The Art of Moving Forward: 7 Theatremakers Reflect on Broadway’s Return

Photo Features   The Art of Moving Forward: 7 Theatremakers Reflect on Broadway’s Return
 
As the curtains begin to rise in the theatre district, arts workers share their thoughts on moving forward after the theatre shutdown.
Celia Keenan-Bolger, Lawrence E. Moten III, and<b> </b>Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu
Celia Keenan-Bolger, Lawrence E. Moten III, and Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu

After nearly a year and a half, the curtains are beginning to rise on Broadway following the COVID-19 crisis. For many, the return of Broadway is a marker of New York’s resurgence after once being the epicenter of the pandemic. In recent weeks, there have been joyful reunions, emotional rehearsals, sold-out performances, and more.

During the shutdown, the theatre community has rested and trained, pivoted for survival, fought for change, and found meaning from new sources—all while anticipating life returning to a new normal. As shows prepare to take the stage again, many theatremakers find themselves creating in familiar spaces yet fundamentally changed. With Broadway’s return, seven arts workers reflect on moving forward after an unprecedented era.

Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu, Playwright

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Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu Marc J. Franklin

"I feel like as an artist, I have always heard stories about the 60s and the 70s or even the 90s in New York—during the era of Koch and Dinkins, the era right before Giuliani came—when New York was rough, but it was like, ‘Oh shit, go to CBGB, somebody is making punk-rock happen right now.’ I don't like seeing New York hobbled. I've lived here since 2003. I'm a New Yorker. This is my city. I don't like seeing the city hobbled, but if the city is hobbled, there is no place I'd rather be when you reopen. This is the place where people come back to when they are ready to strike it big, when they are ready to believe in themselves, and when they are ready to make world class art. And that's the vibe that I feel here. The people who are sticking around are ready to get down and get serious. They're ready to make new collaborations. They're ready to break form. They're ready to break genre. They're ready to swing big.

I feel like life, the universe, fate, God—whatever you want to call it—is bestowing upon me a right and a responsibility to live out loud. So if I'm going to do [be on Broadway during this return], I want to do it in a way that honors my own ethic and my own morality. In a way that honors my ancestors, that honors the Black people who have not been able to do it for bullshit reasons. I'm in the August Wilson Theatre [with Pass Over]. I have ancestors behind me pushing me forward to do this so I honestly feel divinely inspired. I feel blessed. And I am trusting life. I'm trusting spirit. I'm trusting the universe in a way that I have never done before."

Kevin Thomas Garcia, Hair Supervisor

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Kevin Thomas Garcia Marc J. Franklin

"I start back to work [at Hadestown] in the next week or so, which feels so strange to finally be able to say. 18 months later, and I cannot wait to see my family back at the Walter Kerr. I’ve got my little corner to the left in the basement, and I get to see every single person in the building, almost every day, usually because they’re snagging candy. I love that. It is my dream job.

As theatre returns, I have all the emotions. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but after seeing what the film and television industry has been able to pull off, I’m cautiously optimistic. Finally knowing that I’m going back to Hadestown feels like waking up after a long sleep. It will feel like going home, and I’ll be smiling behind my mask, with tears in my eyes."

Celia Keenan-Bolger, Actor

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Celia Keenan-Bolger Marc J. Franklin

"I have always thought of the theatre as a place that helped me process my life. I've felt it when I was onstage, and I've felt it when I was in an audience. In the past, it’s helped me with feelings around the death of my mother, painful breakups, the birth of my child, and how I wanted to be a better member of society. This past year and a half has put us through so much, and something I’ve realized during this time is that our culture isn’t really set up for us to face our pain.

I’m remembering an article by the playwright Ayad Aktar where he said, “I recently learned that a group of neuroscientists have discovered that watching live theatre can synchronize the heartbeats of an audience.” A researcher explained it this way: “Experiencing the live theatre performance was extraordinary enough to overcome group differences and produce a common physiological experience.” We are living through very challenging times and trying to make sense of racial reckonings, climate change, gun violence, and a general unknown of the future just to name a few. But one gift of our isolation this past year and a half was my realization that we are not meant to process those things alone. I am hopeful the theatre will be a space where we can collectively laugh and sob and connect with one another and try to process what we’ve just been through—something we haven’t been able to do in far too long.

I think theatre is essential in helping us understand our feelings around all of the things that keep us awake at night. I believe in its power to not only change us as individuals but as a community. I cannot wait to be in the presence of those 1400 other beating hearts as they sync and set off this next chapter of healing and reconciliation."

Stevie Coleman, Account/Project Manager at SpotCo

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Stevie Coleman Marc J. Franklin

"Somehow, the return of Broadway feels like a monumental event for New York City, a major victory for the theatre industry, and an extremely special comeback for me all at the same time. And I think this feeling is true for everyone who has a heart for theatre.

Personally, it means returning to my job, where I get to work alongside some of the most insanely talented creative and strategic minds in the business. It means getting to do what I love: getting people into the building to see some truly incredible theatrical works. It means continuing to dream up bigger and better ideas for attracting audiences, and holding those around me accountable to the work we all committed to do in order to make Broadway a more diverse and inclusive experience.

As a fan of theatre, it means getting to experience this thing we’ve all been without for over a year. Walking into a theater, finding my seat and familiar faces along the way, sitting down (Playbill in hand, of course), and feeling the rush as the curtain is pulled up, knowing I’m about to be taken on a journey that only live theater can bring me on. It means, once again, getting to relish in that thing that makes theater so uniquely what it is—what you see on stage only exists in that exact way for you and the people in the room with you. More than anything, I can’t wait to take it all in again. And the return of Broadway feels like a revival for this great city, a chance to return to what we all know and create something even better."

Lawrence E. Moten III, Scenic Designer

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Lawrence E. Moten III Marc J. Franklin

"As an artist, this moment means opportunity. The opportunity to make my Broadway debut [with Chicken & Biscuits] is exhilarating, and not just for myself, but for an entire community of people who have not seen themselves on these stages. Black artists are having a moment—that needs to continue and should expand for all artists of a global majority. As a New Yorker, it represents resilience. Broadway is an economic and artistic backbone to the city I love . These 18+ months of uncertainty and loss have been heartbreaking. I’m excited to see these shows return and see my friends and colleagues safely return to work nationwide. I won’t say it’s not a tenuous return—the rise of the delta variant makes us all concerned—but I hope we are smart enough to work safely and get vaccinated so we can all return to work."

Adam Hyndman, Actor/Producer/Activist

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Adam Hyndman Marc J. Franklin

"The return of Broadway is a very complex thing in my mind. The symbolic nature of Broadway has many different meanings and impacts—certainly within our community, but across popular culture as well. Broadway is a gathering place; a convening for genres, narratives, artists and the public to grasp and interpret this life together. Yet, for 18 months this exchange place of story and culture has been shuttered and deemed “non-essential.” That is a pretty big existential reflection. I am eager and nervous to see how the ecosystem of Broadway will return because as we have all seen through this extended shut down, the institution and industry of Broadway has much to reckon with and much to redress in order to re-emerge more sustainably and more equitably. The global pandemic and our collective racial reckoning brings to the table a clear opportunity to future vision and expand our responsibility to care and reciprocity. Will that opportunity be met in an integrated fashion?

As an extension of theatre and the arts, there has and always will be a great deal of potential in Broadway to be a reflection of our world and our society, possibly even to challenge or move our zeitgeist forward. It has not always met the opportunity, but the potential never departs. Broadway has the ability to speak to many markets and inspire art makers and dreamers across industries. I hope that its return will spark innovation and creativity. However first things first, in order to meet that potential for society, the task is to ‘get our own house in order’.

On a macro level— when I reflect on the return of Broadway, I think about how this moment will be an artifact of culture in transition. Some areas will demonstrate a refining and repurposing, and others will be emblematic of stasis and the antiquated. I believe Broadway in its great complexity will ultimately be a litmus test of the push and pull of that process of flux—of the flux of this moment."

Tina Satter, Playwright/Director

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Tina Satter Marc J. Franklin

"Every impulse and actualization of theatre is about possibility. Possibility then rendered right in front of our eyes, live. That is the heartbeat of the form. The risk and the vulnerability that make both watching it and creating it so special, heartbreaking, and renewing.

So at this moment when our world and lives have been reconfigured at the deepest levels over the past year and a half—and we are all still working every day to understand what that means and how we move forward with change and grace and integrity—figuring out where theater can sit is vital. It offers a model always for how change and possibility can happen—and then at a truly primal level we do need art. We need it in our city, on our stages, and leading a way for how more art and stories are made and told. And I am a combination of excited and super curious to see how it goes and very hopeful that my show Is This A Room—with its of-the-moment story—and others get to be in communion with live audiences this fall."

READ: Broadway Will Require COVID Vaccines for Audiences

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