The Year That Theater Went Dark
Updated: Mar 14
Theater fuels my soul. It fills my heart and occupies my brain. Without it, I am adrift.
On March 12, 2020, as Broadway went dark, so did my documentary play with music in honor of the fight for women’s suffrage, in the midst of rehearsals for a world premiere via the Associates of the Boston Public Library: ONWARD - Votes for Women. Postponed. Several times. Now hoping for some time in 2021. With any luck. Knock wood. Offer another prayer to St. Genesius.
I have been navigating the Kubler-Ross stages of grief with the rest of the theater world but refuse to yield to acceptance. No ma’am. The show(s) will go on. #WeWillBeBack. It’s just the most painfully long Intermission ever. A technical ‘Hold’ that is lasting an eternity.
It is all connected to my visceral longing for NYC. I grew up in NJ just eleven miles from midtown. In winter, I could see the skyline out my bedroom window. As the daughter of a true triple threat performer, I saw shows with my mom from a young age on Broadway and off. All year round. Our Thanksgiving tradition. Indelible experiences witnessing great moments - and not so great moments - on stage for years. Once I moved to the Boston area, I happily discovered a vibrant theater scene from fringe performances to Broadway tours. I built my own career here through an incredible network of artists. Nevertheless, the pull of New York was always there. In a typical year I would travel down about every six weeks to see shows, have meetings, and workshops of my own original productions.
Cue Alicia Keys as I drive down the West Side Highway and see “concrete jungles where dreams are made of, where there’s nothing you can’t do.” New York. Where I float inches above the sidewalk breathing midtown air. Stay at my favorite hotel where they know me, across from eight Broadway shows and steps away from half price TKTS.
This is the world I know to my core. Where my career took off after graduate school. Where the world of visual and performing arts thrived in every corner of the city. Where my daughter went to college and where she lives to this day. Covid has largely kept us apart but there was a blissful window this past fall where I drove straight down to get her - cutting through 42nd street on my way to Queens so I could capture, fleetingly, the lights and sounds of a strangely quiet Times Square.
We are coming up on the one year anniversary of that awful day. Paraphrasing Don McLean as the day the show tunes died. No - not died - remember no acceptance - but the day our theater world dissolved to ashes, only to begin to rise up: a Phoenix whose song will fill our hearts, souls and minds again. Coming up on ‘five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a year in the life?’
So the work continues. In our own ways, in our own time. In whatever way we can. Using our collective artistry and resources to create readings, workshops, productions. They can be found on all manner of streaming sources, and via creators with finite budgets and grand budgets (hello, ‘Hamilton’ on Disney!) but we are united in our hope and belief in the return of the bright lights of marquees across the land. At high schools and colleges, community and regional theaters, on Broadway and beyond. Theater which will have had a much needed reckoning on progress in racial and gender diversity. Theater which will thrive again. Art has survived through the ages as a vital component of our culture and our lives.
It will fuel our soul. Fill our hearts and occupy our brains. On the stage, behind the scenes or in the audience. And when it does, hope to see you all there.
By Lisa Rafferty, February 28, 2021
Photo by @amanda_bierbaum and www.amandabierbaum.art