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As the pandemic shutters Broadway and beyond, writers, actors and crew members must acclimatize to an uncertain new world

Last Tuesday, Jessica Altchiler led a ballet class. But instead of the long, sleek barre she would normally rely on for support, she grasped on to a TV stand. And if that alone didnt prove she wasnt at a conventional dance studio, the red-and-black plaid pet bed in the background gave her away.

Still, she tendued, relevd and coached other dancers, even though she couldnt see them.

Im already sweating! she said as she ducked into the camera frame. I hope other people are sweating, too.

Not even a week before she was teaching on Instagram Live, Altchiler had been in Detroit as part of her first professional job in the national tour of Fiddler on the Roof. While she and her fellow cast members performed in the show, they saw headlines about Broadway shutting down and March Madness being cancelled. Then, their own tour dates were postponed, and a suddenly unemployed Altchiler boarded a nearly empty flight back to her family home in Connecticut.

Its strange for me to think about people still having a job because, for me, the world was just turned upside down, she said.

All of the savings that she and her co-workers had been carefully growing to move to New York, pay for an apartment or invest in classes now have to be redirected toward survival during this unprecedented time in theater history, and some of her colleagues are scrambling to find a place to stay after months on the road.

As the world wrestles with Covid-19, Altchilers new reality isnt particularly uncommon among artists. Theater professionals are frightened, and theyre mourning a lot of art that may never again see the light of day as venues shutter at least temporarily and would-be audiences disappear. But even as performers suffer great personal and professional losses, theyre working overtime to send messages of hope and peace, provide necessary resources to others who are struggling and offer a balm for the social-distanced and self-isolated.

A note outside the theater for the hit play Hamilton explains why they have closed. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

On an at-home edition of The Tonight Show last Wednesday, Lin-Manuel Miranda joined Jimmy Fallon to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids Covid-19 emergency assistance fund. The Hamilton star performed his song about parents wanting to give the best possible version of the world to their children, as parents everywhere, including Fallon and Miranda, stare down a global crisis alongside their own kids.

Also online, the theater legend and radio host Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley, his producer husband, quickly organized twice-daily at-home performances to fundraise for the Actors Fund. A long list of Broadway A-listers immediately signed up. Kristin Chenoweth was all dressed up when she appeared on the web series from her bathroom over the weekend, and on Saturday, Lea Salonga will call in to sing at 2am Manila time.

Artists love the world, and they love helping, Rudetsky said. So every single person we wrote basically just wrote back right away and said: Im in, Im in, what do I do?

Meanwhile, theaters are trying to figure out how to stay afloat and take care of their own as the very notion of live entertainment has become taboo. Susi Damilano, co-founder and producing director of the San Francisco Playhouse, said she hasnt had to fire anyone, and shes asking hourly workers to submit their schedules on a week-to-week basis for compensation. Shes hoping patrons will donate the value of a ticket and landlords will ease up on rent; if not, her playhouse will only be able to pay people for a few months.

I think that the arts and culture are proving to be where we all turn in times of difficulty, and yet are the first and hardest hit economically, said Damilano. And people are realizing that.

Photograph: MediaPunch/Rex/Shutterstock

As theaters take a financial clobbering, some are requesting that playwrights refund advance payments. Lynn Nottage one of Americas foremost playwrights who has earned two Pulitzer prizes for her work was asked by a large regional theater to return her advance, even as everything she had scheduled was cancelled before her eyes and she lost what would have probably been the majority of her income for the year.

Nottage said most companies arent making such requests, but she did worry about whats going to happen as theaters another place where people go to heal close down for the time being. She empathized with the young artists who had debuts in Seattle, New York and Chicago, the up-and-coming actors, playwrights and directors who usually present work during this time of year and even the singers who were performing in her first opera at Lincoln Center.

On Broadway, young performers who were ready for their big breaks got caught in limbo, some even before their first performances. Michael Lepore, who is making his Broadway debut alongside 12 others in Sing Street, had just walked on the Lyceum Theatre stage for the first time when all of Broadway closed at least until April.

It was all these dreams come true, with this thing hanging in the air of like, Oh God, this is going to be it for a little bit, he said.

With everything delayed, he retreated to his parents home in Connecticut with all his instruments as a cover, hes required to know the show on acoustic and electric guitar, bass, piano, synthesizer, baritone electric guitar and stylophone. Hes been getting his notes in order and making sure hes off-book. But hes also started working on his own music, and hes recording a few things.

People are adapting, Rudetsky said. Quoting the musical Closer Than Ever, he started to sing: If someone told me even just a week ago I would have said youre crazy, Id have burst right into tears, but here I am.

Yes, the things we plan on happening are not gonna happen, he said. But, who knows what will happen?

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