Theatre lovers everywhere, including yours truly, were elated to hear recent news that all 41 legendary theatres from Midtown to Lincoln Center that have sat empty during the pandemic since March 20, 2020 will soon reopen to full capacity. “Waitress” and “Hadestown” re-opened Thursday and four other productions will follow on September 14.
The long-awaited announcement led me to wonder about the status of the touring shows brought to Indianapolis via Broadway Across Indianapolis at Clowes Memorial Hall and Old National Centre that were also canceled during the pandemic. Curious to find out when the series would return to Indy, I reached out to Leslie Broecker, president of Broadway Across America Midwest, who oversees not only Indy, but also operations in Louisville, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Kansas City.
Below is an edited transcript from an interview I conducted with Broecker on Zoom from her home outside Louisville.
How did the pandemic impact on the series?
When this first happened those many months ago, we were re-booking shows three or four months later because we certainly didn’t expect the impact of this to be as long-lasting as it has been. We’ve been creating really great communications, as well as content for people who love Broadway, and so they knew their season-tickets purchase…because we had just renewed season-ticket holders when this happened…they knew we were going to sit tight on the money and re-book the shows. We basically held all but two percent of our subscribers and it’s really been great and we replaced them with sales.
Right before we felt the effects of the Delta variant and everybody was finding freedom again, there was that spree of get-out-of-jail spending. I saw three concerts in a month, and it had been since 1978 since I had done that. I think it was Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead (laughs),. So now, we are back up and getting in a groove and continuing to sell tickets and putting shows on sale.
Describe the upcoming Broadway Across Indianapolis series?
We kick off with “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at Clowes October. 19-24. We are the launch of that tour. We’ll get this incredibly fresh production. I am excited about it because that will be the first night back in the theatre. I have dreamt about it and get goosebumps thinking about it. This is a terrific production that incorporates new music, along with the music that folks remember from the beloved movie. So, it’s a wonderful way to welcome people back into the theatre. We’ll follow that with “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Jan. 18-23. These are productions that we had on either our 2020 or 2021 calendars, so we were able to re-book almost everything we had. We have a production of “Superstar.” It has been since 2008 since we played the show. It’s a beloved production. So that is what I would call the revival of the season. We always try to have something for everyone. Next is “Pretty Woman,” Feb. 15-20 which recently played Broadway. It will run right after Valentine’s Day. Bryan Adams did the music for it. They just recently recorded a cast album, probably right before the pandemic. It was a great hit on Broadway. Adam Pascal has been cast in that. He was in the original production of “Rent.” We follow that with “Mean Girls,” March 29 April 3 which has been huge on Broadway. Tina Fey created it and her husband did the music. That kind of collaboration and all of the fun things from the movie will come to life in that production, but I always think that music makes it better. I am a theatre girl, so I think it is going to be super fun and there are a lot of folks looking forward to it. Then we close with the show everybody has been waiting for, “Dear Evan Hansen,” April 26-May 1. It’s about a letter that was never meant to be seen. It’s very gut wrenching. The music is beautiful, and we are thrilled to finally get it there.
Besides the shows themselves, what did audiences also miss about the experience during the pandemic?
The shared experience with the guy sitting next to you. No one else is going to have the experience you are having at that moment. Sometimes, I think a faux pas, such as when a piece of scenery doesn’t work, something happens and you get that cast reaction that wasn’t planned. I think those are the moments people live for.
Did theatre-goers also miss making an entire evening out of seeing a show?
It’s the whole enchilada. We have always believed that the theatrical experience is really when you get in the car and head downtown or to your theatre. We also serve as an economic engine for the businesses around us because we are driving folks to the restaurants or out afterwards for dessert and it is that whole getting dressed up. People don’t get quite as dressed up as they used to, but those who do love it, and those who don’t are just as welcome to feel comfortable. I think that is a little bit of the evolution of our age. We get phone calls, “When are you going to re-open?” We are working on our budget. We are working on our staffing. And that is for businesses in the surrounding area, including parking garages and all of those sorts of things. So, it is a wide-reaching experience, really, for lots of others besides the audience. There is no question about it.
I presume you have stayed in touch with the venues on a regular basis throughout the pandemic.
I worked with Clowes Hall and Old National Centre, holding dates and backup dates and the backup dates to the backup dates. We could feel, I guess around January perhaps, that things were headed in a better direction, that we would be solid in the fall, so rather than trying to come in too early we said, “Let’s make a plan that is far enough off that people will feel comfortable because shows are rusty.” Many of these shows have been in storage for 15 months and the equipment and the costumes. Everything needs to be brushed up and that can’t happen until everyone can safely work together. Some shows were in the theatre where they closed for over a year. “Lion King” and “Wicked” both were trapped and then when they got packed in the semis to go, those semis were packed in climate-controlled storage, but they were still in trucks because for touring Broadway, our theatres are the home. There isn’t a place to stop.
In New York, they could dim the lights and determine what they were going to do, but those shows were fixed. Ours were just frozen in time somewhere. In Columbus, I had one performance of “My Fair Lady” under our belt and then we closed on a Wednesday, I believe it was. So, we have stayed in great contact with New York. The Broadway League, which is our trade association and works with and oversees the venues in New York, as well as all of us on the road, has kept us glued together. The chairman of the Broadway League is also the president of Broadway Across America. She just began her three-year tenure, so we were even more fortunate to have what I would call a road person at the helm. They are very much Broadway, but she was very much looking at things simpatico with what we were trying to accomplish on the road. It has felt like we were glued particularly on all the health and safety precautions that we all are beginning to roll out.
What is the current Broadway Across Indianapolis’ COVID-19 safety policy?
Oh, it could change. I think “nimble” and “pivot” should be bolded in the dictionary. First and foremost is that we keep all of our crew, cast, audience, and volunteers safe. Our company, Broadway Across America, requires all of us to be vaccinated. What we have done so far with the labor agreements is “vaccine bubble” backstage and there are rigorous testing procedures and everyone backstage is required to be vaccinated. In terms of front of house, we are being very flexible with regard to what each municipality is allowing. I envision we will be masked to protect those on stage, as well as those around us. We will come back at 100 percent capacity. Our business model requires it. Limited capacity doesn’t work to be able to move it. As we speak, there is no requirement of a vaccination card for admission, but I believe it is required in many venues and we are watching the music industry. On Broadway, it is required, and they are able to accomplish that simply because they are dealing with a single municipality. A blanket rule for the road is quite difficult.
Is the talent level of touring show performers any less than that of those on Broadway?
When I am at a New York theatre, I often look at the program and am gratified that many of the performers have toured in our series and now they are on Broadway. People don’t understand the economics for touring when you are a performer. It’s quite good because besides a salary, they are collecting a per diem. They are getting to see the world without having to pay the expenses of living in New York. And most of those kids double up or go to an Airbnb, so you got four people sharing a single apartment or something, so the costs are not what they would be if you were just doing your job in New York. I know people who have chosen to be on the road for their entire career as opposed to living in New York because it is a passport to the universe and doing what you love.
Generally, what can Indy folks expect this season with the shows you all are presenting?
I think when everybody gets back, particularly within that first window of shows, I think what they can expect is goosebumps because that is what has been missing and I think that live commander will be immeasurable. The live-event business has been devastated through all of this, so go see a Broadway show, go to the symphony, go to a concert, just go out and support the performing arts.
For information about times/dates and how to purchase tickets, go to Indianapolis.Broadway.com.