By Melissa Berman
Hit the lights, cue the band and start warming up, because Broadway is back! The curtains were closed and the stages were dark for over a year, but Broadway is hosting a revival like never before. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in early May the lifting of the state’s capacity restrictions in public places, including Broadway.
Even though Broadway is finally reopening, however, that does not heal the financial wounds that it suffered when the coronvarirus pandemic hit, shutting down theaters across the state. It had a ripple effect on many sectors, even those not directly tied to the theater.
This long-awaited announcement came after more than a year of yearning for local theater and the larger stages of Broadway. This reporter spoke to a number of theater people in the New York metropolitan area, from local schools on Long Island to the “Great White Way” about these developments. Here’s her podcast report, followed below by her transcript.
CUT # 1 — Rebecca Levy: “Oh well, anyone who knows me knows that I will not be whole again until Broadway comes back. It is definitely a big piece of my heart.”
That’s Rebecca Levy. She’s the director of the drama club at the Grand Avenue Middle School in Bellmore. An English teacher with a profound love for the theater, Levy was preparing her students for their spring musical when I visited her recently at the middle school’s theater:
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CUT # 2 — Rebecca Levy: “This is definitely filling some of that for me.”
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For Rebecca Levy, this is the best thing to happen since Covid hit. She was heartbroken about the cancelation of last year’s show and wanted to make sure the students got to do something this year to make up for all the lost time.
CUT # 3 — Rebecca Levy: “I didn’t know what was going to be for this year; I know I wanted to do something because I missed it, and I know my students missed it because we did not get our show last year. We were less than a week away,…
Needless to say, the last-minute cancelation of the show last March when Covid hit was a big disappointment. So getting back on the stage this year was extremely important for Rebecca and all her theater students:
CUT # 4: “…so I was hopeful and I spoke to the fine arts chairperson, and I told her that my plan, if it was OK, was to do a review. I think that’s probably the best way for us to possibly do something in this type of situation. So, I wrote a story line that would incorporate a lot of songs from different shows, and I tried to incorporate some solos so that we had a base. I have a couple of duets and three group numbers.”
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In early March, the students finally had their first all-cast rehearsal for the closing group number “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from the musical “Hairspray.”
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On stage, you see students socially distanced from each other, wearing masks and dancing their hearts out! The students are buzzing with excitement to finally be on stage together for the first time in a year. Their anticipation for the show is heartwarming and contagious.
MUSIC: “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from “Hairspray.”
Eighth-grade cast member Emma is so happy to be on stage performing again after the closing of the show last year. She was really upset when the show was cut right before opening night.
CUT # 5- Emma: “Last year we had practiced so much to do ‘All Shook Up,’ our last year’s show, and three or four days right before we were supposed to perform, the show got canceled. We were already in tech week. We had everything down — sets, costumes, lighting — and it got canceled right when we were supposed to do it. I was very upset because I was looking forward to doing it so much, so then when I heard we were doing another show, I was very excited and I was interested to see what it would be about.”
Director Rebecca Levy is excited to get her students back on the stage. And she is eager to check out some shows again on Broadway. Although she caught some shows virtually over the past 12 months, for her, there’s nothing like live theater. Nevertheless, she’s concerned about the level of damage that has been caused on the theater world by the pandemic closures.
CUT # 6 — Rebecca Levy: “You know I worry about all of those people and their jobs, and not even people who are on stage, but you know you forget about all the people backstage. Set designers, costume designers, wig designers, I mean there are so many things that you don’t even think about that go into creating a show. So, for me, I was enjoying some of the virtual content that people were providing in quarantine, but there’s nothing like live theater, and so I will be. I was in the theater the last night of Broadway, and I will be there the first night of Broadway when it returns.”
As Levy said, it takes many people to make a show, but perhaps those struggling the most during this tough time are those in the spotlight, such as Off-Broadway actress Laura Bozzone, who works with The Storm Theatre Company. Covid-19 has set her back in many ways, especially when it comes to auditioning for new roles.
CUT # 7 — Laura Bozzone: “Well, I definitely don’t audition as much. It’s horrible, and when I do audition, it’s making a self-tape, getting used to making a lot more self-tapes, and you know getting your lighting right and figuring all of that out. First of all, there’s not as many auditions; second of all, when you get one, it’s self-tape, which is a different art form to figure out.
A self-tape, by the way, is when an audition is done through digital casting, rather than trying out in person. But a lack of auditions was not the only loss felt by Bozzone during the pandemic:
CUT # 8: Laura Bozzone: “Also, I’m the performing arts coordinator for this non-profit. We left in March. We go into all the schools, and I write this art curriculum, and then the schools close, so then we’re like what’s our job gonna be? And then starting in the very beginning of the summer, we did get furloughed, all of us, because we get funded from outside funders, and the funders didn’t fund us because the schools weren’t open.
Bozzone says, unfortunately, all these students lost the opportunity to work on this program. It forced her to rethink everything she does.
CUT #9: Laura Bozzone: — “… these are all students in underserved communities that need this really badly. I started making a virtual curriculum right away. How do we do theater online? How do we dance online? How do we do music online? So, I had to rework a lot of my own work, and then we shut down, so it was like all for nothing. I was furloughed. Just financially, like, I lost a lot of money. I went on unemployment, and luckily that was set up, so that was OK. Right now, I have that job, and that was like my other job in addition to acting, so right now it’s mostly that.”
Theater is more than just a job for those involved. Like Bozzone, yes, it’s a vocation that pays the bills. But as an art form, for people in the theater, the creative work is indeed life-changing. With theater being gone for over a year, those in the theater community suffered immensely in more than just economic ways.
CUT # 10: Laura Bozzone: “It’s affected my life because it’s helped me realize I have worth, that I have a voice, that I can make change with my art in my life, but more importantly in other people’s lives in many different ways. It’s my community; it’s like when you find something where it’s like you’re in your element and it takes a while to find that sometimes. And when you find that, it’s just like those are the people you want to be around; that’s the vibe you always want to have. It’s my passion. It’s my everything. It’s a really hard, hard life to pursue, but it’s worth every moment of me not knowing where my next paycheck is coming from. It’s very meaningful work not just for my own self-identity, but for helping other people to then have that.”
CUT # 11A: Molly Jobe: “Covid-19 has completely turned my life upside down. It’s really strange to be an actor living in New York City and have there be no hustle.
Broadway actress Molly Jobe was in the cast of the show “Waitress.” Theater is a way of life for her, and without it, there is a great void in her life. Jobe weighs in on how, without theater, there is no hustle.
CUT # 11B: Molly Jobe: You know it’s, as an actor in New York or anywhere really, you’re always trying to secure the next thing because it’s just such a wild lifestyle, and you know it’s not secure or steady in any way. So, there’s always a hustle for the next job, and Covid totally took that away.