It’s been a rough few years, but things are finally looking up for the theater industry and its actors. In-person productions are returning, for real this time, but the pandemic has exposed the instability and unevenness of the field.
In 2020, the unemployment rate for actors skyrocketed to 54% from 11% in 2019, and average theater company earnings fell by more than half. Now, as the omicron wave wanes, revenues are rebounding: Last month, Broadway earned $21.8 million, approaching its haul of $29.1 million in the same week in 2020, before the closings.
For four young Seattle actors planning their careers, it’s a time of transition and reevaluation, of excitement and apprehension.
“Connecting with other people who play, and how special it is, you don’t realize it until it’s gone,” says Eloise Maguire, 18, artistic director of Young Americans Theater Co., a youth-run theater based in Seattle. troop.
Like all YATC leaders, Maguire is still in high school — she’s a senior at Roosevelt. Yes, she says, it’s “weird” trying to run a teen business while still a teenager: “We joke that the ‘P’ in YATC stands for ‘professional’.” performed and produced productions every summer.
She returns to the YATC in person with a newfound appreciation for theater and the hope of enjoying it “one day at a time.”
When it comes to planning YATC’s 15th season, Maguire struggles with what youth theater should look like in 2022. It’s “a particularly scary and nerve-wracking time to be a teenager in America,” says- she. Should the theater rise? Difficult stories plumb? Reflecting the “seemingly dystopian height of American capitalism? Maguire hopes that the next YATC plays “will tell important stories but also bring joy and empathy to the audience”.
The pandemic has inspired a shift in career plans from theater to film for 17-year-old Bianca Mariani. A senior at Lakeside School, she applied to acting Bachelor of Arts programs, hoping to work in television and film after graduating. “My movie consumption has definitely increased during the pandemic,” she says, and “it made me want to be more interested in that path.”
Mariani got used to uncertainty. It’s normal that she can end up with “security work” to support her acting. “I’ve worked in a restaurant before, so I know what it’s like. I know I can do it,” she said.
Performing in YATC productions has boosted her confidence through the pandemic and the stressful college application process. As she watched her peers pursue acting studies, she realized, “OK, I’m surrounded by all these people who can do that. I’m in a casting with them. Maybe I can do that.
Maguire’s overriding emotion is gratitude to the teenagers of YATC: “The amount of ingenuity that our directors, our technical team and our actors bring to make something out of nothing, basically, is really special to watch. “
“Something From Nothing” could also be a title for Naveh Shavit-Lonstein’s 2020. Shavit-Lonstein, 23, had dreamed of a professional acting career since his first performance as “cornstalk or something” in a children’s play. He was in his freshman year in the Cornish College of the Arts drama program, and late in rehearsals for a dream role in the musical ‘Chicago’ when the pandemic hit.
When he suddenly found himself stuck at his home in Minnesota after Spring Break 2020, he took to his keyboard on the first day of lockdown and started writing a play; he worked there almost every day for the next two years. He used the disruption to learn new skills, such as taking his dance lessons after years as a “very nervous dancer” in the back row of the chorus line.
Now a graduate, Shavit-Lonstein works two days while “rocking” — studying multiple roles — in “Winnie the Pooh” at the StoryBook Theater in Kirkland. He is delighted to have the opportunity to practice his skills, even if he is not on stage every night. In the meantime, he is exploring playwright workshops for his current screenplay.
Brandon Jones Mooney, 27, has taken a winding path to professional theater: from community college to the Pacific Conservatory Theater to Cornish, where he graduated in 2020. Along the way in 2014, “totally on a whim head”, he co-founded a collective theater, Young Hot Thespian. He spent the pandemic working on another project, a digital series of filmed vignettes of black artists called Black 365.
“I’m passionate about creating,” he says, “so I never wanted to wait for an audition or someone to offer me a job.” Like Shavit-Lonstein with his screenplay, or Mariani and Maguire with YATC productions, Jones Mooney is a young actor eager to do his own thing.
For Jones Mooney, the biggest change in the past two years has not been virtual performances or masked audiences, but theater’s new embrace of diversity, black performers and people of color. “I hope the work people want to do now in terms of raising POC voices isn’t a trend,” he says, but the “new normal.” With Black 365, it’s doing its part to make the change permanent.
As these young artists continue to chart their future with cautious optimism, they are also eager to get back to doing what they love. As an exuberant Jones Mooney put it, “Now that things are reopening, we’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll!”
This article was written as a special assignment for The Seattle Times through the TeenTix Press Corps, an arts journalism program for teens sponsored by TeenTix (teentix.org), a nonprofit organization from youth empowerment and access to the arts.