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It’s hard to believe, but Broadway lights have been dimmed for over a year now. Concert and dance halls are shuttered. Buying two $7 waters in a dank basement for that comedy show is no more.
But finally, the performing arts are slowly coming back in NYC, and these creative souls are planning to tread the boards once more.
At 42, New Jersey comic Richie Redding was faced with a decision at the pandemic’s outbreak. “I was either going to join TikTok or LinkedIn,” he said. He chose the latter and was able to carve a niche as a comedy consultant at his site, FunnierThanYouAre. Through that work, he’s been able to produce more than 30 virtual corporate comedy shows, write content for multiple Fortune 500 companies and inject humor into blah digital conferences.
“I might be the only comic on Earth that’s on retainer,” he said. “Some very big companies have us on call in ways I never expected. We’re pitching commercial ideas and writing CEO speeches, YouTube scripts and social-media clapbacks.”
Now, he’s cautiously returning to the stage, including rooftop shows at the New York Comedy Club and Tiny Cupboard. He’s also at Stand Up NY, which does shows in Central Park, Battery Park and others. Comics are hoping to see these venues continue for the long haul.
“My second vaccine just kicked in, and I have a bunch of club spots coming up,” he said. “I had a headline weekend booked in Jersey, and it got canceled the day of the show . . . so comedy is back!”
No strings attached
Ravenna Lipchik, 29, a freelance violinist in Inwood, has found the pandemic to be an awakening of sorts. She started doing socially-distanced live-streamed concerts, fostering dogs and taught English to Russian entrepreneurs over Zoom. She was also accepted into the Juilliard School Historical Performance program.
Last May, the Black Lives Matter protests stirred a sense of purpose. “I realized how deeply unhappy I had been for years. Like wiping dust off of some forgotten heirloom, I was still there, under all the grime and stress the city had piled on top of me,” she said. “I started therapy and Lexapro, and I am the happiest I have been in a long time. I mention therapy and meds on purpose because it’s important to normalize self-help and self-care, especially for artists. There is this weird idea that we have to be miserable in order to be creative.”
Recently, she’s performed as a part of the Kaufman Musical Storefront on the Upper West Side, and she’ll be recording an album with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble in June, as well as playing a month of in-person concerts in Minnesota for the Lakes Area Music Festival. “Playing for an audience again after a year felt like the most wonderful, effortless joy. And the shared gratitude from the audience of being able to experience live music again is palpable,” she said.
At your service
Nathaniel Hill, 31, a former VIP Broadway concierge, launched a booming virtual biz. As founder of Broadway Plus, the Hell’s Kitchen resident now uses his connections to create experiences for clients via a platform on which actors sell their time for online coaching, appearances and concerts.
“It took off quickly, helping my actor friends secure much-needed income, and the new virtual corporate event economy was a boon,” he said.
By year’s end, they had acquired their closest competitor and grew from one to 10 employees.
As Broadway comes back, Hill plans on maintaining a hybrid business.
“I’m incredibly excited to go back to work in the theaters,” he said, adding that he just spent a ton of money to open a physical office space in the Theater District. “What can I say? I work in theater because I am passionate about being ‘in the room where it happens.’ ”
While coping with various injuries throughout her career, Jenelle Manzi, a Manhattan dancer with the New York City Ballet, turned to baking healthy snacks. Manzi, 32, planned on launching her passion project, Get Golden, a nut-and-seed bar, last spring, but the pandemic delayed launch until the summer. “I don’t think we would have been able to build the company at this scale, which has been a small silver lining in all of this,” she said.
Manzi is eagerly anticipating returning to dancing, as the company plans their fall season at Lincoln Center next fall.
“I cannot tell you how excited I am to bring snacks to our dressing room and to all my colleagues — it’s my favorite thing to do.”
Mark Weiser, a 51-year-old from Tenafly, NJ, is the owner of Shake Rattle & Roll Pianos, said to be the longest-running dueling pianos show in NYC. They sold out every Saturday from September 2010 until the pandemic shut down their Times Square showroom in March 2020.
“That week, we immediately moved our interactive shows online, and have been running them every weekend for 54 weeks. We even created new products and shows that fit the livestream format, like Piano Bingo and Name That Tune,” he said.
They’re now starting to book live shows in NYC again, “in the hopes that we are up and running again by summer,” he said. Meanwhile, they’ve happily blossomed into a thriving virtual entertainment company, doing livestream shows for clients including the BBC, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Columbia University.
Spelling it out
Gary Ferrar, 36, a magician and mentalist, performed roughly 300 events per year pre-COVID. When the pandemic arrived, the Queens resident created a virtual show, which has now been booked for clients including Amazon, Google and Pepsi.
He just did his first in-person performance in over six months for a small, outdoor birthday party in Prospect Park. “It felt like a dream,” he said. “I had forgotten how enjoyable it was to hear the buzz of the crowd, and to earn silence through dramatic tension rather than a ‘mute all’ button.”
Cody Renard Richard, a Manhattan-based Broadway stage manager, 32, shifted his focus from finding virtual theater work to becoming more engaged with the things that mattered to him. Specifically, he created a scholarship program along with the Broadway Advocacy Coalition for BIPOC offstage theater-makers and co-taught a class at Columbia University called Current Issues in Stage Management.
Beyond these new pursuits, he’s worked at several in-person events, including serving as a stage manager for the 2020 VMAs and gigging at two concerts at New York City Center.
“With Broadway on the horizon of re-opening, I plan to keep on doing what I’m doing. My scholarship program is a huge priority for me as well as being an educator. There will be a bit of juggling that I’ll have to do once I begin to take on in-person work, but as the saying goes, you make time for the things that are important to you.”
Actress Yvonne Jessica Pruitt, 24, jokes that she has worked more in the pandemic than ever before.
“Like many of us during the start of the pandemic, I was lost and unsure of how to move forward or what to focus my time and energy on,” she said. Ultimately, she joined a virtual production in Chicago, took classes, starred in a short film and participated in a weekly reading group for works written by black playwrights.
“While I was auditioning and getting into the groove of virtual shows and COVID-19 compliant filming, virtual hosting fell into my lap,” she said. Pruitt became a host for Breakout, a platform which runs virtual events to build remote culture, leading interactive summer camp themed team-bonding events for several teams over the holidays.
“I love being able to interact with people and bring a little joy to this time that is undoubtedly stressful for everyone,” she said.
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