What's Happening to Broadway During the Time of Covid-19?
American actress Ethel Merman once sang, “There’s no business like show business.” For many years Broadway has played such an important role not only in New York culture but also in American culture. On average, over 10 million people go to see shows on Broadway every year. From the tall buildings and lights to the people and the brightly-lit signs, Broadway holds a special place in the hearts of many people.
On March 12, 2020, all 41 of Broadway’s theaters began closing their doors. Not only were people disappointed that their shows were canceled after they had already bought tickets, but the employees took the biggest hit. According to NBC News, there were about 97,000 employees “whose livelihoods depend on the shows” and now they’ve suddenly found themselves unemployed.
According to research by the Brookings Institution, “fine and performing arts industries lost almost 1.4 million jobs and $42.5 billion in sales from just April 1 through July 31.” As stated by The New York Times, “Broadway is going to remain closed at least through next May 30.” However, nothing is set in stone yet. As cases begin to surge yet again, The country could be looking at another lockdown.
When asked about the reopening of Broadway, Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League, told The New York Times that it’s “the question of the hour and the day and the month and the year, because we truly don’t know.” This national lockdown is costing vast amounts of money to performers, producers, and even the backstage crew that helps with every show. The New York Times states that at the start of the pandemic, there were “31 shows running, including eight still in previews, and another eight were in rehearsals getting ready to start performances.” While television and movies are starting to make a comeback, it’s likely that it will take Broadway more time to get to that point again.
Advocates can be crucial in times of need. Ever since Broadway had to shut its doors, feelings of despair and anger were brought forth. Broadway theaters have no idea when things will be back to normal or who will save show business. “It feels like our industry is being abandoned,” says playwright and actress Kate Hamill.
According to Broadway News, theater community members are solely relying on part-time gigs and unemployment as a way of survival. Laurel Parrish, costume stock supervisor for the musical “Wicked” explained that it has been “cycles of panic and grief and numbness and budgeting.” Broadway is searching for an advocate. “It feels like we don’t have a cheerleader of any kind at any level,” said Laurel Parrish to Broadway News.
The Broadway League has pushed for more unemployment benefits such as the Save Our Stages Act, which provides grants to producers and the owners of venues. According to Broadway News, two New York Senators, Chuck Schumer, and Kristen Gillibrand have both publicly supported the Save Our Stages Act and have tweeted about the importance of supporting the theater industry during these times.
Performing has been really challenging for Broadway actors and actresses since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the Broadway scene. However, this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade did not disappoint. The parade this year put Broadway back in the spotlight by bringing some Broadway musical favorites to the streets. The changes to the parade this year did not stop the cast of “Hamilton” from delivering a performance of a fan-favorite musical. The cast of “Jagged Little Pill” got to perform together for the first time since the Covid-19 shut down in March of this year. “To see all of the people I love, and do what we all love to do, felt so good,” American actress Celia Rose Gooding told Los Angeles Times. She finally got to perform with her castmates again in “Jagged Little Pill” after months apart. “Even if it’s just for a few minutes, we got to get back into our characters and tried to make it feel as magical as it does when we do the show eight times a week. To get a taste of that energy again was really special,” explained Gooding.
These weren’t the only musicals to perform in the parade, though. Musicals such as, “Ain’t Too Proud - The Life and Times of The Temptations” and “Mean Girls,” were also able to get back into their costumes, assume their roles, and do what they love to do - perform.
This pandemic has taken a huge toll on every aspect of the theater community. Broadway has been a beacon of light and music for decades. With musicals like “Newsies” and “Rent” or plays like “War Horse” and “Betrayal,” Broadway is certainly a place that many people know and love. Despite the evens of 2020, the lyric still reigns true, there really is no business like show business.