Almost no one has been able to escape the impact from those staggering numbers. And now, individuals in disparate fields are taking stock of the professional tolls and triumphs of the past 12 months.
Waiting in the wings: Broadway’s reopening
March 12, 2020, will be remembered as the day the curtain fell on Broadway. It was also the day “Six,” a pop-rock musical about the wives of Henry VIII, was slated to officially open at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
The premiere was cancelled. The after-party never happened. “We had a lot of sushi waiting for us,” says Kevin McCollum, 59, a veteran producer with Tony awards for “Rent,” “Avenue Q” and “In the Heights.”
A year later he’s still waiting to open “Six” and acknowledged that he “didn’t want it to be the final show to close” due to the pandemic.
McCollum — whose production of the musical “Mrs. Doubtfire” drawn from the Robin Williams movie was also shuttered — now has his eyes on another prize for when Broadway reboots.
“One of the things that is very important to me, because it was our opening night, is to do everything we can for ‘Six’ to be the first new show to open,” he says. “I might not be the first show to open because other productions have much more infrastructure in place and might be able to open earlier.”
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A firm timeline is elusive. Broadway is officially dark through May 30, but some theater insiders expect that date to extend to at least Sept. 15. Because a Broadway show involves so many people and moving parts, the sooner an announcement is made for a restart date, the better.
“I am thirsty for a date so that I can start building my strategy,” says McCollum, who appreciates the enormity and intricacies of the decision-making process. “We are building an aircraft carrier, not a speedboat.”
“People are out of work,” he adds. “We are concerned about their welfare.”
During a Zoom interview, McCollum channels Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, and recites lyrics from her “Six” solo. “You can build me up, you can tear me down, you can try but I’m unbreakable.”
“That’s what we are,” McCollum says, “as a show and as an industry.”
Restaurant mourns a loss, celebrates a rebirth
Tribeca’s Kitchen, a 7-year-old restaurant in downtown Manhattan, was known for diner fare and heaping helpings of big-hearted warmth served by owner Andreas Koutsoudakis.
On March 27, 2020, less than two weeks after the coronavirus lockdown shuttered the place, Koutsoudakis, a 59-year-old Greek immigrant, died from COVID-19.
His son, Andreas Koutsoudakis, Jr., an employment lawyer with dozens of restaurant clients, set his sights on reinvention. “We did $30,000-plus a week in the delivery business, which was about 30% of our revenue,” he says.
No matter. He’d learned from his father that hospitality happens “face to face, not through deliveries,” he says. “I want to honor my dad’s legacy.”
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From March 15, 2020, to Feb. 12, 2021, the restaurant shut down service inside for renovations, operating from the end of July to the end of September on an outdoor patio. About a year and $1.5 million later, Andy Jr. has reimagined and restaffed the restaurant and reopened as a contemporary American restaurant serving upscale takes on familiar foods.
“Try the pastrami hash for breakfast,” says the 36-year-old who lives with his family on Staten Island. “For dinner, you have to order the fresh tagliatelle with sea urchin.”
Designed during COVID, the renovated space takes social distancing into account. Diner-style booths for four or more that had been bolted to the floor have been removed. In their place are tables that can be moved to allow space between diners. To pay homage to the past, booths for two were added. Where the old interior was about dark hues, the mood now is light and bright.
“It’s intentionally warm and welcoming,” he says. “It’s about hope and inspiration and hospitality.”
The “magic” of therapy proves durable
Twenty years into her career as a therapist, Melissa Giuttari has an array of clients and a regular routine. She’d ride the PATH train from home in Jersey City to the 9th St. stop in Manhattan near her Greenwich Village office, where her sessions were up-close and face-to-face.
Carefully appointed and lit, her professional space, she says, “is cozy and curated for healing. COVID-19 stripped that all away.” Giuttari hasn’t seen a patient there in a year.
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The turning point came after attending the Broadway revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” starring Laurie Metcalf and Rupert Everett as sparring spouses. She’d just seen the Edward Albee play when a drama unfolded around the production. News broke on March 11 that a part-time usher at the show tested positive for coronavirus.
“My first thought was that I might have been exposed and I didn’t want to put anyone else at risk,” says Giuttari, who’s in her 40s. “I reached out to clients to do either a virtual session or to reschedule for the week — and that next week never came.”
She had qualms about Zoom
counseling. “A lot of the magic in therapy happens through nonverbal communication between therapist and client,” she says. A year later, virtual sessions are working despite challenges of lost closeness and time spent on screens. The magic is durable.
Her roster of clients has grown “by a third,” an increase she believes is linked to the pandemic’s toll on mental health. When it’s safe to do so, she plans to return to the office and continue with remote sessions. “Some patients worry that they’ll never see me in person again,” she says, “and some of them have moved out of the city.”
Hallmarks of the past 12 months include self-affirmation and empathy. “The past year has highlighted how much I love the work I do,” she says. “I’m going through the same thing patients are — anxiety, grief, depression. We’re all going through this together.”
Sewing instructor pivots to keep New Yorkers in stitches
Kristine Frailing’s New York Sewing Center in Manhattan’s Garment District tailors its classes to students of all ages and skill levels. In early 2020, she says, in-person lessons were mostly filled to capacity. On March 18, business halted completely due to COVID and most of her staff was let go.
“I had tried doing a couple of virtual classes in the past,” says Frailing, 37, who studied fashion design and merchandising at Missouri State University. “At that time, people weren’t interested.” COVID-19 turned that inside out. Stuck at home, people sought productive pastimes beyond baking sourdough and banana bread.
Inspired by hospital frontliners and her own family members who were essential workers in need of face coverings, Frailing posted a free YouTube lesson showing how to sew a CDC-compliant mask. To date it’s been viewed more than 196,000 times. She’s estimated that she’s helped make more than 10,000 masks.
The success of the online lesson put virtual classes in a new light. Frailing pivoted exclusively to online classes and began shipping materials to students. “I would have just continued to run my business as I always did if COVID hadn’t forced me to open the door to online classes,” she says.
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In July, limited capacity in-person lessons resumed at the Center, where Frailing has brought back some of her staff. The business’ mix of face-to-face and remote classes is here to stay, she says. Currently students are spread across the U.S. as well as Costa Rica, Canada and Australia.
“2020 wasn’t even close to what we were doing before COVID, but we’re bouncing back,” she says. Expecting her first baby in August, Frailing says she plans to launch maternity and baby clothes sewing workshops in the spring. “Classes I’ve come up with have typically been inspired by things that really matter to me.”