The Show Must Go On – Even In A Pandemic

A look at how artists are reinventing themselves during Covid.

Lara Hayhurst in "The Sound of Music" at Byham Theater

On March 12th, 2020 Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York ordered Broadway to shut its doors due to the corona virus crisis. At the time no one knew for sure if and when they would open again but it soon became apparent that it wouldn’t be anytime in the year 2020. In July Forbes predicted that Broadway investors would lose approximately $100 million dollars. In a world where most businesses will suffer heavy losses, the damage to the arts is especially devastating as they tend to live on the edge anyway. The Hilton Hotel (for example) saw net income fall from $158 million dollars to only $18 million dollars this past spring but you somehow get the feeling the Hilton Hotel will survive. Many theaters and productions will not. And when we think of the hardships affecting the industry as a whole we sometimes tend to forget that an industry is made up of individuals. So I took a look at how some artists who made their money in musical theater have been faring since the shutdown. I asked them how badly the pandemic has affected their careers and what they’ve been doing to cope.

Ken Rizzo

KEN RIZZO (Bass Player)

Ken has worked as a bass player for numerous Broadway and Off Broadway shows, including Jersey Boys. Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Fosse, The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Memphis, Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk and Pretty Woman. He has also played The Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular.

TS: What sort of paid theatrical work did you do prior to the Corona Virus?
KR: Among other shows, I have played the bass chair on Jersey Boys since 2007Though a sub, I worked quite a bit averaging about 50 shows per year. (So like one per week). When the pandemic hit in March, I was also working on getting into some other Broadway shows that were about to open.

TS: Since the virus have you been able to make money from the arts at all? 
KR: Yes, I’ve played 2 outdoor weddings, 1 recording session, and several paid rehearsals. That’s it.

Ken Rizzo

TS: How do you keep yourself from going crazy while the theaters are closed?  Do you practice your craft?
KR: Yes, I practice and have been writing. The latter does not bring in money yet, but it might sometime in the future. I’ve also been transcribing songs, something I did a lot as a young musician when I was first learning standards. Now I’m learning more obscure songs.

TS: When do you anticipate being able to go back to work?
KR: Theatrically speaking, the theaters are not scheduled to open prior to June 2021. But I have weddings scheduled for the Spring; I hope they don’t get canceled.

TS: Has this period ever given you thoughts of exploring another occupation?
KR: Yes, I have looked into a few other avenues. Aside from entry level jobs, most employers are looking for experience. Like 2-3 years experience. That would mean working as an intern in a given field in order to gain that experience. I guess I’m just not into putting in that kind of time, at no pay, for something that I don’t actually or ultimately want to do.

Gayle Seay

GAYLE SEAY (Casting director)

Gayle is partners with Scott Wojcik and together they form the highly successful agency Wojcik/ Seay Casting. Some of the shows they’ve worked on have included national and international tours of Rent, Kinky Boots, Motown, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as well as Jesus Christ Superstar, the 50th Anniversary Tour.

TS: What sort of paid theatrical work did you do prior to the Corona Virus?
GS: I am a casting director. Our office primarily works on theatre – regional theaters around the country as well as National Tours, Ships, etc.

TS: Since the virus have you been able to make money from the arts at all GS: Not really. I have taught a little for some colleges virtually and made a bit of income to supplement unemployment. It certainly hasn’t been enough to live on. Luckily my husband has still been part time at his job and we are staying afloat. For now.

Scott Wojcik and Gayle Seay

TS: How do you keep yourself from going crazy while the theaters are closed? 
GS: Well, I am certainly doing a lot of research by watching TV! Lol. I have actually spent a lot of time making PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) which I suspect will be in full swing soon and writing letters to voters. Working on Georgia now!

TS: When do you anticipate being able to go back to work?
GS: Sigh. Well, there have been many conversations about our regionals hoping to have seasons or shows going by spring. I am not sure how realistic it is but we are crossing our fingers. My feeling is we will be back by fall 2021. Auditions being in person and back to normal may take longer though.

TS: Has this period ever given you thoughts of exploring another occupation? GS: It has. It has been a bit of a shock to me how unnecessary the arts seem to be to a lot of the world. I, however, cannot imagine doing anything else. Live arts will be back and we will be there. It will be a lift to the spirit and a welcome escape.

Lara Hayhurst The Sound of Music Byham Theater

LARA HAYHURST (Actress)

Lara is an actress who made her living through musical theater. She has a BFA from Pace University and has worked on Broadway, National Tours and regionally. She was in the middle of a run of The Sound of Music in Pittsburgh when the pandemic hit.

LH: We got through our opening week and had to cancel the remainder of our run. I felt so bad for the kids that were playing the Von Trapp children. The adults, we understand this is a job and there have been jobs before and jobs after, but remember when you’re a kid in a show, that show is your life. We’re attempting to remount the production next year God willing, but I’m sure some of the kiddos will have outgrown their parts. I really felt for them. That helped me deflect the pain of losing my job at the beginning. But in the days following everything came crashing down. My husband and I (he’s a director) lost 7 jobs in 48 hours. We’re the kind of artists that quietly make our living in the arts. We do our best and aren’t famous, we don’t make a lot of money, but on our income taxes it says “Actor” and “Director” and we mean it. We pay all our bills through the arts and we’re proud of it. Coronavirus made us lose our identity in a scary way. Being told you’re unessential is tough. I know we’re not the only industry that went through this, but it feels like we’ll be the last to come back.   

TS: Since the virus have you been able to make money from the arts at all?
LH: A little here and there! I’ve done a few readings and song recordings and I was lucky enough to book and film a two-person musical that we rehearsed on Zoom and filmed over a day on a 6×12 green screen cube. It was so wild! I don’t do a lot of film work,  so it was a great learning experience. We had to lay down tracks for the recording to lip-sync to, which was also fun.  I’ve done a tiny bit of voice over work as well. I hate looking at myself on camera, so all of this movement to video and film is hard for me, but I’ll take what I can get, always. I’m also a writer, so I’ve written some articles and blogs and song parodies that I’ve released and performed. 

TS: How do you keep yourself from going crazy while the theaters are closed?  Do you practice your craft?
LH: Ugh. Not as much as I should. Sometimes, if this makes sense, it’s almost too painful to perform. It feels fruitless. It reminds me of a different time. But I also want to jump up and say “yes!” as soon as we’re able to. So I sing in the shower, I read, I take dance classes in my living room and try to stay in shape. It was a lot easier over the summer- it was almost fun! I said that actors got more “summer” this summer than we’ve ever “summered.” We’re usually our busiest this time of year because of summer stock, summer camp, all the ways the arts come alive in little barns and church basements and outdoor stages when it’s warm. We usually can’t risk doing things like hiking and water skiing and lazy lakeside days, but all of a sudden we had nothing better to do. I was so fortunate to go south for a few weeks and visit family. Now that it’s getting colder, I worry more about cooped up artists. 

TS: When do you anticipate being able to go back to work?
LH: I’m hoping next spring. It feels like our union is holding us hostage, to be honest. (AEA) I know they want Broadway to come back first, to be the lodestar, but the truth is smaller regional theaters that can operate at 50% and still survive can come back a lot faster than theaters in NYC. Broadway won’t be back until next summer, but I have a tentative show next March if AEA will allow me to perform. 

TS: Has this period ever given you thoughts of exploring another occupation?
LH: Of course. I have a remote part-time job that I’ve been doing since before the pandemic, not theater-related, and they asked if I wanted to go full time. I considered it for the benefits, but I just couldn’t do it in the end. I’ve worked so hard since March to stay engaged and hopeful and helpful and an active member of our community, and that’s where I belong. Maybe in a few months I’ll be singing a different tune (literally), but for now I’m holding tight with fingers crossed. It certainly felt much more hopeful after this past weekend! I feel like NYC was collectively light-hearted for the first time since March. It was so beautiful. 

David Wolfson

DAVID WOLFSON (Musical Director)

David Wolfson is a composer, music director, arranger, pianist and copyist who lives and works in New York City. As a music director he has worked on several Off Broadway productions. He is also the composer/lyricist of The Faith Operas and The Bet and the composer of Play Like a Winner and the theatrical song cycle Dreamhouse, based on the poetry of Barbara DeCesare.

TS: What sort of paid theatrical work did you do prior to the Corona Virus?
DW: I have worked as a music director, pianist, composer and arranger (and sometimes orchestrator, music copyist and keyboard programmer). In recent years I have also been teaching musicianship and music theory at Hunter College.

TS: Since the virus have you been able to make money from the arts at all?
DW: Strangely, yes. I’ve been involved for pay in several online projects, in the areas of musical theatre, opera and concert music. I even got a commission for a medley of songs from Oklahoma! from an optimistic pianist friend. And I have several private composition and music theory students, mostly through an independent tutoring website, sort of like Uber for tutors.

David Wolfson

TS: How do you keep yourself from going crazy while the theaters are closed?  Do you practice your craft?
DW: Besides all of the above, I’ve been initiating my own composing projects. I’ve had to drastically increase my audio editing skills, since so much of what I’m doing is entirely recorded instead of live. I bought a  pink plastic trombone and have been trying to learn to play it. And I’ve been making silly videos of myself playing various instruments badly while standing on a balance board. Oh, and I’ve read a LOT of fantasy novels. Their problems are always even worse than ours, which makes me feel better.

TS: When do you anticipate being able to go back to work?
DW: In a theatre? Maybe fall of 2021.

TS: Has this period ever given you thoughts of exploring another occupation?
DW: So far… no. The teaching is precarious (my hours have been cut both semesters for budgetary reasons), and every bit of the performing arts work seems like a fluke, but so far I’m still clinging to driftwood and afloat. It helps that there are a lot of things I do that can be considered “the arts”—I’m talking to a music textbook publisher about helping them move the second edition of one of their textbook’s workbooks onto an online platform. Is that still working in the arts? For now, let’s say yes.

Ezekiel Andrew – Ragtime. Revival Theatre Company

EZEKIEL ANDREW (Actor)

Ezekiel has two degrees in Opera Performance (an undergraduate and Masters Degree) and has been active in the musical theater world, performing in shows such as Ragtime, Big River, Beauty and the Beast and The Pirates of Penzance. As a powerful and experienced “cross-over” artist, Ezekiel has performed theatre repertoire favorites on opera stages throughout the country including Phantom in Phantom of the Opera with the Southern Mississippi Opera and Musical Theatre Company; Quasimodo in Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame with the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre; and Bernardo in West Side Story with the Southern Mississippi Opera and Musical Theatre Company. 

TS: What sort of paid theatrical work did you do prior to the Corona Virus? EA: I moved to New York City in 2018 to take on the Big Apple and take my shot at Broadway and major regional houses. I have been fortunate enough to be able to work as an actor and singer on a consistent basis, in New York and regionally.

TS: Since the virus have you been able to make money from the arts at all?
EA: Yes! It’s not as fluid as it once was. Before the pandemic I was slated to do an eleven month cruise, in a production of CATS. When the pandemic hit that all got shut down. But I’ve done some virtual concerts, some fundraisers, I’ve sung in church a little bit. Just trying to keep some cash flow going for myself.

TS: How do you keep yourself from going crazy while the theaters are closed? EA: I don’t keep myself from going crazy; if crazy visits me I’m ok with it. (Laughs). But mostly I’m into the Health and Fitness industry right now and I’ve been doing a little modeling, which is still performance based, and gives me an outlet to connect to people and not be so isolated.  

Ezekiel Andrew
Ezekiel Andrew, Beauty and the Beast. White Plains Performing Arts Center.
Photo by Michael Davis.

TS: Do you practice your craft?
EA: I still do sing, here and there. I actually feel bad to say this but it’s not an everyday practice for me anymore. I actually took some funds and invested in some photography equipment for myself.

TS: When do you anticipate being able to go back to work?
EA: Honestly? I try to stay in the present, man. It’s tough to think that when you’ve spent your educational life….I have two degrees in Opera Performance, and a ton of experience on stage, and to see that work and effort be put on hold – it’s tough emotionally. I do my best to stay positive during all of it. In terms of when I can go back to work, I don’t know. People ask me that all the time. I’m trying to find new avenues to throw that same amount of excitement and energy and lust for success into it and right now, the Health and Fitness industry has provided me, to some degree, that same level of involvement in myself.

TS: Has this period ever given you thoughts of exploring another occupation? EA: Like I said, Fitness and modeling is kind of where I’ve landed for the time being, just to keep myself busy and not get so stir crazy. With the second round of the corona virus causing cases to go back up, with a possible lockdown situation happening again, I think I’m good. I’ve made myself and my health a project for now, and I’m pretty ok with that. Life looks a little bit different but I’m ok with that. It’s brought some joy to my life also, I’ve been able to focus on my relationships with my family. Being on the road so much has taken me away from some of those moments, with nephews growing up and parents getting older and I’m always on the road….holidays I haven’t been able to go home but now I’ve made a couple of birthdays and Mother’s Day and just be able to go home and be a kid again for a little bit so as much as it’s taken, it’s given a bit too and I’m grateful for that.

Scott Foster

SCOTT FOSTER (Actor/Musician)

Scott is an actor/musician who has appeared in the Broadway shows Gettin The Band Back Together and Brooklyn, as well as Off Broadway shows such as Sessions, Newsical the Musical and A Musical About Star Wars.

TS: What sort of paid theatrical work did you do prior to the Corona Virus?  SF: Before Corona Virus, I had been in my 2nd Broadway show Gettin’ The Band Back Together and was currently running in my 5th Off-Broadway original cast doing a show I co-wrote (A Musical About Star Wars), and yes, it is what it sounds like.

Scott Foster (with Emily McNamara and Taylor Crousore)

TS: Since the virus have you been able to make money from the arts at all?  SF: Very very little.  Here and there, people are trying to give us work, but it has been few and very far between.

TS: How do you keep yourself from going crazy?

Scott Foster (with Michael Lisante)

SF: I have been really working on guitar and bass.  Gotten pretty decent.  I figure by the time this is over, hopefully someone will have written a Stevie Ray Vaughn musical that I could star in.

TS: When do you anticipate being able to go back to work? SF: Ummmm…  I have no idea.  Hoping for our little Off_Broadway show to re-open in January with small audiences.

TS: Has this period ever given you thoughts of exploring another occupation? SF: Yep.  Many.  It’s hard to think of myself doing something else for a living, but I have 2 kids, so I have been weighing a lot of options.

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