How COVID-19 has Affected Broadway
For the last eight months, America has been plagued by the Coronavirus and it continues to maintain its infamous designation as the country with the most reported deaths from the virus. While this statistic is in part due to America’s large population, the United States is still among the worst-hit countries in the world. To mitigate rising numbers, many politicians have attempted to control crowds through state and citywide mandates. Unfortunately, however, capacity restrictions and shut-downs translate to a major decline in live entertainment.
For instance, most late-night television shows typically filmed in front of a live studio audience are now performed in front of rows of empty seats; movie theaters are not getting sufficient business to keep them afloat (even if they are open); and the 1.8 billion dollar industry and beloved voice of American culture, Broadway, has been shut down altogether until May 30, 2021 at the earliest.
This leaves hundreds of actors and backstage crew members out of work in the major virus hot-spot that is New York City. On top of that, Broadway may be one of the last entertainment industries to return after a vaccine is created, due to its interactive and participatory nature, resulting in an even greater financial decline. These feelings of loss are equally manifested, if not more so, by the devastating deaths of beloved Broadway actor Nick Cordero and award-winning playwright Terrence McNally from the virus itself.
Nevertheless, the Broadway community is a resilient one and did not take these various challenges sitting down. For example, throughout quarantine, several groups have held numerous charity events and opportunities to ensure that Broadway workers receive a steady income. According to The New Yorker, “The Actors Fund, which serves the needs of entertainment workers, received fifteen thousand requests for aid in the first three months of the pandemic, and has distributed some thirteen million dollars” (Schulman, 2020, paras. 2).
Also, this Broadway hiatus is providing the industry with an opportunity to adapt to the expectations of the Black Lives Matter movement, adopting more inclusive measures for Black, Indigineous, and People of Color. As stated on Playbill.com, “Among the more notable moments that came out of these calls for change were the Rally for Freedom, a three-day industry-wide forum hosted by Broadway Advocacy Coalition, the 31-page list of demands published by We See You White American Theatre, and the formation of Black Theatre United by a host of Tony winners. (Meyer, 2020, paras. 7)’ These calls for equality have proven successful for the cause. Since June, many white directors have resigned from positions of power to clear the way for more diversity, and flesh-colored dance shoes have been released in a variety of new shades.
Above all, despite circumstances, performance and theatre have prevailed. New pandemic-related shows such as The Line and The Apple Family trilogy have been produced over Zoom; Stars in the House, a daily live streamed concert series, has hosted a plethora of exciting Broadway reunions; Broadway actors such as Andrew Barth Feldman and Alex Boniello have played online games with fans; and legends Audra McDonald, Meryl Streep, and Christine Baranski have sung their own rendition of “Ladies Who Lunch,” all via video call. In addition, natural occurrences have also spurred impromptu performances. As described by The New Yorker:
“Brian Stokes Mitchell, whose Broadway roles include Don Quixote in ‘Man of La Mancha,’ marked his recovery from covid-19 by singing the musical’s anthem, ‘The Impossible Dream,’ from his window, as part of the nightly cheer for essential workers. ‘This was just going to be a one-off, he recalls. ‘And then the next day I came back again and I noticed, Oh, there’s a crowd of people gathering on the street. And then the crowd got bigger and bigger and bigger.’” (Schulman, 2020, paras. 3)
In summary, it is clear that the infectious energy of live theatre can never be suppressed. It truly serves as a ray of light in the darkness of a pandemic.
Fierberg, R. (2020, May 15). Annual Report: The State of the Broadway Ensemblist in the Abbreviated 2019–2020 Season. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.playbill.com/article/annual-report-the-state-of-the-broadway-ensemblist-in-the-abbreviated-20192020-season
Meyer, D. (2020, September 14). 6 Months Later: 7 Ways the Broadway Community Has Come Together During the Shutdown. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.playbill.com/article/7-ways-the-broadway-community-came-together-during-the-shutdown
Schulman, M. (2020, August 23). What the Coronavirus Pandemic Means for the Future of Broadway. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/video-dept/what-the-coronavirus-pandemic-means-for-the-future-of-broadway