The Return of Theatre Amidst a Pandemic
In the year 2020, I posted a blog about how I was in rehearsals for the new Britney Spears Musical when we got the news that Broadway was going dark. Fast forward (honestly, the SLOWEST forward ever) about a year and a half later, there are now signs of life that seem to be appearing amongst the ashes.
This summer in June, one of my favorite regional theaters, the one that gave me my Equity card for playing TiMoune in Once On This Island, Theatreworks in the Silicon Valley, invited me to be a part of their annual gala. I’ve done something like this before in the past for them so I was excited to say yes! But this time it would be very different: It would be the first performance they put on since Broadway shut down the year prior in March of 2020. It was a very big deal---to their patrons but also to the actors who were in the cast.
Every safety precaution was taken (ie. Everyone onstage and backstage was vaccinated. We had to wear our masks while indoors in rehearsal. We performed on an outdoor stage. We had a COVID safety rep who stuck around to make sure rules were being followed and also so we could talk to in case any of us felt unsafe.) You get the point. They wanted to make sure nobody got no coronavirus from this celebration. And spoilers: we didn’t!!
Coming back into a rehearsal setting felt surreal. Harmonizing with other actors sent chills up and down my spine. Standing center stage to sing by myself felt so sacred, that I honestly just was trying to keep myself from crying. It was so therapeutic. I/We all hadn’t performed for so long, with other people, that we’d forgotten how healing it is to make music and tell stories with other humans.
When it came time for the performance, I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my veins. My parents were driving up from Fresno and I hadn’t gotten a chance to see them yet. To start the show, it was me on stage by myself singing the first verse of When You Believe from The Prince of Egypt. Then the whole cast would soon join me. But of course it didn’t easily happen like that.
We hear Phil Santora, the Executive Director at Theatreworks announcing us and giving us our cue. I’m backstage with my friend, Billy who’s the most hilarious music supervisor I have EVER worked with. The whole band was already onstage and he was backstage doing I don’t even know. We hear our cue. And Billy and I look at each other and begin to whisper fight. He says, “You go first!” I say, “My cue is the music! You go first!” We are trying not to laugh and he did indeed go out there first. He plays the first few chords piano and so I enter the stage.
And then it happened.
I’m looking at the audience.
The audience is looking at me.
I’m on stage alone and it’s time for me to start singing.
And I can’t.
My eyes well up with tears in total disbelief that this is actually happening.
All the people keep looking at me.
I see my dad in the back. I haven’t seen him in months. I want to hug him.
I still can’t sing.
I look back at Billy, nonverbally communicating, “I’m so sorry.”
He looks back at me encouragingly and plays the intro one more time.
I look back at the audience. It feels like we are all in this together.
They are patient with me as I look at them all in the eyes trying not to cry.
I take a breath.
And I begin.
Chills run up and down my spine as I’m singing that first verse. Goosebumps on my arms and legs when the entire ensemble joins me on stage. Singing together felt like magic. And when we finished the song…the entire audience gave us the warmest most genuine, exasperated standing ovation I have ever witnessed.
Y’all, I HATE crying in front of people. I really really hate it. And you know what? I stood there while tears streamed down my face. We all did.
It was a moment we had yearned for for far too long.
I think it’s important to note that a lot has changed. And during the course of the evening’s performance, someone on our wardrobe department who was helping us dress took a fall. She hurt herself. And usually if something like that happened, it might be this awkward moment of, ‘man, I hope she’s okay. I need to get on stage.’ But not that night. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that humanity comes first. This lady fell, and the last thing I was worried about was my entrance. I hunted down ice as soon as I could and made sure she was okay. Because—HUMANITY.
And then, I made my next entrance.
And the world did not end.
Fast forward to August 2021.
I was invited to the premier showing of a documentary about theater that continued to press on during the pandemic against all odds called The Show Must Go On. One of the film makers of the documentary is also the co-creator of The Broadway Podcast Network, the home of hundreds of theater podcasts including my podcasts: Black Hair in the Big Leagues and most recently The Salisha Show! I love BPN and so I was there to support her and to have a fun evening. It was showing at The Majestic Theatre, the home of Phantom of the Opera. I was SO stoked because they asked me to be on the red carpet!! Andrew and I were going to get dressed UP and go to the Theater!! This would be the first Broadway theater he would ever step foot in and my first New York red carpet. SO COOL!
We arrived. They checked for vaccinations and negative covid tests. We checked in. They held my things. Andrew and I posed together for one spot. Then I was whisked away to do about 8 interviews. It was FABULOUS. It was GLAMOUROUS. I felt like a STAR!
OKAY. I was sweating like a pig. It was so humid that sweat was literally running down my entire body. I forgot how to speak in public. What to say when someone puts a microphone in my face. I was like, ‘oh lord. Well…maybe they just won’t use that take.’ We had so much fun that night. Hugging and chatting with friends old and new. (It wasn’t until later when I was at the meeting for Broadway Podcast Network that I realized when they asked me to “be on the red carpet” then meant for me to INTERVIEW the people on the red carpet…ya know…as the host of Black Hair in the Big Leagues. CLEARLY you can see where my head is at!) *facepalm*
I regret nothing.
LOL! Seriously though, what a blessing. And now, as of right now, Broadway is set to return in just a couple of weeks. Will there be updates with the new variant out on the loose? Maybe so. Will people feel safe to come back to the theater? I sure hope so. Does it help that the entire cast and backstage crew AND the audience has to be vaccinated? I think so. But we will see. My fingers and toes are crossed because not only am I emotionally ready to return to the stage, but also MAMA CAN’T LIVE ON HER SAVINGS FOREVER! (Shoutout to my lord and savior Jesus Christ and the Beautiful tour in 2015 for paving the way for me financially during the craziest time of my life.) Y’all, say a prayer. It’s time to get back to work.
And with that, I’d like to invite you dear reader to my very next cabaret: The Salisha Show Launch Party happening the day after Broadway reopens at the cutest most intimate little venue in Williamsburg. My show is on Wednesday, September 15th, 2021 at 8:30pm in New York. There is VERY limited seating inside the venue so get your tickets now friends!! There will be a champagne toast for those present to help me celebrate my new podcast The Salisha Show!! And for those that cannot make it, there are virtual tickets and the option to get a VR headset where you can stream the show with a 360 degree view. It will feel like you’re on the STAGE with me!!!
I’m ready for hugs and laughs and you AREN’T ready for the costumes I have lined up! Let’s get back to the theater safely and bring the heart back to New York City!
It appears as though the show truly will go on.