Broadway shutdown hurting actors, theater workers

The shutdown until May 2021 leaves nearly 100,000 without a livelihood

NEW YORK (CNN) - The pandemic has turned out the lights on Broadway with no productions scheduled now until next May.

Beyond the impact on New York City tourism, the shutdown is a crisis for nearly 100,000 people who depend on Broadway shows to make a living. Many fear that their theater jobs could be gone for good.

“It’s been very tough for Broadway,” said Bernadette Peters, one of Broadway’s most revered stars, with decades of Tony-winning performances. Today she’s turning her spotlight on her fellow Broadway workers.

“I’m concerned about people that were living on that salary, that came to the city that were living on that salary to pay their rent, to buy their groceries,” Peters said.

This single theater district brings $15 billion to New York City each year.

“Everyone in the show becomes a little community, a little family, from the ushers to the people that sell the tickets to people that clean. We’re all part of it.” Peters said.

Laura Prather, a stagehand keeps the lights on, on Broadway. “We have a saying - ‘We light every light every night,’” she said.

She never thought she’d be the one tasked with turning off a marquee at American Airlines theater.

“It was the wildest moments of asking myself, 'Are we going to be able to return?” Prather said.

She moved from St. Louis four years ago, buying a home. Her savings will only last her another six months.

“My career of 15 years into this has basically vanished overnight,” Prather said.

She’s making plans: “Uh, possibly finding a job in a completely different field. The possibility of worst-case scenario longer term is selling my place.”

A worst-case scenario came true for actress Morgan Ashley Bryant. She’s one of more than 50,000 people working in theaters across the U.S. now out of a job.

Many local theaters are hanging on by a thread without federal aid. Bryant’s role in the “Mean Girls” national tour is just one dream cut short.

“It’s not prudent for me financially to stay in the city for an extended period of time with no idea of when I’m going to be able to go back to work,” Bryant said. “I’m going to go home to Alabama.”

The financial pain has been great, but the emotional pain of not being able to perform has been greater.

Peters, who has been through the ups and downs of a storied career, has a little advice: “If you have to go home and then come back, come back. You know, don’t give up on your dream. Your dream is your dream. It’s the most important thing you have. You have to see it through.”

The Actors' Equity Association has urged lawmakers to include arts funding and loans to help those who work in the live performing arts.

Meanwhile, New York’s Metropolitan Opera has said it will skip its entire season for the first time in its 140-year history. The Met said it hopes to return next September.

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