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While Broadway is the name of the street and section of the city that physically hosts the world’s most incredible artistic oeuvres and creators, Hell’s Kitchen is the home. As Jackie Cox recently told W42ST — “Hell’s Kitchen and Broadway are two halves of a whole, and we’re coming back.” Coming back is what we’ve always done.
In a cross-hemisphere conversation with Hell’s Kitchen and Broadway’s very own Kilty Reidy, who is currently working in Melbourne, Australia, we discussed what (essentially) living in the future has been like – literally and figuratively. Literally, he’s time zones ahead, but figuratively he’s where we aim to be by the summer, in a country with live performances back on, restaurants up and running, and friendly faces lining the streets without anxiety of conversation.
Reidy, a veteran of the Broadway production and North American tour of Come from Away, was in Texas pre-pandemic when the lights turned off. Months on, he was called to join the Australia company and tour — the country’s rapid response and containment of COVID-19 enabled them to open in-person live theatre months ago.
Being part of the company and in front of an audience again was, and continues to be, a blessing for Reidy, but he feels for his fellow actors as Broadway waits. “I empathize in the sense that I had no idea that this job was coming and so, I was waiting, waiting, waiting for this job to come; my whole career has been waiting,” Reidy said. “Just because I have a job right now doesn’t mean I don’t understand what it’s like to not have a job right now.”
A recent report revealed that the Chelsea/Clinton/Midtown Manhattan Business District neighborhood accounts for 46 percent of all entertainment/arts industry jobs and is home to 1,921 venues. This far surpasses any other neighborhood in the city, and these venues employed 42,609 people whilst supporting many other ancillary businesses.
In 2019, pre-pandemic life in New York City welcomed over 67 million tourists, accounting for $70 billion in economic activity. Tourism was thriving with the constant influx of visitors swarming our city, and despite local disdain for Times Square as the hub, it is this influx of visitors that aided in 128,400 residents to draw their primary earnings from working in the entertainment industry.
From 2009 to 2019, the arts and recreation sector grew by 42%, which was a faster growth than the total private sector employment at the time. Then 2020 hit and the pandemic made it clear that the industry would take an unimaginable loss. Tourists numbers declined to 23 million, and thousands working in the industry were left with uncertainty that expanded even the most creative of minds.
Reidy loves New York and is “so proud of being part of these communities, but also [Joe Allen’s] has become a real part of my identity. I identify as a worker, and that’s one of the things I’m proud about. I’ve always held my head high even when I was waiting tables or checking coats.
“We need art for our neighborhood, our specific neighborhood to flourish — it is the life blood of our neighborhood. We need theatre and art so that our restaurants can get back,” he added.
As of now, Broadway shows are closed until May 30, 2021 and details regarding safe reopening are as unpredictable as the virus itself. Governor Cuomo also announced that venues will be able to reopen at 33 percent capacity beginning on April 2. So, hope is on the horizon and live in-person events are blooming in more pandemic-controlled countries like Australia – something that seems but a memory for New York.
While the gap in the entertainment industry has caused decreased foot traffic, and in turn negatively impacting the restaurant sector, there is light at the end of this very long tunnel. At the end of 2020, the New York City Council passed legislation for the creation of the Open Culture program, allowing eligible organizations to hold outdoor free or ticketed arts and culture eventual in public venues beginning this month. The program currently has an extension through October 2021, with potential further extension through March 2022.
Currently, the only major New York City employment sector that remains below half of its pre-pandemic employment rates is the entertainment/arts sectors. But as they say, the show must go on, and when you hit rock bottom, the only way is up! While Broadway producers have their eyes on Australia’s safe opening on live theatre events, flexibility will be key, and committed and consistent support not just from tourists will be essential.
At time of writing, new marquees are being put up, cast Zoom planning meetings are being held, and restaurants are dusting off their buildings for a warm, safe, happy and successful return of Hell’s Kitchen’s beloved Broadway. The future of Broadway and the successful return of the industry depends on us and New York must rally back and support our very own tribe.