One of the (many) things that worry me most about the Broadway shutdown.
I’ve gotta add one more to the list.
Yesterday, we revealed the top 3 things that are keeping TheaterMakers up at night. And I wasn’t shocked to see that your top 3 were the exact same as my top 3. (See those three things and how we’re going to start talking about how to address them here.)
But there’s something else that has me concerned that I have to add to the ever-growing pile of anxiety-producing issues we’re facing during the Broadway shutdown.
What’s going to happen to our workforce?
I’ll tell you what could happen. We could lose the very bright and creative personnel who we’re counting on to take Broadway to new heights.
The NY Times shared some of my nerve-iness in this article, where the writer talked about how so many NYC residents, especially the younger folks, fled NYC at the beginning the pandemic. And a huge subset of that group was from our very own arts and entertainment industry, since we laid off 78% of our workforce.
And that doesn’t even count those who consider themselves part of our industry . . . actors, directors, writers, etc. . . who didn’t have a job at that time to be laid off from. (Even super successful artists aren’t employed from time to time, not to mention those waiting for their big breaks.)
So my concern is . . . not will these folks want to return, but will they be able to return?
With it becoming painfully clear that Broadway won’t be back until some time in (crossing fingers) early 2021, and development (readings, workshops, etc.) still in limbo, so many of our theatrical workforce could be out of work for up to a year.
And, as we get closer to the end of the unemployment stimulus package that put an extra $600 in so many people’s paychecks (it ends in July), the ability for these folks to make ends meet is going to be seriously challenged.
Oh, and it’s important to note that when I say workforce, I don’t only mean the Actors, Directors, Stagehands, Musicians, and more who make their living when the spotlights are on.
But what about those people who work in the offices who help keep those lights on?
For example, I was on a Zoom call last week with a bunch of marketing folks, many of whom were millennials. These are the very groups that I’d usually predict would be the future of advertising and marketing on Broadway.
Now, I’m just praying that we can keep them around.
These doing-it-for-the-passion-not-the-pension peeps, along with the others who manage our shows, book our shows, agent our artists, etc. are not only going to need to find another way to make-a-living, but they are going to be offered other opportunities from industries that are able to get back to full speed, while we sit in neutral.
We have smart, bright, multi-talented people on and off the stage, and they’re going to be tempted to go.
We are going to lose some, no doubt. In fact, we already have. I’ve heard many a story about actors asking to be released from contracts at shows that were coming back. And some admin folks taking this opportunity to go work in the family business, etc.
And @#$% me . . . but I’ve had to lay off people at my own company, which is like sticking needles under your fingernails to an entrepreneur.
Ironically, now is the time when we need these folks the most. And I have even more concerns for the people of color in our industry. Now is the time when we must find MORE opportunities for them . . . at a time industry is constricting.
So what can we do in the short term to make sure our industry doesn’t lose the very people we need to build the new Broadway?
Here are a few thoughts:
- Call your congresspeople and tell them to support the theater industry in any and all stimulus packages.
- Donate to the Actors Fund which helps anyone in the theater industry weather difficult times.
- Donate to the Dramatists Guild Foundation which helps writers specifically.
- We must figure out how to safely get readings going again. Not immediately, of course, but if NYC can enter Stage III, there has to be a way to make socially distanced development work.
- If you’ve got any reason to hire anyone here in the NYC area (or even for an online opportunity). . . hire a theater person. (Oh, and have you seen all the theater people on Cameo? This is a GREAT way to support them and super fun.)
An industry is only as strong as the people in it. And there is no doubt we’re going to have some attrition during this upcoming year. But we must do everything we can to limit our losses. We’ve got an opportunity to build a new Broadway. We just need the artistic and administrative minds to do it.
Are you a TheaterMaker (Artist or Admin) who has decided or is thinking about leaving the business because of shutdown? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to hear your story . . . and I have a feeling others do too.
On my morning commute, I scoot past a giant hole…
Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.