The Global Return of Live Theatre Thus Far
By: MELISSA FISHMAN / EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
In October of 2020, Seawanhaka reported on the absence of Broadway at a time when much was still uncertain about their re-opening. The article below narrates the progress that has been made in the year that has elapsed since them. You can read the original article here.
As the world begins their slow return to normalcy, and children as young as five can receive vaccinations in the US, some of our favorite venues are now opening their doors to an eager public.
Live theatre, which faced dire consequences from the pandemic, has returned from the depths of lockdown with many shows returning after more than a year and a half without performances.
Although the marquis were dim and the costumes, hung on racks in empty dressing rooms, begged to be taken on stage, actors and actresses across the world never lost hope that theatre would one day return. Some even learned to adapt their work into more COVID-conscious productions.
The Effects of the Pandemic on Theatre
On March 12 of last year, shortly after the CDC declared the pandemic a state of emergency, theatre owners across America made the difficult decision to halt performances for an undetermined amount of time.
Of the 41 theatres that call Broadway home, 31 played host to shows that were currently running, eight of which were in previews and yet another eight preparing to begin performances.
After more than 550 days of theatres being closed to the public, shows slowly but surely began to open their doors once again to vaccinated casts and audiences.
According to the Daily News, Broadway alone lost $35 million for each week their doors were closed.
Across the pond, in the United Kingdom, West End also struggled during the pandemic.
With closures beginning Mar. 16 in London, the theatres of West End remained closed until May of this year when they opened at 50 percent capacity and then at full capacity in July.
West End, which relies heavily on international travellers’ patronage, has seen significant changes in demand as well as demographic changes by audiences.
In an article by The Guardian from earlier this year it was reported that although London natives seem to be purchasing record scores of tickets, ”the almost total lack of the crucial international audiences because of travel restrictions is making for the biggest shake-up in production scheduling history.”
Despite the lack of theatre-goers from abroad, West End and Broadway both reported positive numbers for attendance post-pandemic.
West End’s newly-opened production of Back to the Future had 99 percent attendance, with the show already making 97 percent of its ‘gross potential.’
Dancing Through Life: How Live Theatre Has Adapted in a COVID-centric World
Adapting Broadway musicals into movies was a trend that caught on quickly during the pandemic, with the proshot film of the smash-hit, Hamilton, debuting in July of 2020 making waves and bringing some much needed joy to musical theatre lovers.
Movie-musicals adapted from the stage during the pandemic also includes In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which was released this summer, and the Stephen Sondheim classic, West Side Story, which is slated to be released next Month.
Both of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s most well-known works, Hamilton and In the Heights, were released on streaming platforms while movie theatres were shut to the public due to COVID safety protocols. This new format quickly became popular during the first and second summers of the pandemic.
Hamilton, which was released on July 3, 2020 on Disney+ could have possibly inspired In the Heights director, Jon M. Chu, who debuted the movie on HBO Max for a limited time this past summer.
Like some of its neighbors on Broadway, the musical Dear Evan Hansen was recently adapted for the big screen and was released on Sept. 24 to hungry theatre fans and mixed reviews by critics everywhere.
However, the stage production of the wildly popular musical, has one of the latest re-openings dates of all of the shows returning to Broadway. The Tony award winner for best musical in 2018 is set to take the stage on Dec. 11 with actor Jordan Fisher reprising the title role that he held for a short period of time before the pandemic hit.
Smaller theatre productions, which are not at the Broadway level but still hold much importance and prestige, also found new ways to thrive during the pandemic.
Live Theatre at LIU Shows Resilience during the Pandemic
The BFA program at LIU Brooklyn, which is entering their fourth year on-campus, utilized Zoom technology to put on productions of their yearly shows.
In a phone interview with Quiche Stone, an Associate Professor at LIU and Director of Theatre, Film, and Television, she highlighted the unique challenges posed to live theatre due to the pandemic.
As a full-time professor in the BFA program, she shared with me the story of a year filled with many triumphs as well as frustrations ultimately resulting in a tale of hope and determination.
“Despite the lockdown and the restrictions, performance and creativity never stopped,” said Stone with a touch of defiance in her voice when asked about the many changes that their productions went through due to COVID.
“There were outdoor performances and Zoom and we found amazing ways to create and do theatre. Certainly in the BFA program, we continued to act remotely during the pandemic” she continued.
It is evident that actors create a level of intimacy with one another when performing, but the lack of physical contact created a unique opportunity for the department’s technical staff.
She went on to explain that they utilized software that enabled them to manipulate the imaging on Zoom so that actors could be situated next to their scene partners, sometimes even sharing a passionate, virtual kiss.
“We all managed to connect in a very real way; theatre is a team sport. We had some scenes with the entire cast in it and it created a new industry of sorts for the tech people. We managed to find new ways to be creative, ” said Stone.
Broadway is Back: The Story of *That* Night
While some shows such as Mean Girls, Frozen, and A Soldier’s Play closed due to the pandemic, one dimmed their lights for a brief moment but, with the help of some dedicated fans, now has plans to return to the stage with a new home theatre.
Beetlejuice, the musical adaptation of the classic Tim Burton movie starring Winona Rider and Michael Keaton, will now be returning to the Great White Way on Apr. 8 at the Marquis Theatre.
Alexa Hinton, an Administrative Assistant and Director of the upcoming show “Spike Heels” at LIU, also shared her thoughts about returning to live theatre around the world.
“The theatre for me has always been about people. It works because of the connection between people and I felt a little sadder living in a world without that connection. I also have not been able to be a part of pretty much any production in over a year so just feeling like I’m back where I belong is an amazing feeling“ said Hinton over text.
On the West End, many of the 38 theatres now are host to shows that are actively welcoming audiences, however there are some that have yet to open their doors.
Shows such as Bring it On: The Musical and To Kill a Mockingbird have set later reopening dates with the former opening on Dec. 8 of this year and the latter opening in March of next year.
On Nov. 8, the Broadway League announced that it would continue to require vaccinations for audiences and cast members alike in all 41 theatres in New York to ensure the health and safety of all.
Despite the many difficulties posed to live theatre, their resilience shines through, much like the hard work and dedication put in by people of all careers and disciples worldwide.
In short, Hinton summarized it best by saying, “Overall, the challenges we faced as artists are the same challenges that everyone else across the world were facing which is figuring out what the new normal is going to be.”