How 5 Broadway Dancers are Coping with the COVID-versary
It’s been one year since Broadway’s shutdown, and many of us in the arts community are sitting with devastating loss and a still-uncertain future. Most Broadway performers have spent the past year filing for unemployment, pivoting to other artistic pursuits, and turning side hustles into full-time jobs. While a community once based in the bright lights of Manhattan is now scattered across the country, these dancers still have one thing in common: their tenacity to make it through hard times and come out the other side as stronger, more well-rounded performers and people.
With most live performances canceled for a year, at times the pandemic left little room for creativity and camaraderie within the Broadway community. But it also opened some new and unexpected doors. Dance Spirit checked in with five dancers from some of the biggest Broadway musicals to see how the past year has affected them.
Timothy Hughes, “Hadestown”
Timothy Hughes (Matthew Murphy, courtesy Hughes)
On losing inspiration to dance:
I’ve always been good at taking the initiative to invest in my craft, especially between gigs. This was the first time I felt it was very difficult to find inspiration. I didn’t want to dance. I didn’t want to practice the show. It took some time before I was able to reignite my sense of passion for dance.
On starting a business:
Finances were a major concern. I had been able to consistently perform for at least a decade. I never expected to be starting a small business. It’s beyond my wildest imagination that this happened so quickly. I created a program to explore choreography through movie musicals, including The Greatest Showman, which I was a part of. I had a great response out of that, so I designed a full platform I now run called Performer’s Puzzle. The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was the idea that I would have to choreograph something every week. I never felt that I had that gene. But I believe that we needed to recontextualize the meaning of dance class during quarantine in order to help us all find joy again.
On returning to Broadway:
I think Hadestown is in a unique position to help bring Broadway back to life. I’m proudly going to be a part of the company whenever we’re able to reopen.
Amber Ardolino, “Moulin Rouge! The Musical”
Amber Ardolino poses with a sign outside the Moulin Rouge! The Musical theater (Michaelah Reynolds, courtesy Ardolino)
On how she’s feeling:
I definitely hit rock bottom. When I came home to Zelienople, PA, in March, I had COVID-19. I’d been feeling terrible, but it was too soon to know that it was COVID-19. It was a hard time, because I know all of us in the cast were going through so much emotionally and physically. It feels like a lifetime ago that we had the opportunity to all be together.
On losing her job:
Financially, it’s taken a burden. I have been on unemployment. Luckily, I have worked professionally since I was 18, so I had saved up enough that I’ve been OK. I also have my parents that have done more than enough support to me. I’m trying to teach here and there, and create job opportunities for myself.
On staying busy dancing:
I feel like I’m performing several times a week, thanks to TikTok. When Broadway shut down, we could no longer make Moulin Rouge! TikToks, so I started my own. I also developed a love for other kinds of video-making. I’m quarantining right now in my Hell’s Kitchen apartment, but when it’s safe, I’m about to shoot a music video with Aimie Atkinson, one of the original cast stars of Six, on the West End. I also just shot a new short film called While You Were Dreaming.
On finding an unexpected second career:
When I moved home, I had this bug to start looking into interior-design work. I taught myself how to flip a house. It’s been so lovely to teach myself something I would never have been granted the opportunity to learn if Broadway was still open. It was my goal to finish remodeling our basement, and I also had a couple reach out to me to help redesign three bedrooms. Right now, I’m in online school to get my diploma for interior design.
On returning to
Moulin Rouge!: Broadway is not going to open all at one time. They’re saying anything from this fall to next January for when Broadway’s supposed to reopen. I would love to return to Moulin Rouge! but I don’t know what life’s going to look like. I’m a swing, so my job was to learn the six Can-Can Girls or the three “Lady Marmalade” girls. I couldn’t even tell you which tracks I would know to do. I’d have to rehearse the entire show over again for a month to feel secure.
Stephanie Bissonette, “Mean Girls”
On moving in a pandemic:
I was trying to close on an apartment when everything fell apart, and it was a very stressful time. But, luckily, we were able to get it all together. If I was doing the show when I moved, I would have things still in boxes, because eight shows a week takes up a lot of time.
Mean Girls closing: At first, it was quite devastating. It’s so difficult to have something snatched from you so quickly, with no time to process. I had been leaning on this crutch—that the show would be coming back. Then, as of a couple weeks ago, I learned that I was never going to do the show again. Not getting that chance to say goodbye was really tough.
When we had the call where we found out that they were closing the Broadway company, it was shocking. There was no “This is the reason why.” There’s anger and sadness, but, also, I know I have time to rebuild: go redo my resumé, put some new songs in my book, take more dance classes, work on a style of dance I haven’t done in a while.
On learning new skills:
I’ve been continuing voice lessons via Zoom this whole time, and I’ve been dancing in my living room. My dad gave me one of his old guitars, so I’m learning to play. I’m trying to find ways to make this time fruitful. When COVID-19 first hit, I hadn’t made any new choreography in three years, because when you’re in a Broadway show, it consumes all of your time. But getting back into it, it’s felt like a muscle—the more you choreograph, the easier it comes to you.
On teaching dance:
I don’t see myself as “pivoting” into teaching, because teaching has always been a big part of my life. Right now, I’m rediscovering my love of teaching, and it still makes me happy. I’m trying to teach a lot online. I’ve also started to teach in person wearing double masks and being very careful.
Giuseppe Bausilio, “Hamilton”
On hearing about the shutdown:
It was terrifying. I actually got very lucky that I was out of the show already since I had to get my wisdom teeth taken out, so I had a little bit of time to process from the outside, instead of suddenly being told that I don’t have work tomorrow.
On taking a break to breathe:
For me, personally, it’s almost been a blessing in disguise. I say that with a lot of caution, because of how devastating it has been for other people. I’ve been working on Broadway nonstop since I was 11 years old. This pandemic was literally a forced break, which was long overdue for me. It gave me time to explore other creative sides I didn’t even know were a thing. It gave me time to do things I never thought I had the time to do before, like snowboarding. I wasn’t able to do that during Hamilton, because there’s always a danger of getting hurt.
On pivoting to cinematography:
I’ve been trying to keep busy and hustle like everybody else to get some extra money. I really got into cinematography, and had a lot of time during the pandemic to practice shooting and editing. I just wanted to make great dance content. It’s actually been fantastic because it’s given me such a beautiful, creative outlet. It’s been bringing in a bit of revenue, as well, which has helped sustain my family and me during this pandemic without a steady job.
On filming a digital series:
Sharrod Williams, who was in Hamilton and Cats with me, reached out and asked me to shoot this new script he wrote called Neighbors. It was a brand-new experience for all of us and resulted in our first seven-episode web series. It just won two indie- film-fest awards.
On briefly reuniting with the
Hamilton cast: It was so good to see everyone again at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I just can’t wait to have Broadway theaters full again. That energy in the theater is honestly the thing I miss most.
Ebony Williams, “Jagged Little Pill”
On how she’s feeling:
The whole year was very triggering, but I actually recently got back from my first vacation in years—it was so needed. When Broadway shut down, it was devastating for all of us. I don’t think we thought it would last as long as it has. My mindset, at first, was taking time for self-healing, but after a while I went into panic mode.
On staying busy choreographing:
I’ve been very fortunate and never had to do anything else other than dance, ever. I was trying to figure out any possible way for me to make money. I’ve been choreographing throughout the entire pandemic. I choreographed Beyoncé’s last Ivy Park campaign, a campaign for lululemon, for alice + olivia’s Spring21 Virtual Presentation, which I was also a dancer in, and a new film coming out called Sneakerella.
On Broadway returning:
I want Broadway to come back. I can’t wait to perform, sweat, and look into my cast members’ eyes and know that we got there together. I’m in the process of trying to get back in shape so that I am ready to be back onstage when the time comes. And I want to choreograph a Broadway show. That’s one of my bucket-list items. I plan to manifest for myself more choreography opportunities, and the possibility of being reunited with my Jagged Little Pill castmates.