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An immunocompromised theatre fan on why she appreciates the Broadway community more than ever right now
March 12 is my anniversary with my boyfriend, and we had been planning on celebrating by seeing the gender-swapped revival of Company on Broadway. When I woke up last Thursday, I had expected to spend the evening sharing a romantic dinner and finally seeing Patti LuPone live on stage. But once Broadway closed its doors in response to COVID-19 crisis, it turned into the most confusing, disorienting and frightening day I've had since moving to New York City.
And yet, to quote Company, I'm "sorry-grateful."
As an immunocompromised person with chronic upper respiratory illnesses who just recovered from a bout of pneumonia in December, I've been following the news surrounding the novel coronavirus obsessively for months. Only a week ago, my college classmates laughed at my panicked predictions that we would soon face a pandemic in New York City that would alter our lives completely. They compared me to a street corner doomsayer shouting that the end is near. But my health issues combined with my obsessive-compulsive disorder (which prompted me to replay worst-case scenarios in my head over and over and over), made me feel like I was psychologically preparing for the worst.
But somehow, I never considering the prospect of Broadway going dark, perhaps because it was too painful for me to contemplate.
To me, Broadway has always felt immortal and essential. Historically, it's served as a balm for catastrophes: wars, the AIDS epidemic, 9/11, Superstorm Sandy. It's also been a place where artists and audiences have processed crises together. Whether you were looking to escape from or grapple with traumatic events, theatre offered a coping mechanism for our chaotic world. Now, in a moment of terrifying uncertainty, Broadway suddenly wasn't there for us.
And yet, I see this shutdown as the ultimate act of community. Truthfully, I was nervous about seeing Company. I was taking precautions. I'd plotted my commute on bus, not subway; my purse was stocked with travel-size Lysol; and I was singing a 20-second section from Hadestown as I scrubbed my chafing hands roughly every 30 minutes. As I pondered our plans for the evening over breakfast with my boyfriend, the idea of sitting in a crowded theatre left me frozen with fear. What if someone coughed next to me? What if the usher who handed me a Playbill tested positive the next day? As an immunocompromised person, I felt like it was perhaps too much of a risk.
As rumors started circulating about Broadway shows closing during the afternoon, I began thinking about all the people who were essentially putting their lives—and the lives of their loved ones—on the line to entertain us. I thought about every stage kiss, every saliva-spraying singer, every crew member crushed in a small backstage space, every usher helping older patrons down the aisle. The stakes weren't just high for me, but for all of us.
A few hours later, I received a text from my best friend: "I'm not seeing my show. Broadway is shutting down."
I got on Twitter immediately and it felt like the entire Broadway community—artists, staffers and fans alike—were gasping collectively. What is New York City without Broadway I wondered? What is my life without theatre? Theatre is my world, and it felt like that world was ending.
The rest of that evening was a blur. I tried to offer messages of love and support, but for once, as a writer, words were hard to find. It all felt apocalyptic. I found myself sitting in the lounge of my college dorm all night, hoping to run into another theatre kid (at a distance, of course), just so I could reassure myself that one day in the future, the shows would go on.
Although that was just six days ago, it feels like decades. So much has happened since then, locally, globally and personally. (With my NYC college closed, I'm now back at my parents' Maryland home.) But even as the news about pandemic has worsened, I've woken up every day to Broadway stars sharing their talents and optimism online—Kelli O'Hara singing, Ben Platt hosting a dance party, Billy Porter reading the virus, Laura Benanti soliciting videos of canceled student performances. Watching their strength, solidarity and soldiering on in the face of the unknown has been so healing and heartwarming for me and, I'm sure, countless other fans.
These past few days have shown me that I was wrong thinking Broadway wouldn't be there for us right now. It is…just at a distance.
Meg Masseron is currently studying Digital Journalism and Theatre Arts with a concentration in Theatre History at Marymount Manhattan. Follow her on Twitter at @megmnyc. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Patti LuPone in Company. Photo by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg.