Plush toys, jewellery, dance lessons — Broadway’s side hustles

NEW YORK (AP) — Broadway seamstress Amy Micallef hasn’t put her talent on hold while theatres are shut. She’s been making plush toys — unusual plush toys.

Micallef, who has worked in the wardrobe departments of Hamilton, Waitress and Frozen, makes gleeful representations of COVID-19, complete with a pair of eyes and faux fur. Each one goes for USD23 and she encourages buyers to unleash their anger on her creations.

“Sometimes you need to throw something against the wall, you need to step on something. Do you want to run that thing over with your car? Honey, be my guest,” she said. “Here is here is your chance for sweet, sweet vengeance.”

While stages remain dark, Broadway workers like Micallef are finding ways to keep the lights on at home with side hustles. Some teach dance. Some offer music lessons or acting tips via Zoom. Some make jewellery or sell skincare products or handmade journals.

“Actors’ normal side gigs are catering and even those jobs don’t exist. No one’s hosting parties,” said Jeanna de Waal, who is to play the title role in the musical Diana. “A lot of people are having to learn new side hustles.”

Amy Micallef posing with her craft creations at her home. PHOTO: AP

The survival picture is certain to get darker when the government’s USD600-a-week pandemic compensation programme expires this month. The relief group The Actors Fund has distributed more than USD14 million in assistance to some 12,000 people, but more is needed. The city doesn’t expect shows to restart until at least January.

“The arts and the entertainment sector as a whole is on the verge of the biggest existential crisis we’ve ever had,” said Adam Krauthamer, the president of Local 802, which represents musicians. “We’re on the edge of the cliff.”

He said many of his 7,000 members are taking a hard look at their careers and may not return to Broadway orchestra pits or symphony spaces.

“If the right politicians and philanthropists and people who help the arts are not engaged to put together a programme that will save culture and the arts in New York City, it’s going to change as we know it forever.”

Ali Solomon’s career was finally soaring when the pandemic hit in mid-March. Like many Broadway artists, she had a patchwork of jobs: She was an associate choreographer for the off-Broadway show Trevor: The Musical, the tour choreographer for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and was helping a show in development. All were stopped — but rent wasn’t.

“You’re at the top of your game after working for so many years and now to go find a job in another industry, where do you start? You’re at the bottom of the totem pole. You’re lucky if you’ll make minimum wage,” she said.

To make ends meet, she is a skincare consultant for Rodan and Fields and teaches — both in-person at a studio on Long Island and virtually for PassDoor, an online dance studio created by Broadway veterans.

“I’m starting to add little bits of income. None of it will compare to what I was making before. But it’s something and luckily I’ve been able to save. But the fear, though, is that nest egg that you’ve been saving is quickly going to diminish because the cost of living is so high.”

De Waal has gone from acting to hiring. She’s put her focus on Broadway Weekends, a company she and her sister, Dani, started in 2017 offering in-person theatre camps for adults. Following the shutdown, she decided to focus online and recruited fellow performers. “All my friends were unemployed. So it was very easy to ask around.” Broadway Weekends now offers 20-30 classes a week on Zoom, charging USD39 a month for unlimited access. Enrolment has rocketed to over 7,000. De Waal is paying her teachers and is working to establish a non-profit version and an educational arm for school kids.

Jenny Florkowski, a veteran at Wicked, crafts jewellery on the side and is also looking to the wider community. She gives away all proceeds from sales of her beaded and friendship bracelets to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Colour of Change.

“During this time, a lot of performers feel they’ve lost their purpose,” she said. “It was nice to connect with a lot of people and feel like we were all giving towards something bigger than ourselves.”

Broadway producers have donated millions of dollars to emergency funds and one has even reached into her own pocket to employ 70 dancers to lead free virtual dance-exercise session classes.