Lights Out on the Great White Way

Leila Fischer, Reporter

Prior to March 2020, the bright lights of Broadway drew in thousands of tourists from across the globe– and many New Yorkers as well — to Midtown Manhattan for culture, camaraderie, food, and drink. The arrival of COVID-19, however, shuttered these famous theatres, and nearly nine months later, the date of reopening remains unknown. I had a conversation with Lamar Baylor, a performer in Broadway’s The Lion King. He discussed where he was when he heard about Broadway closing, how the pandemic has affected him and his fellow cast members, as well as what the future holds for Broadway.

Baylor “first heard about the closing on March 12.” A friend of his had a matinee show on that Thursday and was told that his show had been canceled because two people had tested positive for Covid. Shortly thereafter, Baylor’s stage manager called and said that there were no performances until further notice. When I asked him about how he felt when he heard the news, he stated, “I was excited about a day off, but I was also worried about the health and safety of everyone, especially the less fortunate and those from underserved communities.”

Since then, the impact of the pandemic on Baylor has grown due to Broadway’s prolonged closure — “It has significantly impacted the standard of living that I have been accustomed to and have worked incredibly hard to obtain. And without the help of the government’s stimulus package, I am struggling to manage my apartment, health insurance, amongst other things. Thank God for savings but that is on its last leg.” While there hasn’t been any direct supplemental income for performers and staff on Broadway, there have been grants available for artists to apply for. The financial hardship has also displaced Baylor and some of his fellow cast members. Baylor has temporarily relocated to St. Louis and other members of the Lion King have left New York City as well to do “what they believed was necessary for themselves and their families.”

Without a show to rehearse and perform daily, Baylor has found other ways to fuel his creativity. “I have been teaching dance in person and remotely. It isn’t, by any means, the type of rigorous and intense dancing I prefer but it has afforded me the opportunity to still be actively engaged in cultivating the aspiring artists of generations to come.” Baylor is a choreographer and teacher for the upcoming Virtual Christmas Special for the Broadway Star Project, which will air sometime in December. Helping young people was a theme in our conversation, and Baylor’s passion for making a difference was evident.

Baylor’s work on Broadway is not the only passion of his that has been battered by the pandemic. His work as the Artistic Consultant for MindLeaps, a non-profit based in the United States that works “in developing countries to improve school performance and create positive livelihoods for at-risk youth,” has also been suspended. While talking about this work, Baylor was clearly pained by his inability to reach out to these children during this challenging time: “We work with underserved youth and refugees in six different African countries as well as the Balkans, specifically North Macedonia. We use dance as a vehicle to develop cognitive and socio-emotional skills vital to success in school and work. Even in the best of times, this work is vitally important.” Baylor continued, “I am truly passionate about the work we do and have been to Rwanda four times including a visit with American Ballet Theatre’s First Black Principal Ballerina, Misty Copeland. I’m very eagerly anticipating traveling there to teach once international travel reopens.”

While service to others is important, I wanted to know what else Baylor was doing with his time presently. “During this time away from Broadway, I have been doing more of what fulfills and makes me happy. This includes maintaining my mental, physical, and emotional health as well as teaching and reflecting on the things that are important to me. I am finishing up my thesis for Grad School and contemplating if I want to pursue an additional master’s degree.”

Finally, what does the future hold for Broadway? According to Baylor, “There is no exact date of when we will return. Governor Cuomo has already stated that Broadway shows can not open until Summer 2021, so there’s that…”

While there may not be optimism about the reopening of Broadway shows, my discussion with Baylor left me optimistic about the future of the arts and the impact of Broadway performers on society. Baylor’s contributions alone are improving the lives of many young people, who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the lights of Broadway are currently dimmed, the glow of its artists continues to shape our world in important ways.