The Coronavirus Economy: How my job as a Broadway performer has changed

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Justice Moore was only 19 years old when she joined the cast of Hamilton. In the three years since, not a week has gone by that she hasn’t moved across the stage wearing the show’s signature colonial garb as an ensemblist—acting, singing, and dancing—in one of the hottest musicals in Broadway history.

But that all changed on March 12, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned all gatherings of more than 500 people in response to the coronavirus pandemic and effectively shut down the Great White Way.

Broadway has long been the shining star in the middle of New York’s glistening galaxy, attracting more than 10 million visitors to its theaters every year. But the industry is also responsible for generating over $1.5 billion in annual revenue, with Hamilton alone grossing nearly $650 million since opening in 2015. So, when the lights went out on Broadway last week with plans to stay dark for a whopping 32 days, it marked the beginning of a very uncertain time for theater, during which an estimated $100 million in ticket sales will be lost and every member of the Broadway community will be out of a job.

Justice Moore joined the cast of “Hamilton” three years ago at the age of 19.
Josh Lehrer

Fortune spoke with Moore for a new series, The Coronavirus Economy, to ask about how COVID-19 has affected her employment status and her plans for the future, and to learn why even when the show can’t go on, the 22-year-old performer believes that life must. The following Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited.

Fortune: When did you first start to think the coronavirus could impact Broadway and your job?

Moore: I think probably a couple of days before, so probably that Tuesday when we came in. We found out last Thursday that Broadway would be going dark, so that Tuesday at the beginning of the week was when things kind of started. We were talking about Italy and China before that, of course, but it seemed so far away. We were concerned, and we made sure to do research and stay informed, but it wasn’t affecting us daily yet. Tuesday and Wednesday, when the NBA got shut down and our beloved Tom Hanks announced that he had it, was really when it hit me. When you think of a virus, you think everybody will be fine. You never think of the worst. Then, someone on the top gets sick, and you’re reminded that it can affect anybody, anywhere. I remember being in the dressing room thinking, “Oh, this might affect us.” But I never got too, too nervous. I really like to stay positive and put positive energy out there, and I don’t like to freak myself out.

With a show like Hamilton, we’re so blessed that it’s so popular. People will really get there any way that they can, so we weren’t really in a position to be scared of losing audiences because it’s just such a popular show. The theater organization made sure that we were supplied with hand sanitizers, and they were deep-cleaning the theater every night, so we felt really safe. We weren’t too worried about it.

After the show went dark, the “Hamilton” stage manager sent around a “Hamil-map,” including cast-member addresses to provide help if needed.
Joan Marcus

How did you find out that Broadway would be going dark?

That was a Thursday, so I wouldn’t have had to be in until 6 p.m. I think we got all of the news around 2 p.m. maybe, so I was just eating lunch and going about my day. I had a vocal lesson scheduled for later that day, and I had things to do. I heard the news from Playbill. It really went so far above the company; it was from our government. It wasn’t just something Hamilton was doing but something that the City of New York was doing.

How did the theater company respond to the news?

Our company stage manager sent around a really sweet email. She was very reassuring and tried to calm people’s nerves. She also started a “Hamil-map,” where she basically asked for everyone’s addresses and set up a map so we could see where everyone lives and who’s in our neighborhood, so we could get help if we needed it. I thought that was so smart. New York is huge, and you don’t know where everyone lives, so it’s nice to have a system like that and see where everyone is so we don’t feel so alone.

I imagine you won’t be paid at all for the duration of this closure.

That’s still a talk in progress. I know that there’s some bill that provided relief, but entertainment industry workers are not included in that, so I actually just signed a petition to get that changed. There’s actually this little meme going around on the Internet that basically says, “It’s funny how in these times, people will turn to art—to Netflix, to actors, to music, to literature—yet we’re not being represented in this bill.” So, it’s very odd.

I do think it’s a group effort. I know there’s a donation with the Actors Fund happening where, if you have tickets for a show during this closure, you can donate that ticket price to the fund, and it will provide relief for some of these actors. But it’s not only actors. It’s also the lighting people and the sound designers and all that. There are a lot of us in this business who need help, not just the actors.

Do you get the feeling that Broadway will reopen on April 13, as planned?

That is my hope, but I really have no idea. You listen to the news or go on Twitter and see “Oh, it’s going to be three months,” or “This won’t be solved until June.” So I do stay informed, but I really want to just devote my energy to healing myself and my body and just hoping for the best. If we open in April, we open in April, and if we don’t, we don’t. I know it sounds clichéd, but I’m just focusing on staying positive. Rather than asking when I’ll get my job back, I’m asking how I can be better.

What does your day-to-day life now look like? Are you able to do anything from home in order to generate an income?

No. I know some people in the Broadway community are doing Skype sessions to give vocal lessons or things like that, but I think everyone is just finding their own way to cope. Some people are turning to providing courses, and some are taking courses. I’ve kind of taken the impulse route. I’m just doing whatever I feel. So I just started decorating my apartment, and now I’m getting back into choreography; I’m reading; I just bought some drawing paper.

It’s interesting, I was listening to this podcast that said there’s a direct link between boredom and creativity, and I feel like that’s what we’re all going through right now. We’re finding that we’re really bored, but we’re coming up with really cool, new things to do. Work can be your life, but it’s cool to now see who people are outside their jobs. It’s kind of forcing us to ask ourselves who we are as people and as artists when we don’t have a job. It’s about finding yourself without the title of “Hamilton performer.” I don’t have that title for now, so I’m just asking myself, “Who is Justice in this month?”

It’s scary, and it’s hard. I’ve been doing this for almost four years, and it just came to a complete halt. But the things that have already blossomed during this time have helped me learn so much about myself and what I want to do in the future. It’s certainly sad that it’s under these circumstances, but I think people are creating beautiful things and finding beautiful things within themselves, so focusing on that is key.

More coronavirus coverage from Fortune:

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