Editors’ Note: With full acknowledgment of the big-picture implications of a pandemic that already has claimed thousands of lives, cratered global economies and closed international borders, Deadline’s Coping With COVID-19 Crisis series is a forum for those in the entertainment space grappling with myriad consequences of seeing a great industry screech to a halt. The hope is for an exchange of ideas and experiences, and suggestions on how businesses and individuals can best ride out a crisis that doesn’t look like it will abate any time soon. If you have a story, email email@example.com.
The Tony Award-winning hit Hadestown, directed by Rachel Chavkin, is, relatively speaking of course, in sturdy shape for the eventual resumption of performances when Broadway deems it safe and appropriate to re-open theaters. The Anaïs Mitchell musical that puts a contemporary, folk-rock spin on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice won eight Tonys last year and became one of the unqualified commercial hits of the season, regularly selling out the Walter Kerr Theatre with weekly grosses in excess of $1 million.
Hadestown should certainly be among the Broadway productions likely to hit the ground running post-crisis, but Chavkin, like everyone else in the industry, is concerned – for newer shows, for friends and colleagues, for the untold numbers of workers throughout the Broadway “ecosystem.”
Chavkin’s latest theatrical endeavor, the Matt Gould-Carson Kreitzer musical Lempicka, was originally set to stage a pre-Broadway engagement this spring at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. The musical, about the real-life Russian Revolution-era painter Tamara de Lempicka, has been postponed at La Jolla until next season.
Also coming up for Chavkin, as reported by Deadline last month, is her feature film directorial debut on Paramount’s psychological thriller Shrew’s Nest.
Deadline recently caught up with the Tony-winning director, who shared her thoughts on the crisis. The conversation, which took place prior to the March 25 postponement of the 2020 Tony Awards, has been edited and condensed.
DEADLINE: So, Rachel, how is your week going?
RACHEL CHAVKIN: All things considered my week has been fine. I think like a lot of people I’m swinging back and forth between a sense of chill resignation and bouts of panic. And having a lot of family conversations about how to respond. But, you know, I’m acutely aware that of many people in my field and ecosystem, I’m very lucky. I am. Hadestown opened last year and is in strong shape. We’re all looking forward obviously to being able to start with audiences again.
DEADLINE: If this had happened last year, what might have happened to Hadestown?
CHAVKIN: Oh, I have no idea. I’ve been in touch with my Hadestown producers, who are wonderful humans so I’m also just close with them, and I know that they have been incredibly worried about their colleagues [on new shows].
I’m very close with Ben Power who [adapted] The Lehman Trilogy, and we had a drink and were hanging out when the European travel restrictions came flooding out, and I immediately said to Ben, you gotta go, it’s time for you to get home to your family.
Back to what would have happened to Hadestown, I just don’t have any idea. I know I feel incredibly fortunate that we opened last year, and I am hopeful that the field in terms of Tony deadlines, all of this, will figure it’s way out. But I know it’s not like a Broadway show is ever not precarious and I just feel for everyone. The parking attendants who park the cars, the dishwashers and the wait staff at the Glass House Tavern. Our ecosystem is massive, and of course we know that Broadway as well as Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway are part of employing not just those workers, but a huge part of what keeps Midtown Manhattan — and Downtown Manhattan and Bushwick — thriving. The freelance artists are vulnerable, profoundly so. The Off Broadway spaces are hugely vulnerable. And again none of these are who or what would ever describe themselves as flush with cash, even in good times.
DEADLINE: Are you in touch at all with cast members, other creatives? I’m trying to get a sense of what communication is like now.
CHAVKIN: Amber Gray and I text every day because she and I are best friends, but I emailed everyone in the company on stage because obviously I have the deepest personal relationship to the cast, just to say I’m here if anyone’s going mad, call anytime. The producers did the same with the entire company in the building. I hear from people occasionally. I think everyone is moving between madness and calm. You know, the refrain I’m hearing from a lot of places is that a lot of good art is going to come out of this. [Laughs] I don’t know if that’s true or if there’s just going to be a lot of good television watching coming out of this. Frankly, there’s space for both. My husband and I just started watching the Hillary Clinton documentary on Hulu, which is just spectacular, and devastating to be watching right now.
DEADLINE: Have things come to a halt for you professionally? What’s happening with your projects?
CHAVKIN: There’s nothing concrete to say yet right now, but Lempicka is a show that was on track for a pre-Broadway tryout. So of course, it’s not just the stuff from this season that’s getting affected, it’s all the stuff that was keying up for next season. So that for me is my biggest project in flux right now, and the timeline of that will certainly affect other things. But I am happy to say that the writers and I have been having excellent Zoom meetings. We’re getting the script and score into as rigorous and emotional a place as we possibly can. So time is definitely not being wasted.
DEADLINE: Are cast members sneaking off for secret rehearsals?
CHAVKIN: I honestly don’t think that’s happening. You know, a director is not the employer, ever. In my world we, along with the performers, are employees of the producers and theaters. But nonetheless, I know that a lot of directors felt very cognizant of the potential safety risks when certain projects were pushing to continue rehearsals. I think we’ve now reached a place where everyone is hunkered down and heeding our public health officials stressing the need to quarantine as much as possible so we don’t overrun the health care system.
DEADLINE: Will audiences be eager to return? Or will they be scared?
CHAVKIN: My guess is it will take a while for the world to settle back in to normalcy but we will get there. I feel clear about that.