When COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, began back in March, nobody expected it to last as long as it has and affect so many industries on such a large scale. Out of all the industries that got hit, the entertainment and performing arts industry was one that has been affected the most. From live music events and performances to big budget movies, COVID-19 made its mark. Now more than ever, as social distancing and other strict guidelines are put in place, many artists, actors, designers, organizations, and companies are now unable to create the art that is their livelihood.
Brian Marshall and Pierre Brault are the artistic and managing directors of the Mercury Theatre Company, located in South Euclid, Ohio producing seven live musical theater productions each year, they employ many actors, designers, and musicians. They also take time to train students in the performing arts.
Aubrey Fink, an artist who has worked in a variety of roles in the theater world, including being an actor, director, choreographer, and producer. She also teaches private lessons and is a college audition coach.
Jessica Fink, who is the Senior Manager of Finance, Payroll, and Administration at the Public Theater, the original home of Hamilton. She oversees all money coming in and out of the theater.
Matthew Croft, a music director, musician, and composer, who is currently the Associate Conductor and 2nd Keyboard for the Jesus Christ Superstar National Tour and has done similar work for many other shows.
Whether you realize it or not, the entertainment industry plays a large role in society and is a pillar for so many reasons. Entertainment is a part of everyday life. It allows everyone, even those who are not a part of the industry, to express themselves in a wide array of ways. There always is a way to get involved, whether as an audience member, usher, or someone involved in a performance. Aubrey Fink said, “From the massive amounts of media we consume, down to the design of the beds we fall asleep in every night, there isn’t a part of our life that hasn’t come into contact with the hands of an artist.”
Ultimately, entertainment and the performing arts industries have a great power. They share stories that many people can relate to, express current issues, and teach lessons that relate to people in today’s world. It can be an outlet for many to share their personal experiences and stories in a fun and creative way. Simply, as Brian Marshall said, “The performing arts are meant to entertain, enlighten and educate.”
Take the musical Hamilton for example, which you can now watch on Disney Plus. It was brought to the streaming service over a year earlier than planned, as a theatrical release was going to happen first.
Even though live theater has been put to a halt, the movie release has made theater more accessible to everyone. It has also helped get more people interested in theater, and, one of the most popular musicals of recent years, is a perfect start to it.
With the success of Hamilton, Disney and many other entertainment companies have made plans to do more with Broadway musicals. Of course, other organizations are doing their best to help to continue the performing arts and entertainment in any way they can. As Jessica Fink put it, “There is a need and desire for new ways to artistically express ourselves.”
What’s Being Missed
If there is one thing that we as a society miss, it is social interaction with one another. Theater entertainment is all based on social interaction and community, so even if a show can in fact go on, the sense of community and genuine human interaction that come with it cannot be replaced. More importantly, the stories that are told through the performing arts have been lost by a large margin.
Matthew Croft particularly misses “the feeling of playing music with other people, for starters. My favorite thing about being a theatrical musician and conductor is the thrill of collaborating live with 61 other people every night – everyone has to be at the top of their game all throughout each performance.”
Aubrey Fink said, “Even when we can’t be together, humans innately crave community and I believe that the arts sector has been doing their best to navigate this in the safest, most creative ways that we can.”
During this time, we have realized that we need to be grateful for the little things, especially since many have been put to a halt for the time being. Additionally, people are keeping themselves entertained by watching and enjoying creations of the entertainment and performing arts industry.
I want you to think of one of the best shows you have watched during this time. Now think of why you loved it so much. Take a step back for a minute and think about all the people who helped create this show. All the actors, directors, producers, designers, and more. Some of those people are now unsure of the future and may not be able to support themselves and families.
Unfortunately, the finances of everyone and everything involved in this industry have been greatly affected by this pandemic. For live theater and entertainment, revenue mainly comes from ticket sales. On some occasions, it will also be made through merchandise and concessions. Because these companies and organizations cannot be open, they cannot make much revenue, if at all. This results in furloughs and layoffs of many employees.
Additionally, since there is little or no money coming in, no new art can be made. This goes for not just live theater and performances, but many entertainment companies. Take Disney once again for example. Disney has postponed many releases of what could have been some of the biggest movies of 2020, such as Black Widow, Onward, and others.
Many artists are struggling to make ends meet and cover various expenses. It is hard enough to land a job in the industry, even without the pandemic. Some even need a second job to help financially support themselves when not working on a movie, show, Broadway, or any other form of entertainment.
In the state of Ohio alone, many performances and concerts, some of which I was looking forward to going to see, were either cancelled or promised to return in the future. All of the people who are going to be working on these things now are under lots of financial stress, which is something that many people, not just those in the entertainment industry, are experiencing. In short, the actors, directors, choreographers, designers, and more in these industries have lost their livelihood.
According to the organization, Americans for the Arts, it is estimated that the arts and culture sector will lose about 13.1 Billion dollars. As this pandemic and restrictions continue to still be in place, that could increase dramatically. Due to the loss in revenue and other financial effects, many arts organizations could potentially close, which means that we will potentially lose important community-oriented organizations in our society.
As Jessica Fink put it, “In Cabaret, there is a song where they say “money makes the world go round.” There is truth to that statement. Without money, it is hard to continue producing work, paying staff and artists, running educational programs, supporting other arts organizations, and more.”
Matthew Croft said, “I think the biggest challenge right now is that so many are viewing the arts and entertainment sector as expendable and not worth funding or helping to survive – while the people who work in this industry are some of the hardest-hit.
The Industry Responds
In a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the organization known as #WeMakeEvents started the event known as Red Alert for the Arts, or Red Alert Restart. According to the organization’s website, 95% of live events have been cancelled due to Covid-19 and 77% of workers in the live events industry have lost 100% of their income.
On September 1 of this year, thousands of arts organizations and locations all over the United States lit up in the color red in order to spread awareness of the effects that the live arts have faced. The organization wants Congress and Washington to take note and hopefully provide some aid to the performing arts and entertainment industry.
Hope for the Future
“The show must go on.” Remember that popular theater phrase? Well, the industry and those involved in it are always adapting to change and doing all they can to keep this phrase a reality. People in the industry have done all they can to continue to produce art while still following guidelines. For the Mercury Theater Company, Pierre Brault said, “We had to adapt our focus to produce on online events and some small in person day camps. We continue to find ways to present and promote theatre online and in a smaller capacity – doing a show for 25-30.”