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Corona pandemic: silence over New York’s art scene

Theaters, opera houses and cinemas are also closed in New York because of the pandemic. Artists had to leave the city because they couldn’t pay their rent. Some embarked on new paths.

By Antje Passenheim, ARD-Studio New York

“When I walk through the theater district, it’s so strange. Like a ghost town,” says Broadway artist Kevin Smith Kirkwood. “I call it crazy” (“I call it crazy”).

At the beginning of the year he was still on stage – in the choir of the musical “Kinky Boots”. In March the sound went out and the lights went out. “Nobody has seen the theater dark for so long. That’s crazy.”

100,000 jobs on Broadway affected

Corona has paralyzed more than 40 major Broadway theaters. Not counting the many others outside the glittering mile. On Broadway alone, around 100,000 jobs are attached to the shows: stage workers, taxi drivers, restaurants.

The dancer says he can no longer work: “Since then, I’ve been living on unemployment benefits and my small savings from Kinky Boots,” says Kirkwood.

Many can no longer pay rent

Many artist colleagues are even worse off. They had to leave New York because they could no longer pay their rent. They stayed connected anyway. You are a family.

The first show should open again in May at the earliest. But the theaters have lost around one and a half billion dollars in revenue. For most of them, expensive productions are only worthwhile when the houses are allowed to sell out again.

The head of the Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb, also laments ghostly silence. The news that the largest opera house in the United States will not hold its first stage performance until September was a bad signal for the country’s cultural workers.

“Visitors are now more attentive”

For some, however, there have already been nice moments. Max Hollein, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), is one of them: “It was a highly emotional moment for me when the large flower arrangements returned in the large MET entrance hall, which had been empty for so long.”

With other big names like MoMa and Guggenheim, the Museum at Central Park was allowed to reopen in October. However, only for a quarter of the visitors. Hollein not only sees the crisis, but also what is enriching: “The visitors who are coming back now have noticed – especially at the time when they were unable to visit the MET – what the museum actually means to them. And in this respect the visitors are now even more attentive, even more intense when you walk through our galleries. “

Reached a new audience

His museum also grew during the crisis. A new audience was reached through the virtual offer. And with him I got to know many new forms of interaction.

Hollein says: “The museum has de facto expanded, developed further, expanded during this time. You will find a much wider radius of action – even if we are then completely open again.”

Comedy show from the living room

It’s the art to keep laughing, says comedian Tyler Fischer. When the lockdown came in March, he broke the ground: “I had a complete breakdown.”

As a comedian, he made as much as he had shows. “I get paid in cash after every show. I thought, oh my god. If people can’t get together, they can’t go to the clubs. No money, no rent – that was tough.”

Fischer broke new ground, got in contact with a comedy club and asked: “Give me your Instagram account for an evening. I’ll make a show out of my living room, I’ll make it look like a club and bring a few comedians together virtually. That’s how we keep comedy going. “

He still does that today: in open-air and zoom shows, on roofs and in front gardens. “New Yorkers are tough,” says Fischer. “We always find a way. And after five months everything felt perfectly normal.” Maybe not quite normal, he admits. And he is hoping for spring and the vaccination campaigns.

In comedy, people have to be squeezed together for the laughs to spread. And they will, says the comedian. And he really means it.

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