Special Features6 Months Later: 7 Ways the Broadway Community Has Come Together During the ShutdownIn the wake of a pandemic and social justice reform, the theatre industry responded in full.
September 14, 2020
Six months ago, Broadway—and theatres all over the world—shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. But even as they were reeling from the news, the theatre community banded together virtually (and occasionally outdoors, while practicing social distancing) to entertain the masses.
Check out seven ways Broadway came together in the COVID-era.
1. Support for Those Affected by COVID-19
At the onset of the pandemic, one phrase was prevalent everywhere: personal protective equipment (or PPE). Hospitals all over needed masks, gowns, googles, and more, so leave it to the recently out-of-work wardrobe department and costume designers to step in. Groups like Open Jar Studios and McCarter Theatre Center led the charge by creating virtual factories that not only churned out needed protection, but paid its workers.
On top of making PPE, stage and screen stars posted on social media supporting frontline and essential workers during the daily evening applause sessions. Among the notable repeat cheerleaders were Sara Bareilles, Sarah Silverman, and Bernadette Peters.
For decades, there have been calls for equality in the theatre industry, on stage and behind-the-scenes. Inspired by the protests against the police slayings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and other deaths at the hand of racists in America, BIPOC theatre workers demanded a change. Despite the inability to meet in-person, the entire community came together to speak, listen, and heal.
With theatres closed, artists needed a virtual space to present their art. Zoom seemed poised to become the standard bearer but, as the community is apt to do, experimentation with the digital medium proved fruitful. Shows like The Line and Richard Nelson’s The Apple Family pandemic trilogy got the ball rolling, but as the shutdown dragged on, summer festivals got even more creative. Now, Broadway favorites are starring in fully produced murder mystery musicals—all made from home.
Even The Old Vic in London found a way to bring Fleabag favorite Andrew Scott to our screens, and it was a trio to end all trios when Meryl, Audra, and Christine became our new favorite ladies who lunch, not to mention the Pride Month readings from Pride Plays and Playbill, culminating in our Pride Spectacular, as well as our recent Women in Theatre concert.
4. Fans Revisit Their Favorite Moments in Theatre History
While theatre fans are always craving something new, the unprecedented shutdown and stay-at-home orders often required some comfort. There was no better time to stream the never-before-seen-unless-you-were-there Bombshell and Bernadette Peters concerts. The former was so popular, it even led to revived plans to create a musical based on NBC’s Smash. Across the pond, National Theatre at Home presented the NTLive filmed productions of hits like the Gillian Anderson-led A Streetcar Named Desire and the revival of Lorraine Hanberry’s Les Blancs. Add to that countless airings of live TV musical presentations, and the joy of live theatre was never more than a thumb click away.
There was one show, however, that blew every streaming option out of the water: Hamilton. The Internet nearly broke July 3 when the film capture of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit dropped on Disney+, featuring most of the original principal cast.
5. The Industry Honors the 2019–2020 Season Digitally
While we await more details on the 74th annual Tony Awards happening this fall, other organizations shifted to a virtual platform to honor the 2019–2020 season. A Strange Loop, The Inheritance, and Moulin Rouge!won big at the Drama Desk Awards while The Obies celebrated Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning queer musical and Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning.
With lots of planning—and plenty of trepidation—theatres did slowly reopen beyond when deemed safe to do so. While some groups like HERE presented solitary experiences like Gelsey Bell’s Cairns, others held outdoor solo shows with socially distanced audiences, like Harry Clarke at Barrington Stage Company.
The first Equity-approved musical to break out was Berkshire Theatre Company’s Godspell. Using plexiglass, masks, and many more safety measures, the Stephen Schwartz-John-Michael Tebelak extravaganza proved so popular, the production was extended two weeks through September 20.
Moving forward, Equity has approved three indoor productions to take place this fall in New England. Only 13 in-person productions since the shutdown have been given the green light, but by following guidelines set forth by health and safety officials, the future looks bright for both audiences and performers.
7. Stars Get Intimate Despite the Distance Broadway stars refused to let their fans down when the shutdown sent everyone packing. With a mass exodus from NYC, performers were left to their own devices and, even without a script, they shined from afar.
Patti LuPone’s tours of her basement sent theatre-lovers into a Twitter frenzy with her fast-talking showcase of theatre memorabilia. Those looking for solace turned to Tina star Adrienne Warren’s Instagram page, where she frequently popped online to share mindfulness exercises.
In addition, photographers like Jenny Anderson managed to capture stars quarantining at home over Zoom, offering a look at our stage favorites in never-before-seen moments.
Some artists even founded a new business outside of the industry. Tony nominee Robbie Fairchild started a flower shop, fight choreographer Joe Isenberg launched a furniture company, and Broadway alum Chris Dwan founded an e-store to sell goods made out of recycled materials. That’s on top of the stars like Krystina Alabado, Noah Ricketts, and Telly Leung taking part in virtual hangouts and workshops.
With everything that’s happened in the past six months, theatre lovers can rest assured there’s plenty still to come until theatres reopen.
The initiative from the Educational Theatre Association, Disney Theatrical Group, and Music Theatre International will see schools competing for their state's exclusive performing rights to the Disney musical.