In all of history, Broadway has never been shut down for more than a few days. Last week, it was announced that Broadway will officially be shut down for at least 400+ days — 14 months — if not longer.
There is a misconception that this only affects "Broadway actors.” This is partially because our heroic Broadway actors are the most visible, even now.
Alongside all other theater professionals, they have been using their voices in such extraordinary ways during this time, to fight for change, for justice, for political candidates.
While being unemployed and isolated and without much-needed government support, live entertainment professionals have used their time and energy, their social media followings and their voices, to help others, for months and months. Unbelievable.
There is also a misconception that the arts community is devastated because "we are all feeling lost without the ability to gather and share theater together.” Yes. Absolutely true.
The truth is the impact of a Broadway shutdown is so much greater. It is felt everywhere.
Theater itself is vital. But the devastation is also because hundreds of thousands of people have no way to pay their rent. Pay for food. Pay for medical care. Pay for their children's food and medical care. Indefinitely.
There are no jobs. There are no backup jobs. There is no significant unemployment support. People I know have gone through their entire savings.
Our friends have left New York with no other choice. Have left apartments they've lived in for a decade. Have borrowed money to pay for medical bills. Have applied desperately for any survival job, unsuccessfully, because even those have dried up.
Every charity and fund that helps arts workers are stretched to the limit. Is more in need of help than ever. Cannot keep up with requests.
But this complete decimation of the live entertainment industry does NOT only affect "Broadway actors.” It affects hundreds of thousands of laborers in NYC and beyond.
Off-Broadway actors do not have jobs. Off-off-Broadway actors do not have jobs. Concert and cabaret performers do not have jobs. Regional and tour actors do not have jobs. Musicians do not have jobs. Writers do not have jobs.
Out of work are orchestrators. Directors. Scenic designers. Costume designers. Sound designers. Design associates. Agents. Managers. Publicists. Social Media Managers. Wardrobe teams. Dressers. Box office treasurers. House managers. Stagehands. Union workers. Choreographers. Producers.
Who else? Assistants in every producing office. Bartenders. Waitstaff. Hotel concierges. Workers at every small business surrounding theaters. Merchandise sellers. Opera singers. Ballet dancers. Carpenters. Spot ops. Recording studio workers. Child wranglers. Vocal coaches. Theater news and website employees.
Add to the list, the administrative staff. Literary managers. Dry cleaners. Rehearsal studio employees. Advertising workers. Marketing directors. Photographers. Makeup and hair artists. Fight directors. Projection designers. Music arrangers. General managers. Company managers. Stage managers.
Don’t forget the nearby restaurant owners. Hotel owners. Discount ticket agency workers. The ushers. Production managers. Casting directors. Prop designers. Licensing agency workers. Group sales agents. Porters. Lawyers. Copyists. Accountants. Journalists.
That is a list I made just off the top of my head. There are many more. MANY. Again, not just in New York City. Everywhere. In every town that has a professional and community theater, people are hurting.
The amount of pivoting every arts worker is doing is INSANE. Yes, outdoor theater. Yes, Zoom readings. Yes, distanced streamed entertainment. Guess what. All of that is a testament to the flexibility and dedication of arts workers.
All of this creative pivoting does not replace live theater. It is not able to create even a tiny percentage of jobs. It is not able to generate even a fraction of the income. In many cases, the money needed in order to do these things is prohibitive.
In many cases, theaters and organizations are hemorrhaging even MORE money by trying to pivot, without any public support.
By its very nature, live entertainment is reliant on packing many people into a building close together, on stage and off. That cannot be done safely now. It will not be able to be done safely for a long time. Period.
When it finally IS safer than it is now, and the day WILL come, live entertainment will be reliant on millions of dollars being spent on campaigns to rebuild ticket advances, hotel reservations, restaurant bills, travel, etc. The investment that will be needed in order to get audiences back in theaters at the level needed cannot be underestimated.
The bottom line is that, in many ways, the live entertainment industry is not divorced from the larger picture of our government.
There's also this weird in-fighting thing in the theater community about how everyone should focus on supporting "artists" right now. This divides people, more than it helps anyone. We should focus on supporting EVERYONE.
The box office treasurer, the agent's assistant, the social media manager, guess what — CARE about theater as much as the singer, the dancer, the writer. They are just as out of work.
There is no need to divide people into categories where "artists" matter more. I realize everyone is frustrated, but other theater people are not the enemy. Everyone is trying to survive.
We are all in this together.
Our hundreds of thousands of workers, our billions of dollars contributed to the economy each year, and our entire ongoing existence is vital to the American workforce. It is dependent on a public policy that will help us return safely and sustainably.
Live entertainment and our theatrical community are not asking for a "hand-out." We are asking for the structure and policy necessary from our government to get through a global pandemic.
We have not gotten that from this misadministration. Not even a relief package from the United States Senate.
Please vote blue down the ticket wherever you live.
Please vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Please call your relatives, your friends in those swing states and tell them why they need to do this too.
Make your voices heard and votes count.
Jennifer Ashley Tepper is a Broadway producer who is presently the Creative and Programming Director at Feinstein's/54 Below, and author of “The Untold Stories of Broadway” book series. She was recently named the recipient of a 2020 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award.