that book you’ve always wanted to read. Personally, if I can accomplish this, I will have read over 40 books before the world returns to normal. And, whatever that new normal is, it will be all the richer for having read more books than I ever could have read under any ‘normal’ circumstances.”
“So,” Calhoun wrapped with sharing, “a good book and a glass of sparkling Rose is my antipode for the times we are a living!”
Another Star Speaks!
We also spoke with Karen Olivo, who is a huge Broadway star who won a Tony Award in 2009 for Best Featured Actress for playing Anita in West Side Story and is currently starring in Moulin Rogue.
“I think the delay in opening Broadway is necessary,” Olivo began with sharing with us. “We have a responsibility to our industry to make sure we proceed safely.”
“This is also a time of great reformation within our industry,” she continued. “We need this time to examine our structure, listen, grow, and remove existing components that aid in Systemic Racism.”
Olivo does have concerns about what is going on, though, as she shared that “I fear that many productions will struggle during this time. Primarily, those who don’t hold the purse strings- theater workers & actors.”
“We are not historically wealthy people,” Olivo elaborated. “We are not a part of profit-sharing unless we fight for it, and for many people working on Broadway, we survive paycheck to paycheck. These people will struggle the most.”
“I hope that this time away reminds ALL parties of the worth of these ESSENTIAL people,” Olivo wrapped with sharing. “And when we return to the theaters we have devoted our lives to, that appreciation will be displayed in real equity in the productions we have built.”
While we agree with what Walker-Brown, Calhoun, and Olivo shared with us, we are eager for a world that is coronavirus free and one in which the Broadway theatre is re-opened and everyone can enjoy a live performance escape for a few hours. For now, we will have to relish in whatever live content is given to us from the various shows on Broadway and enjoy the cast recordings of the shows we have access to.e