As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, aspects of live entertainment have been reimagined. No other industry has been impacted more than the theater community. Broadway, the leader in professional performing arts, has been heavily suffering from the lack of revenue.
Performers, stage managers, costume designers, theater technicians and others who have dedicated their lives to the theater have lost their livelihood. Worst of all, Broadway fans miss seeing their favorite shows.
“I feel like now I’m just kind of reliving old memories and having to look through old cast recordings,” Freshman Communication Sciences and Disorders major Nicole Malatino said. “I feel like the Broadway community kind of fell apart.”
During March of last year, Broadway stages closed their curtains, hoping to return a month later. Now, more than a year later, stages aim to open in May and aim to implement health and safety precautions in each theater. This shutdown is the longest Broadway has seen.
The long break that Broadway has been facing has deeply affected students on campus who enjoy theater. Since the pandemic has affected everything considered “normal,” this also relates to seeing live performances on the professional and personal stages.
“I think that [COVID-19] has really affected it, just like everything else,” Freshman Expeditionary Studies major Haley Steffy said. “Shows got shut down. My brother hasn’t been able to do performances at his school because of COVID. All musicals are getting shut down and it kind of sucks.”
The ability to access live theater has saddened students who enjoy seeing the performers put their heart and soul into each show. As more advances are being made to allow for patrons to access theater virtually, these events can never be the same as going to a Broadway show.
“The whole point of theater is that it’s live,” First-Year English Writing Arts major Isabella Alesandrini said. “Of course, COVID affects that. Even online productions are great, but it’s not the same. It’s just been so disheartening to see what’s happened to the community. Despite how hard it has been, I still have seen so much creativity from the theater community keeping us together during this time.”
The Broadway experience can never be matched. The atmosphere of each show is a unique phenomenon that cannot be described, just felt.
“Once I walk in those doors, the outside world just melts away,” Malatino said. “I feel like I don’t have to worry about anything that’s going on in my life. I can kind of just enjoy my two hours in someone else’s world and get to immerse myself in a story that maybe isn’t always realistic. It just always makes me feel some sort of way. Even if it’s a sad show, I’m still happy to be there.”
Malatino, a Long Island resident, stated she was a regular visitor to Broadway and has seen 30 shows in a four-year span. She explained that COVID-19 disrupted her plans to see three shows in 2020.
April 3 saw the first theater to open during the pandemic. Broadway legend, Nathan Lane, and Tony-winning choreographer, Savion Glover, performed at the St. James Theatre exclusively for front-line workers at the Actors Fund and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Both organizations provide funds for performers and other theater employees facing hardships, especially during the AIDS/HIV crisis and COVID-19 pandemic.
This 10-week show series hosted by Lane and Glover is being used as a “test run” and model for future socially distant Broadway productions.
Even though more Broadway shows are expected to make a return in May, it could be a while before the theater-going experience returns to its original state. While this is immensely disheartening to fans, safety is at the forefront of the Broadway community.
“With Broadway, the one thing that I always liked was that they always just want everyone to be safe,” Malatino said. “They definitely find a way to make sure that, whatever they do, they’re not going to do it until they know that it will be 100% safe for everyone.”
Fortunately, April 13 saw the opening of the Broadway vaccination site in New York’s Times Square. The clinic was started by ATC Healthcare Services, a company that provides medical professionals with travel assignments, is run by almost 80 off-Broadway employees who were laid off due to the pandemic. The COVID-19 vaccinations are designated for all Broadway workers in hopes of getting the theater business up and running again.
Not only are vaccinations a new hope for Broadway, but the warm weather is too. This summer could see the rise of outdoor performances as 10 spots in New York City have been designated for such. Broadway won’t be the only aspect of the arts returning, but so will the New York City Ballet and members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
“It’s going to take a lot of time,” Alesandrini said. “I don’t even know if it’s going to return to the way it was before. I think, as devastating as COVID has been to the theater industry, it has opened up a lot of different ways of enjoying the medium.”
While the new outlets for theater have been implemented, performers and theater employees have still been heavily impacted by the pandemic. Without Broadway being open, these professionals are facing economic hardships.
“It’s their job. It’s their career. With them not being able to perform, they’re probably not getting paid as much as they should be and not being able to do what they love,” Steffy said.
The Actors Fund has been a key role in providing financial assistance to theater professionals during this time. The COVID-19 Emergency Relief has distributed more than $20 million to people in the industry struggling during the pandemic. Fans of theater should consider donating to help keep the entertainment industry alive.
“I feel like a lot of us realize what we lost,” Malatino said. “I feel like we all definitely still appreciated Broadway whenever we had it. But I feel like now that it’s gone, it’s like we never realized how much it actually affected our lives, and how much it did help people get through troubling times. The Actors Fund is a big thing that’s providing a lot of relief for anyone affected in the industry.”
Broadway has been a source of entertainment during the hardest times in recent history. Without the shining lights of the “Great White Way,” fans are still as appreciative of Broadway as ever before.