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BWW Blog: Restarting the Arts

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BWW Blog: Restarting the Arts

With the Coronavirus pandemic still raging in America with no signs of slowing, the U.S. is experiencing an unprecedented rate of unemployment not seen since the Depression Era. Although some bars, restaurants, and other businesses are being allowed to reopen, theaters are still stuck in purgatory, with every entertainer and tech worker unsure of when they'll ever be able to work again. Broadway plans to reopen in 2021, meaning half a year (most likely longer) left without any business, which begs the question, how are workers supposed to live in the meantime?

Already actors/techs are struggling to make ends meet. Those who work in the entertainment industry aren't foreign to frictional unemployment between jobs, but in those situations there is always something they'll be able to do next. Right now, there is no next job. Cirque du Soleil has filed for bankruptcy protection with more than 3,500 jobs cut, Feld Entertainment permanently laid off 90% of it's workers, and while Zoom reunions of our favorite shows may be providing us our theatre fix right now, it's not putting food on their tables.

What we need is some kind of support to keep workers on. Germany, for example, has been able to keep entertainers protected by providing aid packages to theaters, freelance artists, and small businesses so that even though entertainers aren't working, they're not out of a job. While Germany has different levels of funding that don't directly translate to the U.S., this is still an effective system for preventing devastating unemployment in the arts sector. It seems that, with some specific catering to the U.S. structure, American theatre workers would also be protected in a similar system. But that's where our tendency to deprioritize the arts comes in.

America's relationship with the arts is a self contradiction. Our entertainment is a huge cultural export to the rest of the globe, and we are constantly craving new forms of entertainment, but somehow everything to do with the arts is underfunded. It's the first thing on the chopping block when it comes to budget cuts. For some reason, even though we love to consume theatre, we hate to give it financial support in any form besides ticket sales. I don't know when or how theatre will come back, but I do know that Americans can't live without it forever. What else has the power to inspire meaning and enchantment, while still creating a lucrative industry? If there's one thing we've all learned from months of lockdown isolation, it's that we can't live without the arts, sometimes it's the only thing keeping us sane. So while it's still not safe to reopen theaters, the arts don't deserve to slowly disappear into the shadows for lack of financial support.

It was recently announced that the UK would be distributing £1.57 Billion in grants and loans for their arts institutions, reaching artists who need support while they're not working. This certainly won't save every theatre job, it's impossible for things to go back to the way they were before, but the U.S. should be taking notes. Already, we've seen theatre companies go under because they were unable to financially recover without an entire season's worth of revenue. With a system of endowments, this entire industry, in which Americans do rely on regardless of if they genuinely intend to, would be semi taken care of. The U.S. and U.K. have different structures, and putting money into our cultural sectors might not work as well for us as it does for them, but at least they have a plan that recognizes how important their industry is. It may not even be a matter of government willingness, if we're in the position to receive loans, the logistics would take some time with our many different broadway organizations (Shubert, Nederlander). I doubt there's a "one size fits all" way to allocate funds to every show, but imagine how much better off workers will be if the U.S. provides support.

There's no straightforward path to theatre reopenings or arts job protections. Regardless of these plans, there is something we can all easily do to help our fellow theatre people; wear a mask. If you want Broadway to be back, keep social distancing. It's possible theatres won't reopen for years, but it will be decades if we ignore CDC recommendations. Stay safe, stay apart, and the sooner we flatten the curve, the sooner we'll be able to take care of the shows we love.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Nora Rhein