Performing Arts

A ‘Great Cultural Depression’ Looms for Legions of Unemployed Performers

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Many performers are relying on charity. The Actors Fund, a service organization for the arts, has raised and distributed $18 million since the pandemic started for basic living expenses to 14,500 people.

“I’ve been at the Actors Fund for 36 years,” said Barbara S. Davis, the chief operating officer. “Through September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 recession, industry shutdowns. There’s clearly nothing that compares to this.”

Higher-paid television and film actors have more of a cushion, but they, too, have endured disappointments and lost opportunities. Jack Cutmore-Scott and Meaghan Rath, now his wife, had just been cast in a new CBS pilot, “Jury Duty,” when the pandemic shut down filming.

“I’d had my costume fitting and we were about to go and do the table read the following week, but we never made it,” Mr. Cutmore-Scott said. After several postponements, they heard in September that CBS was bailing out altogether.

Many live performers have looked for new ways to pursue their art, turning to video, streaming and other platforms. Carla Gover’s tour of dancing to and playing traditional Appalachian music as well as a folk opera she composed, “Cornbread and Tortillas,” were all canceled. “I had some long dark nights of the soul trying to envision what I could do,” said Ms. Gover, who lives in Lexington, Ky., and has three children.

She started writing weekly emails to all her contacts, sharing videos and offering online classes in flatfoot dancing and clogging. The response was enthusiastic. “I figured out how to use hashtags and now I have a new kind of business,” Ms. Gover said.

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