From Playhouse Square to Broadway: Theater is back!

Scout Carter, Staff Writer

I think we can all remember where we were and what we were doing when the world seemed to stop on March 12, 2020. The 41 theaters of Broadway received the news that their shows would be shutting down while in the middle of matinee performances and the performers had to finish their acts with heavy hearts. The coming days would be filled with uncertainty. The beating heart of live theater is the connections actors make with their audiences, so finding ways to perform without them was going to be extremely difficult. 

Back in Ohio, Gov. Mike Dewine was the bearer of bad news at the beginning of March, cancelling all gatherings of more than 100 people. With its largest theater at a capacity of about 3,000 seats, Playhouse Square and its 49,000 season ticket holders were massively disappointed. Many local theaters also found themselves being forced to shut their doors as well and it all went south from there. 

Actors struggled across the country, finding it difficult to repress their inner passions to be on stage. While most people were able to work remotely, Zoom proved to be incredibly ineffective for any kind of theatrical performance. The slightest issues, even as small as an overlapping line due to lag, would wreak havoc on the audience’s experience. Along with the destruction of the theatrical experience, the relationship between actor and audience had been completely cut off. Broadway officials kept pushing back when they would be prepared to open theater doors again, going from April 2020 to May 2021, leaving actors to wonder hopelessly for more than a year. As vaccines started rolling out, “Springsteen on Broadway” broke the silence on June 26, and though it wasn’t a musical, Bruce Springsteen’s concert was a key stepping stone in opening the doors for the shows across the Midtown region of Manhattan. “Pass Over,” an entirely new play, officially opened next on Aug. 22, and since then almost all of Broadway’s shows have returned to their stages.

Cleveland’s own theater scene was slightly luckier. “Choir of Man,” a jukebox of a concert, was the perfect opener for our rocking city to bring back its actors, starting performances on June 11. Broadway shows have also been coming to Cleveland, uniting audiences at Playhouse Square, starting with “The Lion King,” which opened on Oct. 1 and just recently left the KeyBank State Theatre. As a part of the “Playhouse Square KeyBank Broadway Series,” the ever-prominent “The Prom” tour will go to Connor Palace, riding off of the fame of its recent Netflix adaptation, with performances starting on Nov. 2. However, Broadway shows aren’t the only theater that’s been bringing back live audiences. Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” was put on by Case Western Reserve University’s own Masters of Fine Arts in Acting students in the heart of the theater district both last weekend and this weekend. Additionally, Cleveland Playhouse is opening the play “Where Did We Sit on the Bus?” on Oct. 23, depicting the story of a Latina student learning about the Civil Rights movement. Both shows are lighthearted and start well-needed conversations as we move into normalcy. 

While actors are readjusting back into live performance, the pandemic has raised a lot of questions about their treatment. People in any kind of career that couldn’t be done virtually are discovering their worth, as evidenced by the many different labor movements taking place across the country, and actors are no exception. 

Qualms about hours worked and vacation time are being raised, with new demands causing changes to the system. A Thanksgiving schedule for the newly revived Sara Bareilles’s “Waitress” was leaked on Twitter recently, depicting a timetable where those in the show don’t even get time during the holiday to be with their families. The theater community responded quickly—while many said this schedule wasn’t out of the ordinary for a show of such a caliber, others cried out for accommodations following a difficult year. Everyone has faced devastation, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that everyone deserves some relief, especially when many people haven’t been able to see their loved ones in almost two years. The theater community has always been tough—when I was considering making it my career, someone once told me that to be successful, you would have to miss funerals, weddings and holidays. But is that really the only way the entertainment industry can function? As live performances return, the theater community across regions need to ensure that life is valued over the work that a person provides, especially when we are just rediscovering our value.