The COVID-19 pandemic has forced performers across the country into new territory: online.
Theater actress Belén Moyano ’16 and her husband Drew Nichols, a composer and music director, spent the last six months socially isolated in their sixth floor Washington Heights apartment doing what performing artists do—hustling for gigs. They just perform them live from their living room.
“The pitfall of New York is sometimes that because it is so busy and there is so much going on, you kind of fall into this rut of always kind of hustling but not really getting anywhere,” Moyano says.
Being stranded inside, she has moved projects from the back burner forward, establishing a business with her husband—a long-time to-do list item— and taking online fiddle classes and teaching virtual acting classes. She has also turned up the dial on her advocacy work. For her birthday, the couple held a benefit concert for Immigrant Families Together.
And to pay rent, the couple host Facebook live performances, perform musicals over Zoom, and work to bring to life McCobb Mortality Services, a radio musical comedy about a dysfunctional family of women grim reapers. Moyano is planning for tomorrow, too. She is translating productions into Spanish for the day the show can go on outside.
Question: What has COVID-19 taught you?
Answer: There was a story about how artists are the most nonessential job in the world. I feel like I have survived by watching Netflix and Disney+ and taking in what my artists friends have done. Something I will take away from this is the importance of the arts as a means of storytelling and tracking our history. I’ve also learned how important it is to take the time to listen to people—not just to their art but listening to their stories and their frustrations.
Q: What do you hope an enduring effect of COVID-19 will be?
A: I hope we will talk about stories that encompass a greater part of America, not just the stories we have been telling over and over again. Our whole cast of McCobb Mortality Services is people of color, including Broadway veterans, who didn’t work as much in the past. Theater is going through a transition and we want to see true equity and allow people of color to flourish in the industry. Despite our families telling us to come West, my husband and I felt we needed to be here in New York City now. We pray that there will be opportunity for people who have been trying for so long.
Q: Explain the translation work you are doing.
A: I moved to Utah from Argentina at age 9. For a while I have wanted to start a Latinx coalition for entertainers. I am collaborating with a friend to translate musicals to provide work for our talented Latinx community beyond productions of West Side Story, In the Heights, and Hamilton. How cool would it be if we get producers to put money behind say Waitress, in Spanish? Then we can perform these stories for communities that don’t usually get theater. I think about my parents. I would love for them to be able to not only understand productions, but to be moved by them.
Q: Has going online opened theater up to new audiences?
A: A Disney+ adaption of Hamilton came out and there is a video of a little Asian girl watching the actress Phillipa Soo who plays Eliza Hamilton saying, “Th at’s me!” How eye-opening is that? For the most part I don’t do art for myself. I do art for little Belén who wishes she had had that type of example growing up of people who are not only doing good art but who are also advocates. Because it’s not about vanity or money because theater is not about money. Representation matters.
Q: How can people experience and support the arts right now?
A: One of the most important things is to help artists build their platforms now that we are increasingly online. Follow and comment on their work because eventually someone is going to see it and remember you. There is also the Actors Fund for people who want to contribute financially.