(NEW YORK) – Broadway seamstress Amy Micallef hasn't put her talent on hold while the theaters are closed. She made soft toys – unusual soft toys.
Micallef, who has worked in the wardrobe departments of "Hamilton", "Waitress" and "Frozen", makes cheerful representations of COVID-19, complete with a pair of eyes and faux fur. Each costs $ 23 for Etsy, and it encourages shoppers to unleash their creations – to be merciless against a virus that has caused so much loss and disruption.
“Sometimes you have to throw something against the wall, you have to step on something. Would you like to run the thing over with your car? Darling, be my guest, ”she said. "Here is your chance for sweet, sweet revenge."
While the stages remain dark, Broadway workers like Micallef find ways to turn on the lights at home with background noise. Some teach dance. Some offer music lessons or acting tips about zoom. Some make jewelry or prints of their art. Some sell skin care products or handcrafted magazines.
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"The actors' normal side appearances are catering and even these jobs don't exist. No one hosts parties," said Jeanna de Waal, who is supposed to play the title role in the musical "Diana". "Many people have to learn new side jobs and use every skill that they have to pay the bills. "
Survival will certainly darken when the government's $ 600 weekly pandemic unemployment benefits program ends this month. Unemployment controls in New York cost $ 504 a week, but most people get a fraction of it, not enough to get by in an expensive city. The Actors Fund aid group has distributed more than $ 14 million to around 12,000 people, but more is needed. The city does not expect the shows to restart until at least January.
"I can't say that more clearly: the arts and entertainment sector as a whole is on the brink of the greatest existential crisis we've ever had," said Adam Krauthamer, president of Local 802, who represents musicians. "We are on the edge of the cliff."
He said that many of its 7,000 members are scrutinizing their careers and may not return to the Broadway Orchestra's pits or symphony rooms. Krauthamer warns that the sound of New York could soon be completely different without help.
"If the right politicians, philanthropists, and people who help art are not engaged to put together a program that saves culture and art in New York City, that will change as we know it forever."
Ali Solomon's career eventually grew rapidly when the pandemic broke out in mid-March. Like many Broadway artists, she had a patchwork of jobs: she was an associate choreographer for the off-Broadway show "Trevor: The Musical", the tour choreographer for "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and helped develop a show. Everyone was stopped – but not the rent.
"You are at the top of your game after so many years and now to find a job in another industry, where do you start? You're at the bottom of the totem pole. You're lucky if you earn a minimum wage," she said.
To make ends meet, she is a skin care consultant for Rodan and Fields and teaches – both in person in a studio on Long Island and virtually for PassDoor, an online dance studio founded by Broadway veterans.
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"I'm starting to add small earnings. None of this will be comparable to what I did before. But it is something and luckily I was able to save. However, the fear is that the nest egg you saved will decrease quickly because the cost of living is so high. "
Life with easy access to the theater district has always been the key to the talent pool on Broadway. But these apartments often have the highest rent. Some employees let their leases expire, move out, and wait for the shows to restart, which raises concerns about a loss of talent.
"I already know tons of people who have left the city," said Solomon. "That doesn't mean they never come back, but they gave up their houses. And they say," We don't have to be here until we have a reason to come back. "
De Waal has moved from acting to hiring. She focuses on Broadway Weekends, a company she and her sister Dani founded in 2017 that offer personal theater camps for adults. After the shutdown, she decided to concentrate online and recruited colleagues. “All of my friends were unemployed. So it was very easy to ask around. "
Broadway Weekends now offers 20 to 30 classes per week at Zoom and charges $ 39 per month for unlimited access. Enrollment has increased to over 7,000. De Waal pays her teachers and works to establish a nonprofit version and an educational arm for schoolchildren.
Jenny Florkowski, a veteran at "Wicked", also makes jewelry for Etsy and is also aimed at the wider community. She delivers all proceeds from the sale of her pearl and friendship bracelets to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Color of Change.
"During this time, many artists feel that they have lost their purpose," she said. "It was nice to get in touch with a lot of people and to feel like we are all giving something that is bigger than ourselves."
Broadway producers have donated millions of dollars to emergency funds, and one has even reached into their own pockets to employ 70 dancers who lead free virtual dance practice classes.
Jenna Segal, co-producer of shows like "Hadestown" and "What the Constitution Means to Me", started Get In Shape Grrl! on Facebook and has expanded it to an app that attracts around 15,000 members.
"I just thought to myself:" Wouldn't it be fun to bring sad people to Broadway because the season is about to start? Let's do something where they can participate and we can employ dancers, ”said Segal.
Mackenzie Warren, dancer and trainer, has turned to another art form – she offers prints of her watercolor flower arrangements. She says it's another way to tell a story and bring light to people. But it also hits a heartbreaking note for theater lovers.
"I have to do some dream shows, I have to be on Broadway." I am so grateful and hope that my career in this area is not over. But if so, I can look back gratefully and say, "OK, what's the next adventure?" How can i adjust? "
The pandemic has revealed both the creativity of the Broadway community and its fragility. Micallef, the plush toy maker, immediately donated masks to front workers when the virus appeared. But now their sideline is barely enough to keep them going. She still has faith.
"I have the advantage of knowing two very important things that I think most people don't believe or don't really understand – no. 1: This will end. It will. I promise it will, ”she said. "And second, there is good on the other hand."
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