Behind the Curtain: How the Broadway Shutdown is Impacting the People Who Run the Show Behind the Scenes

Interview With Jon Carroll - Substitute Musician for THE LION KING and More

By: May. 02, 2020
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Behind the Curtain: How the Broadway Shutdown is Impacting the People Who Run the Show Behind the Scenes

Due to the global health emergency, Broadway theaters have found their bright lights dimmed and their houses dark for the first time in history. As the world works together to stop the spread of COVID-19, the theater industry has been put on hold indefinitely - theaters around the world have closed their doors in compliance with social distancing rules, and Broadway has been shut down in full since March 13. The Broadway shutdown has impacted the lives of all who work in theater industry, who are now facing uncertain and unprecedented circumstances.

In our Behind the Curtain interview series, we are speaking with Broadway Musicians, Stage Managers, Ushers, Bartenders, and more, talking about how they are handling the current circumstances, and discussing the impact that the shutdown has had on the Broadway community.

Our first interview is with Broadway Musician, Jon Carroll.

What is your job title? Tell me a little bit about what you do within the theater industry and how long you've been doing it for.

I play French Horn. My job title would be...substitute musician. This is how most musicians start their career on Broadway before hopefully one day having their own show. I started subbing on Broadway while I was still in school- I think it was 2014. Sub musicians have the unique job of covering for regulars when they need to call out for a show. It is really cool to be able to play a variety of shows in a given week...I think there was one week a few years ago when I played 5 different shows in a single week! It is definitely a lot of material, but it keeps you on your toes and it's great to play with so many different colleagues. Our community of musicians is very close knit and we take pride in having one another's back when someone is in need of a last minute call and making sure the show goes off without a hitch!

What were you working on when the shutdown was put in place?

When the shutdown went into place I was set to play at The Lion King for the weekend. I was on my way to a performance with River City Brass Band in Pittsburgh on March 12, and was going to be driving back to play at The Lion King on March 13. It was definitely an intense head space to be in for that evening's performance, knowing that it would be the last time I would be on stage for a while.

What has communication been like with the people you were working with? Have you continued to maintain contact with them?

I feel like because our industry is such a social endeavor that communication with a lot of colleagues has been open, and we are all checking in on one another. We thrive on looking forward to coming into work and seeing our work family at night, and so lots of virtual happy hours and FaceTime hangouts have been going on.

How do you feel that people in the theater community have come together during this time?

Our community is very creative, and I think we are all finding our own way of connecting with one another and with our audiences during this time. There are a lot of folks in our community who are facing difficult challenges and struggles both financially and emotionally. With so many people isolated at home it has sparked a TON of content creation and new ways to share our music virtually. Local 802 Emergency Relief Fund - Songs of Support fundraising campaign featured members of our Executive board performing with Betsy Wolfe and Sachal Vasandani in an effort to raise funds for those in need of financial support during this time.

What ways have you found to best deal with the current circumstances?

I am lucky to be married to my absolute favorite person, Sarah Sewchek, and we have been able to spend a lot of quality time together while being isolated at home. She has been an absolute rock for me during this time. We both have our moments of difficulty thinking about what is going on in the world, but having one another has been something we are both so grateful for. Normally she would be at her office during the day when I am practicing and making lots of noise, so it has been an adjustment for her but she's been a champ. Exercising together has been something we have always enjoyed but didn't always have schedules that matched, and now we do!

I have continued to play [French Horn] at home and have been taking the time to go back to working on fundamentals and basics that sometimes during a super busy schedule can get overlooked, and it has been very rewarding. A group of colleagues and I have group video calls to go through them together several times a week and that interaction has been something to look forward to during the week. My quintet, C Street Brass, has also continued to create music together by doing group videos and by working on new arrangements for when we can get back to performing. That all being said, I think it is also super important to take time to be still and to not feel like we have to be busy during this time. It is an intense thing that we are going through and I think that reflecting on what we are all feeling is important too.

How do you think this will change the world of theater going forward?

It is hard to say. I think that once we are able to get back to performing for audiences we will all be that much more grateful to be able to do what we do for a living. Our job is something that kids all over the world dream of doing one day and sometimes it is easy to lose that perspective. We create magic for so many thousands of people a year and are so lucky to be able to do so. I can't wait for the first downbeat of whatever show it is that I get to play whenever that happens, I'm sure the energy in the crowd and in the pit will be electric.

Is there anything else you think people should know?

I touched on it a little bit before, but I think the emotional and mental toll that this isolation and lack of work is having on folks is something that we all need to keep in mind. Just because we can't physically be around one another, doesn't mean we can't do everything that we normally would to take care of one another. Taking time everyday to reach out to people that you might see once in a while and striking up a conversation with them is something we all have time to do now, and it could mean the world to that person because maybe they really needed someone to lean on in that moment. Taking care of our community will help us bounce back from this and it is something we all can do!