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Where Are They Now? We Check In With Broadway Workers, Now Off Broadway


Every year before the Tony Awards, we take you backstage to meet people who are essential to theater but not eligible for a trophy - ushers, stage managers, costumers. No date yet for this year's awards ceremony, even though nominations for the shortened season were announced in October, so Jeff Lunden decided to check in with some of those essential workers that he's interviewed before to find out how they've been coping since theaters closed.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Back in 2017, stage manager Karyn Meek was calling cues for "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812."


KARYN MEEK: Warning on the chains, warning on the deck, 115 on red, 120 on green.

LUNDEN: This past March, she was in South Bend, Ind., on tour with "The Lion King" when the pandemic shut down everything.

MEEK: I found myself in a place that I - was very unfamiliar to me. I've worked my entire life. And especially given what I do as a stage manager, I troubleshoot. I look ahead. I try to find the problems before they're there to solve them. And this is a problem that not only can I not solve; I can't even see what next week will be.

LUNDEN: For a while, Meek moved in with her parents in Ohio and painted houses.

When I talked to Tammy Kopko in 2013, she was dressing the star of "Cinderella." Earlier this year, she was doing TV production work.

TAMMY KOPKO: All of a sudden, all the phones are busting up, and everyone's saying, oh, my God. Broadway's shut down. And then this production shut down. That production shut down. And all of a sudden, OK, we're shut down. And the carpet was swept from underneath every single person like, boom.

LUNDEN: Kopko moved in with her parents outside of Scranton, Pa.


LUNDEN: In 2019, Greg Thymius was onstage playing clarinet in "Kiss Me, Kate." Early in the pandemic, he moved in with his elderly mother on Long Island. When she became symptomatic, he took her for a drive-thru COVID test.

GREG THYMIUS: My mom said, oh, that was unpleasant, and then it was done. And then she had it. And then two weeks later, yay, I got it.

LUNDEN: Thymius says they've both recovered and he's gotten a few socially distanced gigs. But a lot of the offers ask him to donate his services.

THYMIUS: I don't think it's right for world-class performers to be working for tips. I mean, it's nice when it happens. But that shouldn't be - you know, we can't live on tips.

LUNDEN: When everything shut down this year, dancer Kamille Upshaw, who we met in the chorus of "Mean Girls" in 2018, had just opened in a new Broadway-bound show in La Jolla, Calif. So she traveled back to her apartment in Harlem.

KAMILLE UPSHAW: For the first few months of quarantine, it was nothing but dance class, dance class, dance class, dance class, more dance, more dance, right? I was filling my soul all on Zoom, Instagram. You know, everybody was doing a free class on Instagram or a free class on Zoom. And then, to be honest, we hit all this Black Lives Matter stuff, and I lost my inspiration. I lost it.

LUNDEN: Even though she stopped dancing for a while, Upshaw attended Black Lives Matter marches in New York and Washington, D.C. She's dancing again, and now she's teaching classes on Zoom.

And after stage manager Karyn Meek moved back to her apartment in New York, she enrolled in grad school online.

MEEK: I'm now attending the University of Denver with a master of science and organizational leadership project management. Initially, I thought, well, I'll get a class or two under my belt, and then we'll be back. Well, now it appears that I will be graduated before we come back.

LUNDEN: And Tammy Kopko has gotten a job as a costumer on the television show "Blue Bloods," which films in New York.

KOPKO: We get tested three times a week to make sure we are all safe. We have to wear the masks and the shields. And, I mean, there's just - there's so much protocol that's so different now that it takes a little bit to get used to.

LUNDEN: The other three are collecting unemployment and practicing to keep their skills sharp. They're all waiting for the day that theaters reopen, says Karyn Meek.

MEEK: I'm probably going to lose it that night, you know, just to be back and around people and creating art again.

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.