Actors ‘heartbroken’ but still hopeful after Broadway closure extended

Broadway theaters to remain closed until January 2021 in New York
A man walks past the shuttered Minskoff Theatre

The theater world was dealt another blow last week after the Broadway League, the national trade association for the Broadway theater industry, announced that performances on the Great White Way would not resume at least until May 30, 2021, with some saying that performances might be delayed until next fall. 

“With nearly 97,000 workers who rely on Broadway for their livelihood and an annual economic impact of $14.8 billion to the city, our membership is committed to re-opening as soon as conditions permit us to do so,” Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, said in a statement last week.  “We are working tirelessly with multiple partners on sustaining the industry once we raise our curtains again.”

Like thousands of businesses, schools and cultural institutions, the coronavirus pandemic forced the city’s theaters to shutter their doors in the spring as officials tried to curb the spread of the virus.  Just in that short amount of time, officials from the 

Initially, the Broadway League paused its 31 shows for a hopeful 32 days but has since been forced to repeatedly delay the restart or kill shows. Since then, New York City has reached phase four of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s reopening plan which allows for museums, botanical gardens, zoos and other outdoor activities to reopen. New York City public schools have partially reopened with a hybrid learning model and indoor dining has resumed at a reduced capacity.

Cases of the virus just recently passed 3% again after upticks in the virus in nine Brooklyn and Queens zip codes. In response, the state has issued shutdown restrictions on schools, businesses and houses of worship in those “concerning” areas. 

But while other areas of life take small steps back to normalcy, performers and their colleagues behind the scenes are still left waiting. After performances were delayed again over the summer, Manuel Cortes Alcazar, 29, knew that he couldn’t wait any longer and is working on moving back to his native Mexico after 10 years of performing in off-Broadway shows and pushing to achieve a dream of one day making it to Broadway.  

“It’s heartbreaking because I have spent all my adult life pursuing this,” said Cortes. “I can’t stay here anymore, I’m not getting any help.” Since the shutdown, many actors in the city have had to rely solely on $600 weekly checks from the federal government to make ends meet. Many traditional survival jobs for working performers like restaurant work and bartending have been killed during the pandemic. But Washington stopped issuing weekly stimulus checks at the end of July and a new stimulus package doesn’t appear to be coming soon prompting many to seek other options. 

Some of Cortes acting friends have found work in other fields, two were lucky enough to land gigs working as contact tracers, to help them survive the pandemic. The especially blessed have gotten financial help from bosses at part-time gigs or their remaining survival jobs. Actor Sean Bernardi has been able to depend on work at an Upper East Side piano bar called Brandy’s as he waits for the chance to co-direct a two-person performance about Christine Jorgenson, the first transgender person to undergo reassignment surgery, in person.

Bernardi believes that New York City theater, and all performance art, will be able to survive this rough patch.  “It’s just like New York, everybody is saying that’s it’s dead… but New York has survived for hundreds of years and always bounces back,” Bernardi told amNewYork Metro. 

While others,  like Tommy McDowell, whose most recent work includes playing Peter in the 50th-anniversary tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, have temporarily fled.  Cortes has been surviving off of a quickly shrinking supply of savings since March and next month he too will be forced to leave the city for his hometown of Tabasco. There, he plans to regroup and eventually try to make in the Mexico City theater circuit and restart the painfully complicated artist visa process once audiences can safely return to theaters in New York. 

“It’s sad. I feel like I wasn’t completely done with the city but forces are pushing me out,” Cortes said. ” I think I’ll be able to come back. I hope I do get to come back in the future.” 


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