Thousands of young actors, singers, dancers and live performers gather in New York City each year, driven by the dream of leading the way on Broadway, the world’s biggest stage. And they’re rushing for it – working odd jobs to make ends meet, sharing small apartments, crowding in long lines to audition for just a few coveted roles.
But Broadway’s brilliant light has been dark for nearly a year. And its 41 theaters, including iconic century-old theaters such as Belasco, Lyceum and New Amsterdam, are likely to remain closed for months, despite ongoing discussions about potential security measures, such as limiting audience size or asking attendees to provide Proof. Negative Covid-19 test.
View of the closed Richard Rogers Theater near Times Square on October 12, 2020 in New York City. Credit: Angela Weiss / AFP / Getty Images
Despite the economic impact, the price of countless shattered dreams may be even greater, according to longtime Broadway performer Reed Kelly, whose stage credits include “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” “The Addams Family,” and “Wicked.”
“I lost three people this year to suicide,” said Kelly. “And that is above the people I know who have actually died of Covid. This is not just a job for us. This is our life.”
Gabrielle McClinton, last seen on Broadway in the role of Annie in “Chicago the Musical,” echoes the grief and hardships experienced by many in New York’s strict theatrical community.
“So many people have lost their jobs, and it’s not just actors, dancers, and singers (but also) musicians, receptionists, and crew. I know all my friends have struggled, but they’ve made it work by creating their own projects and it’s kind of turning to a different direction – moving more into the world of TV and film, “said McClinton.
Reed and McClinton’s dedication to their craft has taken them to the other side of the world – literally. Nearly ten thousand miles from Broadway, in Sydney, Australia, live theater is booming. The city is one of the few places in the world where shows are open to the public.
Pedestrians walk past the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia on January 14, 2021. Credit: Bai Xuefei / Xinhua / Getty
‘Make it work’
“Right now, it’s really the only place where we can both – and do what we do,” said Kelly from the school, where she also trains.
What they do requires hours of practice each day and, for Kelly in particular, deep personal sacrifice. She and her husband Balmeet, a doctor in Los Angeles, have been apart for nearly a year. But if Kelly leaves Australia she will not be allowed to return, given the country has banned entry of all non-residents since March last year.
“I’m far from my family. I’m not at home. I can’t see my husband. We FaceTime every day. But it’s a big challenge.”
Reed Kelly and Jack Dawson appear on “Kismet.” Credit: The film Zyon / Courtesy Reed Kelly
McClinton recently returned to the US after spending several months in Australia playing the lead role in the musical “Pippin”, which aired for two months at Sydney’s Lyric Theater.
He said the success of the live show in Australia “really” gave him hope about Broadway.
“There must be challenges, but we are going through the season. People come to the event wearing their masks and we will test for Covid-19 every week. When we are (not) on stage, we wear our masks and everyone obeys everyone. the rules and we do due diligence. And when we are outside the theater, we make sure that we don’t harm other people, “he said.
“(In Australia) people make it work. I know it can work, because we do it. I think if everyone sticks with it, we can make it happen (on Broadway).”
A production of “Pippin”, performed at the Sydney Lyric Theater. Credit: PIPPIN Australia
A model for Broadway
Australian playwright Tom Wright said Sydney should offer a model for how to reopen Broadway and the world’s other theater districts. Wright served as an Artistic Associate for the famous Belvoir St Theater, which in September became one of the first theaters in Australia to reopen after authorities closed venues across the country.
Parts of Australia experienced some of the world’s toughest Covid-19 lockdowns at the height of last year’s pandemic. But the crackdown – including a curfew and strict restrictions on social gatherings – appears to have paid off, with local cases almost wiped out.
“The reason Sydney can reopen is because people at the local, state and federal levels are very concerned about the safety of the most vulnerable people in society. And we are a reflection of it,” Wright said, adding: “You need political leadership and social order to provide a safe situation for the theater to reopen. “
The Belvoir St Theater was captured at night. Credit: Helen Corteze / Homework Honors Book
The revival of Sydney live theater amid a global pandemic provides hope to performers around the world – particularly in New York, where many of Kelly’s friends are happy – albeit a little jealous, she admits – that she is working.
“The show opens, people get a chance to perform, and my biggest wish is to encourage everyone. Look, I’m American. I’m here (in Australia) and they did it. So, try and get involved, even if it’s not a thing to do most comfortable. In the long run, it’s best. “
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