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TIMES SQUARE, Manhattan (WABC) -- The theater community reunited in Times Square Friday, exactly one year to the day since the Broadway shutdown, for "We Will Be Back," a live pop-up experience and commemoration of the industry's lost year.
The event aimed to provide a sense of hope as the industry and city move forward from the challenges of the past year by shining a spotlight on the 97,000 arts workers who have suffered during the theatre's literal darkest hours.
It also celebrated the sense of community and diversity within the arts environment that mirrors that of New York City itself.
"Live theater is crucial to the lifeblood of the city," Times Square Alliance acting President and COO Tom Harris said. "Times Square sits at the main artery of the city. Together, Broadway and Times Square represent a crucial economic and cultural center of New York, and without these two thriving, the city can not rebuild."
Broadway stars Chita Rivera, John Leguizamo, André De Shields, LaChanze, Santino Fontana, Will Chase, Ingrid Michaelson, Lillias White, Patti Murin, Colin Donnell, BD Wong, Tamara Tunie, Jerry Mitchell and more served as hosts for the event -- which featured song, dance, costumes, musicians and more in Times Square, the heart of New York City.
Their voices were strong and their hearts full, their souls restless after a full year of not being able to do what they love best.
"It's strange to see people again," actor Matthew Broderick said. It's great to see them."
The Actor's Fund has helped many with food and rent money, and some have been forced to turn side-hustles into full time jobs.
"I don't think anyone of us expected it to last this long," Brian Stokes Mitchell said. "That's what's been so shocking about it. It's why I'm so happy I've been with the actors fund and to be able to help people get all through this terrible, terrible time we're going through."
The $17 billion a year industry still doesn't know when it will get back to work, but the feeling is certainly optimistic.
"Please God, I hope this horrible thing has brought us closer together," Chita Rivera said. ""I know it's made me more determine to get out there and give my everything, what little bit I've got left after all these years."
While the theater community has many months ahead before uniting in theatres once again, "We Will Be Back" provided the opportunity to safely and ceremoniously come together on Broadway, live and in-person, for the special one-time-only performance representing a myriad of arts and culture workers, unions and individuals that comprise the Broadway community.
"We're thrilled to once again celebrate one of New York's greatest institutions, Broadway, in the heart of New York, Times Square," NYCNext co-founder Maryam Banikaram said. "Our goal is to help New York City recover and rebuild by fortifying its unique cultural community, and this event is emblematic of that mission."
The COVID-mindful gathering was presented by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, NYCNext, and the Times Square Alliance. It is directed and produced by Holly-Anne Devlin/Kaleidoscope Entertainment, and Executive Produced by Blake Ross.
"We Will Be Back" included contributions from the variety of institutions and organizations that make Broadway what it is and are shaping the Broadway of tomorrow, including: Broadway Inspirational Voices, Musicians United for Social Equality, Judi Wilfore, Be An Arts Hero, Black Theatre United, The Costume Industry Coalition, Broadway For Racial Justice, The Dramatists Guild, Black Theatre Coalition, Local 802, The Casting Society of America, The New York Drama Critics Circle, Open Jar Studios, Stars in the House, Dominick Costa, and RRR Creative.
"Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS takes great pride today in standing with the Broadway community, which has stood beside us for so long," Executive Director Tom Viola said. "These theater artists - all who work with such dedication onstage, backstage, and behind the scenes - are the first to respond with generosity, compassion, and action when crises hit others. We join everyone with a look to the future as we renew our longstanding commitment to do all that can be done to help ensure immediate, basic support for all those in the arts facing uncertainty in this unsettling pandemic and beyond."
Organizers offered a special thanks to Times Square champions, Senator Brad Hoylman, Erik Bottcher, District Leader Marisa Redanty, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
The event organizers are collectively responsible for producing dozens of events all over the city during the pandemic, including pop-ups in the five boroughs and October's Times Square Event featuring Bernadette Peters and 50 fellow artists singing on the red steps over TKTS in Times Square's Father Duffy Square.
Costumes from Ain't Too Proud, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Six, Phantom of the Opera, and Wicked displayed in and around the performers were built by members of the Costume Industry Coalition, which represents 55 small businesses that make, supply and care for Broadway costumes.
"We Will Be Back" is supported by New Tradition Media, Clear Channel Outdoor, Our Man In Havana, and Treadwell Park. Masks are designed and donated by Christian Siriano and accessories are donated by H&M.
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