My name is Michelle Moslemi-Haché, and I am the Director of Opera and Musical Theatre at UMHB. Over the past ten years, I have been lucky enough to be an active professional member of the Austin theatre community. It will probably not come as a big surprise that since March, I have had three productions canceled due to Covid-19, and sadly, the very first production affected by the pandemic was UMHB’s production of Carousel.  We were only one month away from our opening night when we realized that we would have to break the news to our talented, hard-working student cast, who had just completed staging and choreography for most of the show. Fast forward to October. At this point, I’ve seen companies close and professional colleagues on both coasts jobless since March.

A completely new type of production

This past weekend, I was offered a last-minute ticket to a completely new type of production I hadn’t experienced before, and I had the immense pleasure of seeing my dearest Austin friends in The Vortex’s outdoor/drive-thru production of The Odyssey. This wasn’t any typical production. This was an ingenious creation of Austin’s best directors and performers, in their hopes to survive another year. The entire production was an outdoor journey; the Vortex theatre troupe had built performance installations throughout their east side Austin neighborhood. My family and I drove from point to point on the map they provided us with, watching the performances from the safety of our car. Each stop featured sets built with countless donated hours; elaborate lighting and costumes were donated, as well. The performers were synced with their own pre-recorded voice-overs of original songs and music that would play through the “Rave” app. Audience members would install the app on their phones, which would allow for the performance to play at full volume through their car’s sound system (an important detail, given the fact that all performers were masked and outside.)

Redesigned to include the current issues of our country

The story of The Odyssey was also redesigned to include the current issues of our country, and how we are collectively trying to survive this unprecedented time in history. It was brilliant and inventive…all born out of strength through the necessity to raise funds. At the end of the route, I became unexpectedly overwhelmed with emotion. Not just because I desperately miss my colleagues, but also because I pray that Austin realizes it has been gifted with one of the most resilient, talented, inventive theatre communities I have ever encountered in the country; they are not afraid to fight during this industry-decimating pandemic. They are fighting to survive.

I was filled with pride to know them

I was filled with pride to know them. These performers, many of which had been rendered jobless by the pandemic, donated what little time they had to save their beloved historic theatre community in the hopes that it might live to see another year. And there they all were…pouring out their life’s energy in front of my sad little parked car.

Paramount Theater, Austin

The truth is that I’m not sure if the public really understands how terrible the situation is for millions of hard-working professional performers. The New York Metropolitan Opera has just announced its closure until September 2021. Their musicians, choirs, stage techs, and staff have been without pay since last April. Broadway is closed until 2021. Cirque du Soleil went bankrupt and cut over 3,500 jobs. Countless cruise boat and amusement park artists are unemployed and their companies have no idea when they will be rehired. There are no concerts, festivals or tours scheduled until 2021, and if they are canceled again next year, there is a high likelihood they may never see the stage again. This means no music festivals, no tours, no SXSW, no ballet, no Austin City Limits, no opera or musicals—all gone. I wonder if the public knows how many people are employed by these events…how much money the hosting cities will lose…how impossible it will be to recover from that loss.  The professionals who have been consistently employed now have no safety net whatsoever, because there was never a safety net established for them in the first place.

Closing every day

Artistic and musical organizations of all kinds – along with all technical and independent suppliers – are closing every day. Some of these organizations are historic and have been in operation for 50-100 years. For example, I was devastated to learn that my favorite costuming company, Chicago’s Broadway Costumes, which was established in 1886, has been forced to sell. The lightning speed at which this has all taken place is astounding; these companies went from thriving to closing in mere months.

Over 12,000,000 people work in entertainment production. This is certainly not an insignificant number and the industry simply cannot reopen until mass gatherings are allowed once again. Sure, the companies are working at a break-neck pace to find alternative ways of creating art and performance, but sadly, it will never bring in the income they need to survive.

Theater with title, "Temporarily closed due to corona. Stay safe."

So…what can you do? Please support your local and national theatres any way that you can, wear masks to stop the spread, and stand in solidarity with our country’s performing artists.

Essential and necessary

Music and the Performing Arts are essential and necessary for a thriving, educated society. And to my fierce and resilient friends in the Greater Austin theatre community: may you all thrive for another 100 years.

Do you feel called to pursuing a profession in music or the performing arts? The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor offers exciting degrees through the College of Visual & Performing Arts. We invite you to stop by for a visit, and see if UMHB is a fit for you.