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‘Within a matter of hours, your entire industry is gone:’ Broadway performer on pandemic impact

Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers and Broadway performer Robert Hartwell, discuss the pandemic’s impact on theater.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Now, Broadway has been closed for nearly a year. And New York City is hoping to reopen theaters soon. So let's bring on Broadway performer Robert Hartwell now to chat about the future of the industry in a post-pandemic world. So Robert, for your friends and colleagues that are still on Broadway, at least until everything was shut down, I'm hoping you can really tell us how tough this past year has been.

ROBERT HARTWELL: I think it's been a huge navigation because you spend your entire life training to be a part of this industry, and you never see a day or a time that Broadway could be shut down. And then within a matter of hours, your entire industry is gone. You're not able to be in space together and do this thing that you've said you wanted to pursue your entire life. So it's been really hard for Broadway performers to then be able to find, truly, income.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now, you started a company called The Broadway Collective a few years ago, not during the pandemic, where you train the next generation of performers, so to speak. I'm wondering how well it has done throughout the pandemic.

ROBERT HARTWELL: That's so kind. What's so interesting, when we opened the company in 2016, people said to me, how are you going to train students across the country online in singing, dancing, and acting. And also, why online education? And to me, it was about access and exclusivity and the ability for people, regardless of their zip code, to be able to connect with who it is that they wanted to be and where it is that they want it to be.

So to now be able to have this platform, it has been the biggest gift not only for our students and our parents, especially because so much has just been closed for them in their local arts training, but also for the Broadway performers that we are able to employ right now who serve as their mentors and coaches.

KRISTIN MYERS: As you're talking to some of the folks that unfortunately lost their jobs because of the pandemic but were able to pick up some work through the Broadway Collective and help train a lot of these students-- as you're talking to the students themselves who are coming to your classes, which is such an important lifeline, I think, for so many young children that are stuck at home, don't get to see their friends, I'm curious to know if some of them are a little bit negative or pessimistic about the future of performing, if they just aren't interested in going back to Broadway.

ROBERT HARTWELL: I would definitely say that performers are ready to get back to their calling. And I know that that sounds so woo-woo. But there is something that is inside of you as a performer, especially when you have been on Broadway, that there is nothing like the feeling of walking through one of those stage doors and being able to share your gifts and your purposes and your purpose with an audience and also with the cast. Like, it truly becomes not just a community and co-workers but truly a family.

So although it has been so hard, it has been so rewarding to be able to connect so many performers who, by all intents and purposes on their taxes this year, are completely out of work, with our students because it is showing these Broadway performers, hey, don't lose hope. Continue to believe that it's going to come back because it is. And it's going to be different. But these kids are more excited than ever to get back and see shows and to one day get here to New York City. So I have definitely seen it be a huge support for our team but also a huge plus for our students because so many people that they weren't able to work with before, they now are.

KRISTIN MYERS: I have about 35 seconds left with you here, unfortunately, Robert. I wish I had so much more time. I wanted to quickly ask you how you imagine Broadway in a post-pandemic world.

ROBERT HARTWELL: I think it's going to be more focused. And I think it's going to be more kind. And I hope that it's going to be more inclusive.

KRISTIN MYERS: I know I'm excited to get back to seeing folks like yourself perform. I love attending Broadway shows. So I'm excited when it is reopened, safely however, and especially to allow some of these folks to get back to work. Broadway performer Robert Hartwell, thank you so much for joining us today.