In moments of hardship, I’ve always believed the superpower of live theatre serves as a powerful pill for healing. Theatre brings context and understanding in moments we can’t fully comprehend and unites people in our collective humanity.
But in this particular moment of hardship, the superpower of live theatre has met a force I never anticipated facing. It’s name is “social distancing.” It’s as if our superpower has met its kryptonite. And that is a scary proposition.
But I’ve been in this business for almost twenty years and I refuse to believe the superpower of live theatre is defined by the walls that surround us or the stages we stand on. While the power of being “live” and in-person is the cornerstone of our greatness, it is not the defining force of our existence.
The theatre community doesn’t simply entertain. We’re fueled by a creative capacity that is a proven catalyst for so much more. And as we sit in this moment in the midst of a major crisis, here’s what inspires me about being a part of this amazing theatre community:
Our community can be a catalyst for action.
If you go into the medical field to save lives, you go into the theatre to open hearts and minds — particularly around the burning issues that need attention in our society. The theatre community tells stories that need to be told. But more than that, these stories often inspire the actual action they speak of. I think of the work that Wicked has done over the years promoting and actioning the importance of environmental sustainability. This work spawned the Broadway Green Alliance which has since had a profound impact on our local community. I think of the work that is being done right now during this crisis in the newly formed Broadway Relief Project. When Governor Cuomo asked businesses to “be creative” in finding a solution to the lack of much-needed medical masks to battle the COVID-19 crisis, the Broadway community of tailors and seamstresses stepped into action. It’s an inspiring and a beautiful illustration of the boundlessness of our creative capacity. I think of Goldstar converting their entire ticketing engine into a fundraising platform for arts and cultural organizations — a tremendous task to operationally undertake as quickly as they did. Given today is World Autism Awareness Day, I think of the work that TDF (Theatre Development Fund) has done over the years facilitating incredible Autism-friendly performances. Seeing the impact that these performances have had on the lives of families is awe inspiring. I think of the reprise of The Rosie O’Donnell Show as a community gathering and fundraiser for the very important Actors Fund. I think of The Broadway League’s efforts through Broadway Bridges to give public school students access to theatre experiences they would otherwise not have access to or the work Roundabout Theatre Company continues to do by supporting workforce development for future generations. This spirit of action is in the DNA of our industry.
Our community can be a catalyst for connection.
People yearn for connection. A month ago, was anyone saying, “You know, I think we need a little more Facebook in our lives?” or “You know what the world really needs right now is more social isolation?” No! In fact, prior to this shut down, live experiences of all kinds were booming (including theatre). We are not simply delivering “entertainment.” If that were the case, Netflix would eat up our business for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! We are delivering something far more meaningful — connection. And while our shows may be dark, our ability as brands to inspire connection beyond the four walls of the theatre remains as strong as ever. I think of the work Dear Evan Hansen leads using their incredible connection with their global fan base to promote the importance of mental health. This virtual choir says it all. I think of the work performers like Laura Benanti are doing to invite students whose high school musicals were canceled to share their performance on social media. I think of Ken Davenport’s live evening feed on Facebook bringing interviews from industry leadership and inviting participation from the community. And, last but not least, I think of the upcoming live reading of Terrence McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart from the folks at Broadway.com. We lost Terrence this past week, so the sheer speed at which this event has been assembled to celebrate the life of a beloved member of our community represents how deeply “connection” exists in our DNA.
We know our time to entertain will return again. We will soon be able to see Adrienne Warren wow in the roof raising Tina, Lauren Patten rock in the exhilarating Jagged Little Pill, Tracy Letts surge in the explosive production of The Minutes, and the hilarious Mean Girls leaving us in stitches…and so many more. But in this moment, our move to support our community with our wide range of superpowers is our calling. There is nothing more heartwarming during these days than the 7pm salute from the windows of buildings in support of our frontline workers in NYC. Let that be our daily reminder that giving our support knows no boundaries if we think hard enough.
Be well, be safe, stay creative.
P.S. The examples I listed are only a small sampling of the greatness happening in our community right now. If you have additional examples you want to share of “action” and “connection” or simply any acts of kindness from the community to serve as inspiration, please do so in the comments below.
P.P.S. If you need a starting point for action, start by supporting the folks at Broadway Cares/Equity Fight Aids.