The 12 Shows of Christmas: How Broadway Performers Handle Holiday Schedules

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24 Nov 2013

Faith Prince in <i>Annie</i>.
Faith Prince in Annie.
Photo by Joan Marcus

For the majority of workers in most fields of endeavor, the holiday season means a few days off to relax and enjoy the familiar comforts of hearth and home. For Broadway performers, however, it means exactly the opposite: Additional work and almost no time to spend with friends and family.

Producers have long recognized that the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's periods bring with them some of the most brisk business of the season, with many theatregoers choosing to take in a show as part of their holiday festivities. Accordingly, schedules shift. During Thanksgiving, the Thursday-night performances are cancelled, as few ticket-buyers are tempted to abandon the groaning dinner table to attend a play, but the lucrative weekend is frequently end-loaded with five successive shows, including two matinees.

During the Christmas week, many productions this year are tacking additional matinees onto Dec. 26, which is a Thursday this year, as well as adding second Sunday performances. Because New Year's Eve falls on a Tuesday this year, some productions — including popular musicals like Matilda the Musical, Motown, Pippin, Wicked and Cinderella — are offering the unusual attraction of a two-show Monday, which is usually a dark day for most plays.

Actors who work on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, whose contractual salary is less than $5,000 per week are entitled, under their Actors' Equity contract, to extra holiday pay. This may explain why so few producers schedule performances of their shows on those days.

These alternate schedules may spell increased traffic and dollars for their production's box offices, but for actors they mean the already arduous eight-show-week — strenuous enough when spread out over six days — can be crammed into just five days.

"It is hard," admitted Bongi Duma, who has been in the ensemble of The Lion King since 2004. "Somehow the body gets accustomed to getting a day off. If it's many days in a row, and you don't get that usual day off, you start feeling it."

"It's like running a marathon," said Faith Prince, who is currently starring as Miss Hannigan in Annie. From Dec. 26- 29, she will perform seven shows in four days, including three two-show days. "You work up to it and pace yourself very carefully."

Duma shares the stage at The Lion King with his wife, Lindiwe Dlamini, which ensures that they spend a good amount of time together over the holidays — even if that time is largely onstage and backstage. However, it makes caring for their five-year-old a bit tricky. To answer that problem, they do what many performers do: Call on relatives.


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