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BWW Blog: Adjusting to Life Off the Stage

Not performing live this year was a huge adjustment for every performer.

On March 12th, 2020, Broadway was shut down. This day was full of confusion and tears. Performers didn't really understand what was going on. All we knew was that there was a pandemic approaching. We thought we'd be back on stage by June at the latest. But here we are, coming up on our 11th month in quarantine, without live theatre, without live music and without the thrill of performing. As a college student, studying fashion and musical theatre, my entire definition of education has been altered since that fateful day last March. During my spring break of 2020, I received an email from my school administration at Montclair State University that COVID-19 had spread to New Jersey and our spring semester would resume entirely online. At first I was so surprised because I'd never experienced anything like this. I'm only 18, I haven't been alive for anything as globally affecting as a pandemic. So when I had to pack up my dorm in New Jersey and move back home to Wisconsin, I was shocked and a bit nervous about what was to come.

I have been performing my entire life. All my fond memories come from either performing on stage or making music with people I love. This past year in quarantine was the longest period of time where I wasn't performing. Not performing live this year was a huge adjustment for every performer. Not being able to do what they love without fear of catching a deadly virus took a toll on performers emotionally as well as financially. Whether you're a casting director changing all audition formats to virtual, or an actor trying to send in as many video auditions as you can, or a college student like me adjusting to all your classes being online, a main portion of your life was modified. I've been so inspired as a student watching friends and fellow performers adjust and adapt their way of life to provide for themselves or their families. Seeing how powerful the theatre community truly is, motivates me, a college student overwhelmed by the vulnerable state of live theatre.

Last summer, I was planning to travel around the midwest with a performing group compiled of young adults like myself, Kids from Wisconsin. From June to August, we were scheduled to perform eight shows a week, teach young children choreography from our show, and create amazing relationships with fellow performers; something so empowering for any performer. In April, we received word that our entire tour schedule had been cancelled. This meant that we didn't have an income for the summer, we wouldn't get to perform amazing music we were passionate about, and we wouldn't be able to travel with our best friends. This was incredibly unfortunate for all of us, but what was strengthening for us as individuals was the fact that we weren't alone. Every performer who lost a job in the past year knows how it felt to get that call or email cancelling their employment. We all experienced loss in one way or another. Losing your opportunity to do what you love is an intense feeling. A feeling all of us felt, whether you're on stage or off.

Now, enough negative reflections. During this pandemic, I've been able to reach out to friends of mine in the theatre industry, reconnecting with them and hearing how they've adapted their way of life since the pandemic started. I've been inspired and moved by their actions throughout this experience.

My musical theatre advisor, Eric Diamond, Professor of Theatre and Dance, has been a huge support system for myself and countless other students at Montclair State University during this pandemic. He has continued to teach eye opening curriculum online, adapting to the necessary use of technology in college instruction. "Like most teachers, I really miss the interaction of being in the classroom with my students. In the performing arts, and especially musical theatre, there's nothing like the give and take of live performances. Now, we can record our work and the student performers can watch themselves after my comments and critiques. They can hopefully really see (and hear!) what I'm talking about. For our department productions, we've recorded our shows for viewing on YouTube etc. and/streaming. However, you just can't beat the energy, the immediacy and even the spontaneity of being together in class," says Diamond. As I enter into the second semester of my sophomore year of college, I am excited to continue learning from Professor Diamond even though we're not in person. Diamond is still providing myself and other students top-notch, respectable information extremely relative to each of us.

BWW Blog: Adjusting to Life Off the Stage
Cassandra Kohlmayer

As a fashion studies major, musical theatre minor, I am enrolled in both musical theatre and fashion classes. Along with my musical theatre classes, I am completing design and art classes virtually. Montclair created a smooth transition for design and theatre students alike by continuing to supply us with a high quality education. I wanted to reach out to a friend of mine, a woman I've had the pleasure of singing with in Professor Diamond's class. Cassandra, a sophomore musical theatre major at Montclair State University, is adjusting to an entirely virtual form of instruction. "The most imperative thing I've learned from this pandemic is flexibility. In lieu of performing in person, I'm taking virtual musical theatre workshops and classes which are extremely prevalent in the industry right now. Staying active through unique theatre opportunities has been essential for me to maintain my stamina and motivation as an actor during this pandemic," says Cassandra. Cassandra has also taken this time to explore other forms of creative exploration, something a lot of college students, myself included, have taken the time to investigate. "I've also tapped into other creative outlets that interest me as well like painting, mid-century interior design, vintage fashion, and poetry."

BWW Blog: Adjusting to Life Off the Stage
Bianca Horn

Another of my amazingly talented friends, who I've had the honor of performing with multiple times, is Bianca Horn. Bianca has quite the impressive resume under her belt. She performed in the National Broadway Tours of Hairspray and The Color Purple (Revival), as well as many other incredible theatre credits. Currently, Horn is a part of the BIPOC Delegates for AEA (Actors Equity Association). "The pandemic has harshly affected so many performers. However, somewhere in the middle of this chaos I found the eye of the storm. A place where I could be hopeful for when live theatre returns. But more importantly a place where I can invest and rediscover my family and other passions," says Horn. As a college student, hearing the motivating words of a working actor is incredibly influential as I work toward carving out my own career.

BWW Blog: Adjusting to Life Off the Stage
Sarah Hanlon

While playing the role of Young Cosette a few years ago, I met the beautiful and talented Sarah Hanlon. During her run as Fantine in this production, Sarah became one of my closest friends and favorite performers. Hanlon is an Associate Producer for Ma-Yi Theater Company in New York City. Ma-Yi's mission is to develop and produce innovative plays by Asian American writers. "When the pandemic hit, we were in the middle of producing two different shows for our 30th Anniversary Season. Ma-Yi's 30th Anniversary season continued with a New York Times Critic's Pick, Suicide Forest in the Spring of 2020. For the safety of the crew and performers, Suicide Forest's last performance was March 12th, 2020, originally scheduled to run until March 22nd. Approximately 300 pre-sold tickets had to be refunded. Additionally, we saw a substantial dip in ticket sales in the last week as fears about the pandemic spread. Even as we closed the show, we committed to paying all artists and crew their full contracted salaries. Our office quickly converted to a digital working format," says Hanlon.

As a producer, her job was intensely challenged due to the fact that she has to manage the business side of a large theatre cancellation. Along with their multiple production cancellations, Ma-Yi was forced to cancel countless planned community outreach events. Talk-backs with the casts, company potlucks, and a large community night event which was to be a celebration of those who identify as part of the Asian and Pacific Islander diaspora were all a part of the outreach events that were forced to be postponed. Hanlon talks about how the pandemic has affected her personal life. "I am lucky enough to quarantine with a loving, patient, and now an all around great chef of a husband, and 3 rambunctious cats (2 who are now foster fails), but there is still the need to connect and experience and create a story told live with fellow audience members. Slowly, as the days progressed and the immediate fear of losing my job subsided, I found I was falling in love with my home and my new routine." By quarantining and continuing to work completely remote, Sarah was able to devote more time to self care as well as family.

Sarah has been a huge supporter in my personal self care journey during quarantine. By encouraging me to attend a weekly virtual yoga class with her and other performers I know, Sarah helped me focus on my own mental health, something I will graciously carry with me long into "life after quarantine". "Going forward, I am very much looking forward to the return of live theater. I am looking forward to creating live theater with other individuals, and not just via a zoom meeting. However, I hope the world can return to a combination of pre-covid and post-covid activities. I want my classes to return, I want to experience live theater, I want to have mimosas with a large group of friends (inside), but I also want to continue to practice my now learned self care and continue to appreciate the still moments which I never thought I would ever need," says Hanlon.

It seems people are getting used to life in quarantine, even though we wish we didn't have to adapt to it. People are finding ways to stay career motivated. They are making sure their families and friends are not feeling ignored. The pandemic has caused so many struggles for everyone. I hope hearing the relatable stories from a professor, two students, a working actor and a producer inspire you to keep pursuing your passions. As we start the second month of 2021, keep the faith, as we strive for our new normal. Remember, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Continue to make time for the people that you love. Keep pursuing that college degree, that promotion at work or that new relationship. Just because we have to stay home, doesn't mean our lives will never be exciting again. Someday soon, we will find ourselves singing the best of Sondheim or Rodgers & Hammerstein behind the bright lights of that sacred place, the theatre.

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