Now one year into the pandemic, we all just want answers as to where we’re going and what the timeline is until we’re back dancing, performing, and sharing our art form in person.
Key leaders project that live theater won’t be back-back for at least another six months. But with the ongoing vaccine roll-out, we do seem to be moving in a positive direction:
- New York City Ballet is projecting a September 21st opening night,
- some domestic tours hope to launch in the fall,
- and Broadway seems to be holding off until the beginning of 2022 (though productions in Australia and the UK have started back up and running and some NY theaters are looking to reopen late this year).
- Some regional theaters and cruise ships are planning to produce shows for the summer and fall.
- New York City dance studios got the go-ahead to reopen today with limited capacity and mask mandates .
- TV and film is functioning closer to normal (thanks to bigger budgets and intense COVID safety precautions) in cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York, and Toronto.
- Colleges across the country (including previously online-only institutions like the UC and CSU schools) hope to reopen for on-campus learning in the fall.
But whether institutions are ‘open’ or ‘closed’ is not the only focus of how we’re looking ahead. As mentioned in “What We’ve Been Through,” this past year has brought some big conversations to the surface. And as we inch towards returning to some idea of ‘normalcy,’ let us not ignore the cracks in our industry. We must continue to foster open dialogue, hold ourselves and our community accountable, and constantly reevaluate our programming, representation, and mission both on an organizational and an individual/personal level.
As much as we want answers or a timeline (or a perfectly-crafted Labanotation telling us exactly what to do and how to do it), the future is still so uncertain.
As we hope for things to truly get back to ‘normal’ by next year, a lot depends upon the continued vaccination rollout, greater understanding of the coronavirus variants, financial circumstances, peoples’ comfortability (traveling, sitting in a theater, dancing in a studio, etc.).
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we are moving towards that light. As we continue teaching, training, creating, hoping, and…waiting, remember all that we—as a community—have overcome this year and the insight we may have never discovered had we not been forced to take a pause.
“This is a truly difficult moment for our community but, like any great story, not without a spark of hope. There have been opportunities to reinvent, rediscover, and reevaluate what we thought we knew and perhaps what we may have taken for granted. Dance is a precious gift as is the act of sharing it with other people.
This is clearer than ever but there have been major challenges in shifting to a virtual dance world. Not everyone is able to dance from home or rent a studio to take a virtual class. Not every teacher feels able to give to their students through the computer screen. Not every director feels inspired or satisfied making short dance films that disappear into the abyss of Instagram alongside shirtless influencers and tik tok clips.
Although many people have found a newfound freedom in dancing from home, much has been lost and there is a deep need for us to be able to gather again in large rooms where we share the same air and may bump into one another as we move from one side of the room to the other…Where intimate moments are possible and shouts or whispers can add to the atmosphere, where we can face the windows and see the city change from season to season, where we can walk each other home after class and continue the story.”
Emmy-winning choreographer, director, and educator
“This is a sabbatical.
There is no way to sugar coat what has happened to our business as a result of the pandemic. Even if we were to open up in the fall/winter, it seems as though it will be quite some time, before we are fully back, for a variety of reasons. The arts are only one part of the bigger picture that is called New York City. Will New York be seen as a ‘destination’ any time soon?
In order for me to wrap my head around what has happened and to use the time productively, I’ve had to look at this time as my sabbatical. I have advised my clients to do the same. Although I continue to do casting breakdowns (which are few and far between) and I continue to teach classes and stay connected to our community, I am also exploring many other areas that are not related to choreography, dance, and theater…Writing a book, baking, learning to speak better French and Italian, working for the homeless ministry at my church, spending more time with my parents and new friends (socially distanced, of course), meditation, and growing my own plants and vegetables. All of these things have made my life much richer and fuller. I am trying to explore areas that I’ve never had the time to pursue and my life has become more balanced and healthy, as a result of it.
Balance is the key right now and I don’t think that I will ever go back to the 12-14 hour work days that I used to do daily. I want to hold onto the lessons that I have learned in these last 12 months. Of course I miss my work, but knowing that it is out my control is somewhat freeing. It helps me to move on to other things during the day rather than sit in front of a computer, waiting for a breakdown or a project call. It has just started to pick up for creative teams, but it will be a while for hiring talent on those projects.
I would advise against thinking that there will be one ‘breakout day’ when all of a sudden everything will just flip back to what it was…I would advise thinking about making your artist’s life a ‘breakout life’ with or without the arts (as we know it).
I have had some meaningful conversations and thoughtful emails with clients. It has been a time of getting to know them more deeply. One of my clients (Sam Cahn) said, ‘It is time to reinvent ourselves.’ We have permission to be someone else for a while and to throw your whole heart into it. Of course, as artists, stay connected, take classes, and stay involved, but it needs to be in a different way right now…think sabbatical and remind yourself that we all have the permission to explore.”
Lucille Di Campli
Founder/Head Agent at LDC Artist Representation
“Globally, we are having a reckoning when it comes to inclusivity and racism. In the dance world, I still feel like we are so far behind. In my heart of hearts, the dance world is prime for major change including redistribution in the hierarchies of power in dance companies and pay equality in regards to other art forms.”
New York City Ballet soloist, co-founder of Final Bow for Yellowface
“With the pandemic, performing arts centers around the world had to close their doors, cancel performances, and lay off staff. To keep audiences and donors engaged while live performances were not allowed, many turned to providing ‘virtual,’ ‘digital’ (video) programming to their constituents. Initially, these were often archival recordings of previous performances, that were never intended to be broadcast, or simple recordings of Zoom discussions about works or topics of interest. These were generally provided to the public for free. As the pandemic continued, more innovative, and better quality programs were produced. Rather than streaming existing archival recordings, performing arts centers were producing new recordings, often of new works, which were either live-streamed as they were happening, or pre-recorded and edited, and often required advance registration and an access fee. Some presenting organizations were able to take advantage of their outdoor performance spaces, following COVID protocols for the performers as well as the audience members, who were usually seated socially distanced in ‘pods’ or ‘bubbles.’
Looking ahead to the post-pandemic future, I expect the online video programming to continue. Although not typically a large revenue stream, this is a new way for presenters to reach people who might not otherwise come to the theater. While video programming is not an equal substitute for attending live dance performances, it is the perfect way to see dance and other performances that were created specifically for video. Digital productions also allow collaboration and participation by people in different parts of the world, freeing panel discussions and performances from the necessity and costs of gathering all of the participants in one location.”
Dance Curator, Producer, and Educator, currently serves as the Senior Advisor, Dance Presenting for The Music Center, Los Angeles and the Associate Producer, Fall for Dance Festival, New York City Center
“COVID’s impact on arts organizations will remain significant long after the virus has faded. As arts organizations return to presenting live performance, successful arts leaders will need to understand and address the challenges and opportunities presented by technology, diversity, and community engagement in order to revive their respective organizations. To do so, they will need to answer the following questions: what aspects of technology do we continue to use and what do we eliminate? How do we increase the diversity of our staff, our board, our leadership, our performers, and our audience? How do we increase the transparency of our decision making? How do we respectfully engage with our local community?”
Richard G Maloney, PhD
Clinical Associate Professor and Director, Performing Arts Administration graduate program at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University
“The theater community and league of Broadway owners and producers are projecting a May 31st return. In my opinion, this is totally unrealistic. I don’t think anyone is prepared for the large amount of work that needs to be done to reopen theater. It’s already March, and in just a few months people are not going to feel comfrotable in tiny theater seats nor are production companies going make money selling at 50% capacity. I don’t anticipate anyone paying $700 for house seats for quite a while, and you can’t justify opening Broadway at less than 100%. The playbook has changed.
What is clear is that everyone will have to make concessions – starting with the unions. The future of reopening requires a lot of examination. Larger outdoor venues have a better chance of opening sooner, as do touring and regional productions. Broadway will be last. How do you present a show to an audience who doesn’t yet feel comfortable sitting in a packed theater? We are talking about herd immunity and, while that’s great, we still don’t really know what that means yet. I project Broadway rehearsals to start back up in January 2022 at the earliest. We have to be cautious to jump back in too quickly and risk greater devastation to our
I encourage people to keep an open mind and acknowledge that the rules have inevitably changed. My outlook might appear ‘negative,’ but I’m actually very hopeful and very realistic. People are going to want to go to the theater to be entertained, to be happy. We’re bored with streaming—it has been a bandaid. Once Broadway comes back, it’ll come back with a (wonderful) vengeance. But it’s going to be a slow process. We may have to go backward to go forward, but we will move forward.”
Broadway Talent Agent/Manager
“So many supposed leaders in our industry — theatre, dance, performance at large — have not been either able or willing to admit a certain level of ‘not knowing.’ We are all in a world where the rules have significantly changed. How will we navigate those rules once we’re able to step into the new landscape? How can we ensure that those rules do not disproportionately affect certain people, both in a beneficial and/or harmful way?
I am hoping that each community (particularly the self-appointed leaders) is reflecting on how to shift the structures we had grown accustomed to in order to make sure we are better prepared for unexpected things in the future. I have heard the phrase ‘No one could have known…’ so many times during the past year. I don’t believe that absolutes like that are true. I have been asking myself a lot, ‘Were there people warning against something like our current state, who were discredited and dismissed?’
Having varying viewpoints—ones that dissent against the status quo—can be valuable, if only those in power will listen long enough to understand what can be learned from those viewpoints. Learning from those differing viewpoints is key, rather than choosing defensiveness as a way of avoiding the work that needs to be done.
On another note, I feel for the dance community. So much of what is done by choreographers and dancers is built around the ability to exist in space together, physically. Dancers are some of the most resilient and resourceful people I know, so I have faith in their ability to come out of this, but we can’t ignore the cost it will hold to simply maintain. Time and time again, we have seen productions hurl insane obstacles and deadlines and low wages (and, and, and…) at dance-makers, and every time they break through… but placing the onus on them yet again to make something out of nothing is, at best, unfair… and, at worst, abusive.
I am reminded of a quote Jeremy McQueen has shared a few times: ‘When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.’ We, as leaders in this industry, need to spend more time creating an healthy environment for artists to create and flourish, and less time capitalizing on the apparent success of any one individual. It just isn’t a sustainable plan.”
Casting Director, Creative Director of The Casting Collaborative