Behind the Curtain: Interview With Bishon Prushankin - Bartender for The Public Theater and Nederlander Theatres
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.
Today, our Behind the Curtain interview is with Bishon Prushankin, Bartender for The Public Theater and Nederlander theatres.
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 am a lobby bartender. I'm the one who sells sodas, snacks, and alcoholic beverages to theater goers before the show begins and again at intermission. I started bartending in October 2018.
What were you working on when the shutdown was put in place?
I bartend primarily for The Public Theater, but can also be found on Broadway serving the Nederlander houses (Hamilton, Wicked, The Lion King, Six, Tina, and The Lehman Trilogy).
What has communication been like with the people you were working with? Have you continued to maintain contact with them?
The day the theaters shut down, I received word from both companies that our doors were shutting for the time being. Since all of us, managers and coworkers alike, are in the same boat, we have stayed in touch, and emotionally supported each other from afar. Most of us are actors, performers, and writers, so many of us have found ways to continue sharing and creating through social media.
How do you feel that people in the theater community have come together during this time?
We are unique from other businesses because theater is an experience shared exclusively live. None of our jobs can be done from home; we are entirely face to face. The reason we came together as a community pre-pandemic was to tell stories, and we as a community have wasted no time in keeping those stories alive. Musical performances and informal play readings via Zoom have been a creative way to challenge the medium, and the release of professionally recorded plays (such as NTL) to stream in the home opens us up to share pieces of theater not always accessible to those in other parts of the country, or in lower socio-economic levels. In a way, our community has been able to expand.
What ways have you found to best deal with the current circumstances?
It's easy to isolate, and in isolation despair is hardest to combat. I stay whole by keeping in contact with the people and art that remind me why I chose to work in theater in the first place. To me, this period of quarantine is best spent watching movies, talking on the phone with loved ones, reading all the books and plays you've had missing in your repertoire for far too long, and pursuing the creative outlets that don't feel like work. I've personally been BLASTING that Sing Street cast recording. It's keeping me sane.
How do you think this will change the world of theater going forward?
I've heard the term half capacity thrown around a lot, which doesn't sound financially sustainable because our industry relies on packing as many people into an auditorium as possible. Unfortunately it's never been more dangerous to attend the theater. I wouldn't be surprised if we remain closed for quite a while. On a positive note, I don't know a single member of the community who doesn't feel more grateful for the three or so hours spent performing, or sitting in the darkness watching the magic happening in the lights. Never again will we take for granted a full house, long lines, full tip jars, audience laughter, or collective tears at an eleven o'clock number. And you know at least someone will write a living room play about a family in quarantine who slowly starts to upturn board games before turning on each other. I just hope it's Lucy Thurber!