The Struggle for Performing Artists During COVID


Photo Credit: Ayla DeBord

The Performing Arts industry is struggling and kids are in need for the use of their creative outlet.

Ayla DeBord, Writer

This year has been rough. It’s been rough for all of us. And for some, “rough” is a complete understatement for how this year is going. Especially for the people in the entertainment industry. Now I’m not talking about the famous movie stars or reality TV show goons. I’m talking about regular people like you and me. Actors and performers of all sorts have had it the absolute worst regarding this pandemic and losing them means a loss of educational programs for kids. Because of my constant work and communication with some local theaters here in Idaho, I know that so many people are in need right now. Both the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and The Boise Contemporary Theater have had to close their season completely. Producing shows is their main source of income and it is one of the many things they can not do. Staff are being laid off because there isn’t enough money to pay them, actors are having to scramble to find jobs just to stay on their feet. It is a scary world right now for actors and performers and it is something we need to pay attention to. It is common knowledge that in public schools, the arts are less likely to be funded than sports. Now more than ever we need to be giving that kind of supporting energy to the arts. Some theaters in the U.S have talked about closing permanently because of the loss of income and little donations given. That is a loss in education programs for kids, a loss in jobs, a loss of a funny story to be told or a loss of a meaningful moment hand crafted in a little black box theater. 

I interviewed Chris Canfield, a local actor in Boise and Co-President of a small theater company called The Boise Bard Players, he was a part of Boise High’s graduating class of 2009 and was the president of Boise’s Washington Street Players his Senior year. When asked about his initial worries of job status when the Pandemic started Canfield replied, “Thankfully I got hired as a teacher so I am personally okay as far as work goes….and I’ve watched as colleagues and friends have lost entire livelihoods because there’s no possible way they can work right now.” Canfield also noted that his position is very unique in that he is fortunate enough to have that job stability that most people in the performing arts do not have during this time. For the people in Idaho who are a part of the entertainment industry, it is even harder because we don’t have a huge arts centre like New York or Cleveland, Ohio. 

Many people are tirelessly working to make ends meet, getting creative and thinking of ways to bring more income in. I had the opportunity to talk to Boe Wank, a musical theater actor and choreographer who was based in New York before the pandemic, who is now working from home in Ohio. I had asked if he has had to get creative during this time of uncertainty when making money and he said, “I’ve been teaching dance, kind of freelance, via zoom and collecting my unemployment.” For those of us who can’t imagine having to learn a dance number, imagine having to learn it when your instructor is on a little screen on your phone or laptop. I know, just thinking about it gives me goosebumps! But because of what Wank is doing, kids are getting to interact with their usual creative outlet which is really important.

 Here in Boise there are acting camps and programs kids of all ages can do, but most have been canceled and numbers have been reduced dramatically, making it so not everyone can be involved. This is something that we really need to be paying more attention to because the longer our state takes to follow CDC guidelines, the longer kids go without their creative outlet. People are putting so much emphasis on sports these days, even during a worldwide pandemic. Adults and some students push sports in schools and elsewhere which means larger gatherings and higher risk of spreading the virus. This mentality is holding us back from a true State wide reopening. Which means the kids who are more art oriented, have to wait longer and longer to go back to doing what they love. 

Right now it is of the utmost importance that we are there for our local theaters and artists. Check in on your artistic friends and let them know you care because people are really needing uplifting energy. If you are able, donate to local theaters because even though it sounds cliche, every penny counts. For months now kids have been starved of their usual creative outlet and we should be doing what we can to make sure they don’t have to wait any longer than they should be. We are all going through this rough year together and all of our actions depend on getting back to our old normal. We have got to do better for our arts community and in turn do better for our society as a whole.