Coming Back from the Abyss: General Managing A Pandemic

When Broadway shut down in March of last year, I, like so many others in the industry, cycled through all of the emotions those first few months. Optimism that the shutdown would be short-lived, concern for the human beings, our colleagues, who worked with us to bring Broadway to life, the realization that this was going to go on a lot longer than ever seemed possible, and, finally, acceptance: this could be the end.

I have worked exclusively in professional New York theater since graduating college. Within days after my final class I began an internship at Theater for a New Audience, followed by another internship at The Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, followed by yet another at a Broadway general management office.

I studied directing for theater in undergrad and my goal was to be the next Hal Prince. But, from the day I walked into my first general management office, until March 13, 2020, I never left. Every single paycheck I earned for eighteen years came from working in general management.

As the shutdown dragged on, questions naturally arose: was it time to move on? Explore new opportunities? And, yet, I stayed.

In the early months of the shutdown, most of the job of general managing became unrecognizable compared to everything I had spent those last eighteen years working on. We spent those first few months applying for PPP loans and filing insurance claims on behalf of our clients. This was stressful, hard, Kafkaesque work. No sooner than compiling a set of documents would the government or insurance auditor change the rules and we’d have to start anew.

But as hard as this work was for myself and our team at KGM, it was doubly hard for our producing clients. We like to tell potential clients that we’re the folks who will be with them in the trenches when the worst is happening. The example we like to give is that the turntable has broken, it’s 3 AM and the critics are coming the following night.

And we’ve seen our fair share of trenches but this was something else entirely. We knew our clients needed us more than ever. This was the worst they’ve been through and we vowed to do or be whatever they needed from us: friend, psychiatrist, laughing buddy, crying buddy.

Sure, the work was different, but we were helping producers. This is what we live for. Calling producing clients to tell them they had been approved for a PPP loan, or that the insurance claim came through, were some of the most rewarding phone calls I ever made in my career.

Faced with the tough choice of moving on or diving even further in, we chose to dive. Months later we were tasked with applying for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (SVOG) on behalf of our clients. If the PPP applications were Kafkaesque, these were byzantine land mines ready to go off at any moment. One wrong move and we risked hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant money on behalf of our clients.

We had never applied for grants before. It’s just not something we do in commercial theater where all money is raised from investors. And yet we dove in ever deeper. We spent weeks consulting with attorneys, government agencies, reporters and D.C. lobbyists. Anyone who could help us better help our clients. We spent countless sleepless nights obsessing over every detail of these grants.

And I loved every second of it. Once again I felt I could help and give back to the industry I loved so much.

More than ever, over the last fifteen months, we’ve relished opportunities to expand the role of what it means to be a general manager. We shared laughs and cries with our producing clients. We mourned losses and celebrated victories. And we craved, more than ever, to get back to doing what we love to do, which is helping producers and artists do what they do best.

Now that the lights of Broadway are slowing coming back on, the day-to-day has returned, mostly, to the work that we were accustomed to. Budgets, contracts, negotiations and union relations.

The work feels more familiar, we are once again on solid ground. At KGM we represent some bold and innovative shows that will hit NY theaters over the next couple of seasons and we are honored to be a part of this industry and this community. We truly can’t wait to stand in the back of darkened theaters and high five our producing clients who have poured so much of themselves into these projects.