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Behind the Curtain: Interview With Choreographer Sammy Reyes

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Behind the Curtain: Interview With Choreographer Sammy Reyes

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 choreographer Sammy Reyes.

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

In the theater community I am a choreographer of theater, dance and musical theater. I have been working in this industry for over 15 years. I have choreographed over 35 productions.

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

When the lockdown was ordered I was in the midst of casting two shows, Legally Blonde and The Legend of New York, and a new premier musical for the summer season of Muhlenberg College Summer Musical Theater.

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

I feel the communication after the lockdown from my colleges, my students and my employers has been pretty different across-the-board. Some have reached out to engage in a definite plan of action, some have decided to just fade to the back and act as if nothing is to be discussed! Being employed by many schools, theaters and dance studios, I am definitely shocked and satisfied by the actions of my directors. People are responding to this current situation in many different ways. In the arts I'm finding people are either persistent in surviving all of this or they have allowed themselves to be diminished or fall apart from fear. However, the persistence of survival is the avenue most of my employers and directors are going toward. During this time I find it very amazing and inspirational the ways the arts community has decided to totally embrace and except this new way of touching people's lives. Through live streams and online presentations, conferences and interviews we have been able to not only continue to entertain and continue to express new work, but I feel the arts community has also decided to turn back time and reflect on the works they have shared with the world, and which have inspired our world. I have seen so many documentaries, interviews, concerts, theater performances and tributes to the arts community, that it has inspired a new breath of pride and courage in the fact that the arts will survive this. The arts are our social compass and we artist are responsible to maintain and show society and the community of our people. In our work we will triumph, we will pass the torch of expression of truth, and have a responsibility of expressing the reality of our current existence.

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

In our current climate I have found it's best to stay educated and engaged with people through Zoom and FaceTime through online meetings and basic phone conversations, so that I can truly understand where everyone is coming from emotionally and individually through this pandemic.

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

I personally have been surviving this pandemic by trying to expose myself to as much information as I possibly can when it comes to performing arts, when it comes to theater arts, when it comes to the arts behind the culture of hip-hop. I am a hip-hop professor at several colleges, so expounding on that information and culture has been my experience throughout this lockdown. So basically, educating myself further and developing new ideals behind this new world that we are being given is what I'm trying to achieve and accomplish. I feel that the theater world will return back to the intimacy of going into a venue and experiencing a live performance one on one and I trust and believe this will happen, maybe not today, maybe not in the next few months, but it will happen. The theater society will come back the way we left it and it will come back stronger than ever. I was a theater graduate the year of 9/11 and I remember Broadway going black for the first time in my life, and I remember entertainment studios management companies shutting down because tours and performances were also canceled. However, we as a theater community were able to still step up and step out and accomplish so much because we were persistent in our survival. And that is the strength behind the theater of humanity from the past to the present and into the future, we will survive what ever this world throws at us.

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

The theater world going forward will definitely change. This pandemic is causing us to totally reinvent our social structure. However, the theater community is full of inventors, creators and such amazing visionaries that I feel this fire will only fuel our fire to create much more socially inspirational works. The guidelines of producing work may change for the good or for the bad. However, the theater community is always ready for change no matter what. So whatever those guidelines are, we as a community of theater, who deeply find the importance of live performances, we will adjust to what we have to do to get done what we have to get done.

Do you have anything else you would like to share?

I would like to conclude that I will never ever allow myself to accept this phase as the new normal because there is nothing normal when it comes to life and expression. I will just say it is a new obstacle and a new challenge in which we theater people are being challenged to redefine ourselves and our world, but at the end of it all, it all comes down to love for the theater arts. We will survive this.

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