$16 billion in federal aid will soon reach New York City's Theater District thanks to a bill passed by Congress to help live performance venues that were forced the close due to the pandemic. The first Broadway shows aren't scheduled to open until September, but smaller places are set to get going again very soon.
Carolines on Broadway comedy club is going to be the first place in the Times Square area to come back to life after more than a year.
"It feels so good! We're close to reopening, getting back to normal. I can't tell you how relieved I am. I had more tension and stress not being open than getting everything done right now," owner Caroline Hirsch said.
The sound of silence was deafening at the club, but soon laughter will again bounce off the walls.
"We had to get back to business," said the proprietor of the club that bears her name.
Her first show since the pandemic began in March of last year is set for Thursday, May 27 and Donnell Rawlings is the headliner.
"To be able to see this club some back to life and to be able to make this person laugh and that person laugh, I'm super excited about it," Rawlings said.
Rawlings has a 20-year history at Carolines, and his shows typically sell out, but the club won't be at capacity this weekend.
"We will probably be at half of our capacity at this point, or a little less," Hirsch said. "Hopefully, in the next few weeks, we'll be at full capacity."
She has been called a "mother hen" to a generation of comics who came to fame in her club, but after more than a quarter-century in business, the pandemic proved her biggest challenge.
"Venues like mine: entertainment venues, theaters, cultural places were shut down by the government. OK? It was a mandate. It wasn't like you could be a restaurant and deliver food or open 25%, 10%, or whatever. We were totally closed down," Hirsch said.
This is why Hirsch is eligible for relief from the U.S. government -- aid that has yet to arrive.
"There's a considerable amount of bills that have piled up already," she said.
And Memorial Day weekend is a test of sorts, "a push in the right direction to get things going again," she said.
"People have been cooped up so long they want to do something, and what gets us through the most trying times of our lives? Comedy! We have to find something to laugh at," Rawlings said.
During the pandemic, he found a silver lining in the dark cloud. Rawlings got to spend time with his 4-year-old son after years spent on the road, and he even found a way to perform. He was part of a series of shows staged by his old friend Dave Chappelle in an Ohio cornfield where fans could remain socially distanced.
But now Carolines on Broadway will be closer to business as usual.
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