Last week marks one year since lights went out on Broadway. At the time, much like the rest of the country’s business, it was meant to be a temporary closure; many college students may even remember feeling as if they’d return to school after an extended Spring Break of sorts. When two weeks went by, then two months went by, the world collectively exhaled any idea of a prompt return to normalcy. Now, with vaccines being administered more rapidly and positive progress all around us, murmurs of lights turning back on on the Great White Way are beginning.
As someone who grew up near New York City, Broadway has a place in my heart that is impossible to compare or replace. The city is filled with excitement. As cliché as it may sound, I’ve felt the magic of New York City my entire life. That same magic found in the crust of a $1 slice of pizza or the twinkling skyline at all hours of the night is harbored so magnificently in the gorgeous old architecture between 41st and 54th, between Sixth and Eighth Avenues. The architecture I’m referring to is, of course, that of the Broadway theaters.
With New York City taking a major economic hit in nearly every industry it thrives on — tourism, theatre and food — it seems more important than ever to be cognizant of the ways in which we can help the world around us rebuild itself. For me, a big part of that rebuild is Broadway.
Broadway is about much more than belting out songs or tap dancing (despite loving both of those things); it is a collection of extremely talented, passionate people who have been out of work and barred from doing something they have likely trained their whole lives to do.
Now, as the pieces begin to be put together, it is time to come to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the Broadway community, and truly, all theater, and find ways to get involved. CNBC’s Chris DiLella wrote an article spotlighting four actors and what they each have been doing to make money throughout this dark spot in Broadway history. DiLella additionally delves into some statistics that really speak for themselves: “the livelihoods of 97,000 people depend on the Broadway industry, which generates $14.8 billion annually to the economy of New York City.”
My call to action for this specific community is not to say that I don’t recognize that there are so many other people and professions that have also been affected by the pandemic. However, I argue that something has to be said about Broadway closing.
It is more than likely that the first thing we all turned to in the empty, socially-distanced days were some form of the arts. Whether it was binge-watching Tiger King or mindlessly scrolling through TikTok, reading a novel or doing a full Star Wars rewatch, we turned to art as a distraction and a coping mechanism. These things were and continue to be created by the people who opt to make the arts their livelihood. Often fulfilling the stereotypical role of the “starving artist” at some point in time, people that work in the arts deserve our empathy and our assistance on this road to recovery.
Another important point to note is the difference between reopening Broadway as compared to a business like a law firm or even a store. Of course, this is not to say these businesses do not face their own unique challenges and complications, but Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin has made something very clear: Broadway cannot open unless it opens at full capacity.
“If the theaters aren’t at least 75 percent full, the shows won’t last. They’ll have to close,” St. Martin said. With the future of many shows already uncertain, it’s possible that the longest-lasting Broadway staples would be the first to re-open. Shows like Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King and Wicked could possibly open sooner than others.
Patience has become the most important part of this new road before us. Through vaccines and a great deal of trust, the future is far more promising.
This link, provided by Playbill, lists 22 charities to donate to with the arts in mind. If you’re anything like me and the soundtracks to hundreds of shows live in your brain instead of the chemistry formula you’ll never remember, if watching someone perform (or performing yourself) feels like stepping into a time machine that transcends all time and space or if you simply just acknowledge the importance of Broadway (and all arts) in our world, I encourage you to donate.
When I close my eyes I can taste that $1 pizza and see those endlessly twinkling lights, and even now, I can hear the chaotic clammer of the moments before the lights flicker, the curtain rises and the show begins.
Jess D’Agostino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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