One yr COVID anniversary: Broadway shutdown results

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Melissa Tong has a signed poster of Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen in her lounge. It’s a souvenir from her school days at USC the place she studied violin efficiency and performed within the college orchestra when he visitor performed. She was an L.A. Phil groupie, attending a live performance not less than as soon as every week, and she or he labored for the Hollywood Bowl for a number of summers, chauffeuring stars like BD Wong, Alan Cumming, Tito Puente and Maceo Parker.

After commencement Tong moved to New York Metropolis and commenced the arduous technique of carving out a profession for herself as a contract classical violinist. At first, she took each gig that got here her approach. She performed with orchestras everywhere in the metropolis’s boroughs, and she or he toured with pop stars together with Sara Bareilles . She existed on a gentle stream of 1099 tax kinds — the de facto eating regimen of an impartial contractor.

Then, two years in the past, whereas at dinner along with her associate, she bought a name that modified her life: She was employed for a Broadway orchestra gig on the brand new jukebox musical, “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Occasions of the Temptations.” She began crying on the desk.

Violinist Melissa Tong's cat Chloe steals a scene while Tong makes a remote appearance on "PBS NewsHour."

Violinist Melissa Tong’s cat Chloe steals the scene whereas Tong makes a distant look on “PBS NewsHour” as a member of the orchestra for the Broadway musical “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Occasions of the Temptations.”

(Melissa Tong)

“It was the primary time I used to be going to have monetary safety in my life,” Tong remembers. “Along with being my very first predictable weekly paycheck on a W2, it was an absolute dream job.” (A Broadway pit musician can usher in between $1,000 and $2,000 per week minimal, plus further if they’re taking part in multiple instrument or make an look onstage.)

Tong lived in that near-perfect narrative for a yr earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic added an unwelcome plot twist within the type of shuttered theaters and shattered desires.

Her reminiscence of the times main as much as the March 12 Broadway shutdown are nonetheless vivid. Attendance numbers have been starting to dip, and on March 3, throughout the present’s finale, when the orchestra seems on stage, Tong remembers wanting up at an eerily empty balcony and seeing an viewers member in a masks.

This time has confirmed that I’m a musician to the core. I need — and wish — to play music.”

Melissa Tong, violin

“All the things went into surreal mode for a minute, and I simply had this queasy feeling,” Tong says.

The orchestra stored in contact after the shutdown, and the present’s producers met with every division individually over the summer season. The query inevitably got here up: If this continues till 2021, how lengthy are you able to grasp in there?

Tong was already working a educating studio. As a result of she was on tour typically, her college students have been used to studying on-line, and she or he was in a position to shortly pivot to educating. She additionally did a number of recording initiatives from residence. At first, she couldn’t acquire unemployment due to her educating gig however finally she turned eligible for assist.

Between educating and unemployment, she managed to remain afloat. She feels lucky that the present has continued to offer medical health insurance for its members throughout the downtime. With out it, she can be going through extra bother.

She has good days and dangerous days.

“At first my type-A classical musician, Manhattan character kicked in,” she says. “I assumed, ‘I’m going to memorize all the canon of Johann Sebastian Bach and train two hours a day.’”

Pandemic: One year in

The World Well being Group introduced the coronavirus outbreak had grow to be a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Since then, the virus has seemingly touched all points of life in Southern California and past. The Occasions seems to be again on a full yr of life in a pandemic.

That didn’t occur, however she did do yoga trainer coaching, which she had lengthy wished to do. She additionally started providing free lessons for important staff.

Broadway is formally shut down by means of Might, and Tong says she hasn’t but heard any information on a approach ahead. She is watching nervously. In January, “Imply Ladies” introduced it might shut for good. Tong hopes that “Ain’t Too Proud” can grasp in there only a bit longer.

“This time has confirmed that I’m a musician to the core,” says Tong. “I need — and wish — to play music.”

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