“This is the last time I will ever perform this scene with this exact group of people” is a thought that undoubtedly crosses the mind of every actor on the closing night of their show. For the sentimental theater community, closing nights become precious moments in time, where one reflects on the journey they have shared with the show’s entire company.
What if they never got to have that thought? What if they were on the subway home as usual, not even realizing that special moment had already come and gone? That’s what happened to countless Broadway actors when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the industry.
With Broadway now remaining closed until May 30, 2021, according to The Broadway League, the future of over 30 Broadway shows continues to be in question, many of which were already canceled. Actors from shows like “Beetlejuice” and “Frozen” posted pictures online of them traveling into New York to clear out their dressing rooms. They never got the thrill of a Broadway closing night, surrounded by industry professionals giving them standing ovations that feel infinitely long.
With the industry on hold, over 97,000 Broadway artists are scrambling to stay on their feet as The Broadway League extends the district’s closure until next May, many of whom have moved out of New York City due to financial troubles, according to a study by The Ensemblist.
Just over a month ago on Labor Day, over 100 artists gathered in Times Square in a musical call-to-action. Playbill.com said the demonstration was to “demand $43.85 billion in relief aid to the arts and culture industry through the DAWN Act, based on an open letter that was co-signed by over 10,000 supporters.” The actors gathered in the empty streets singing “Will I?” from the musical “Rent,” a dramatic song that highlights the uncertainty of the future.
The federal government is continuously ignoring the $14.8 billion contribution that Broadway gives to the economy every year. The reason? While not outwardly said, it is likely due to the stigma that the arts are considered less important than most industries.
The value of the arts is too often taken for granted. I can’t help but wonder how many senators and congressmen enjoy going out to the movies or the theater on a weekend evening. I wonder what Netflix shows they are streaming with their families at night. What are their go-to playlists when they go on a run? Plot twist: all of those entertainment forms are fueled by artists who have worked tirelessly to pursue their passions, despite knowing that they will rarely be thanked.
Although Broadway artists may not be considered essential workers in the eyes of the government, they are essential to life and the wellbeing of others, and therefore should be treated with more respect by the government. Broadway is not expendable.
Broadway actress Alex Finke (from “Come From Away”), who attended the Labor Day demonstration, posted on Instagram saying “We were told we weren’t making enough noise… which is funny because within our artistic community we all feel as though we have been screaming and gasping for air.”
Theater artists: continue to shout and fight to make your worth known. Create your own work, support each other, wear a mask and brave the storm.
“Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?” As I impatiently await Broadway’s re-opening, this “Rent” quote chronically repeats in my head.