Waiting in the wings


Broadway, The West End, The Canton Palace Theater, even GlenOak’s own Abbey Foltz Theater, sit empty and eerily quiet. Live entertainers around the world are searching for jobs while their industry must go into hibernation. Producers, actors and crew members must now “wait in the wings” amid this pandemic.

One question remains for theater goers around the world: Will the live entertainment industry survive this pandemic?

“Covid has had a tremendous impact on live entertainment. Venues are being limited to a 15% capacity, so they can only sell a fraction of the tickets they used to be able to sell,” Light and Sound Technologies teacher Tamara Traut said. “For example our theater holds 900 people, but we can only safely have 135 people attend a show now.”

Live theater has had to find a way to stay afloat with less than a quarter of what they usually must work with.

“Most venues and production companies have such a narrow profit margin, so when the occupancy limits were put in place most places knew they weren’t going to be able to do shows,” Traut said. “I’ve read about a few theaters doing virtual plays with the performers spaced out onstage and you have to buy a virtual ticket to be able to watch it. It’s just a very different environment with much less profit.” 

Theaters also must comply with a list of rules and regulations set forth by the CDC in order to ensure the safety of all of those in the audience and the performers and crew members backstage. 

“Live theater was the probably the first industry to completely shut down when this all started. It’s just in the nature of our business. Seating everyone, having concessions for everyone in the audience, and having groups of performers backstage just isn’t safe right now,”  Executive Director of The Canton Palace Theater, Georgia Paxos said. “We’re trying our best to follow guidelines and keep everyone safe and healthy, but it’s been a challenge to say the least.”

Directors, like Paxos, have had to try and find creative ways to follow CDC guidelines and still give the theater experience to their limited audience, whether that be online ordering for concessions, hosting a drive in movie theater outside during the summer, or live streaming events for people to enjoy from the comfort of their homes. 

Similarly, GlenOak arts programs, like dance and theatre arts, have had to record or live stream their performances. Shows like A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Mary Poppins, and the annual Theatre Arts Christmas Show were all able to be performed safely and then streamed in some way to the public. However, for professionals on Broadway, this simply just doesn’t work.

“People ask us why we don’t just film our shows, but that’s film not theater. Theater is very dependent on a live audience, so logistically that’s hard to do without people in the room,” Broadway producer and GlenOak alumni, Tony Marion said. “We’ve been trying to experiment, but we can essentially do nothing until the governor of New York deems it’s safe enough before we can start performing again.” 

For producers like Marion, they have had to consider every possibility before beginning production again. 

“Productions for us on Broadway must be so planned out months, maybe even years, in advance. Now we are having to create so many contingencies and consider all these what-ifs before we even start planning. It’s been one of the biggest logistical challenges with working during this whole pandemic,” Marion said. 

What some people may not know is that live entertainment industries, like Broadway, contribute greatly to the economy through tourism and employment. In Broadway’s last season, it contributed $14.7 billion to the city economy and employed roughly 10,000 people directly and supported 97,000 jobs across the city, according to the New York Times.

“Covid has had a huge impact on tourism in New York, especially for the theater industry. I mean we employ hundreds of people for shows and there are sometimes hundreds of people in the audience. There just aren’t that many survival jobs for people in this industry,” Marion said. 

Many professionals, without work in their field, have now had to turn to other avenues of possible work. 

“Most theater, film, and concert technicians have all lost work as a result of the pandemic. Some people have had to make complete career changes in order to keep a roof over their heads,” Traut said. 

With limited capacity, venue shut downs, CDC guidelines, loss of jobs, and a complete shutdown, the theater industry seems to face a plethora of hurdles to overcome before they can open their doors again. However, the largest hurdle the industry faces is getting people to return to the theater.

“People will want to sit in a theater, see a show, and feel ‘normal’ again, but first the industry will have to convince people that it’s safe to sit with a group of strangers again in a room to watch a show,” Traut said.

While the entire theater industry must all wait in the wings for now, there are many ways to support your local theaters.

“Making a donation is probably one of the fastest and easiest ways to help out. Or if they’re looking for another way to help out you could buy a membership to really help with the operation of the theater,” Paxos said. “We hope that once things start looking up that we’ll be able to run a show did, and to do this we really need the support of the community and any donations that people would be able to give.”

If you are interested in other ways to support the community there are many outlets to buy a membership or donate to.

“There are numerous arts organizations you can donate to that provide grants to artists and technicians in need, like the Ohio Arts Council,” Traut said.

Or if you wish to support individual artists, now is the time to show your support.

“Just by being aware of what artists around you are doing during this time and supporting them in their endeavours really helps. When shows are able to safely open again, buy a ticket. If you see an artist you know working on a project, support them. Artists are just as important as football players and business owners. I really urge people to support the artists around them during this time,” Marion said.