In March 2020, Broadway and TV actress Sydney Morton was performing in Chicago in a theatrical remake of "The Secret of My Success," the '80s film starring Michael J. Fox. The musical was set to go to Broadway ― and then the pandemic hit. "I think a lot of theater people found out the way that we did," says Morton. "You're, like, putting on your makeup, about to go out on stage, and finding out it's your last show."
Her husband, also a performer, received similar news while on tour playing the role of Javert in "Les Miserables." Prior to Covid, the two were projected to "really be able to save for buying a home and starting a family," says Morton. But "we both, as of March 13, had no job." The two ended up moving in with Morton's parents in Cincinnati, Ohio, and realizing after about a month that the performing arts likely weren't coming back in the near future.
The couple typically brings in $150,000 to $250,000 per year. In 2020, their income was "not quite as much as a normal year," Morton says, "but we were able to pay for our daily expenses without having to dip into our savings."
Here's how Morton herself was able to pivot and continue earning income, and how she and her husband worked to cut their expenses.
Morton had long worked for the education company The Broadway Collective, which provides online musical theater training for mostly middle- and high-school students. The Broadway Collective had always offered a few of its four programs online, but in 2020, all of them went virtual.
The workload for the Broadway Collective's artist-teachers varies depending on the program. Hello Broadway, a year-long theater academy, is "about one week of work a month," says Morton, while another program might ask for an hour and a half of "specifically on-camera work." Depending on which program they're part of, teachers get paid between $400 and $1,000, says Broadway Collective founder Robert Hartwell.
During the pandemic, Morton ended up picking up more teaching gigs through the program, as well as doing some private coaching online. "It's a great supplemental income," she says.
Morton has long worked with nonprofit A Broaderway, which helps girls develop leadership skills in the core disciplines of theater, dance, spoken word, and vocal performance.
"I ended up being promoted at [A Broaderway]," she says, "where I am [now] the co-director of graduate programs. So I started running an intern program and working with a lot of partners." She works 10-15 hours per week at the organization, earning $15,000 per year.
The lease on their New York apartment was up two months after the pandemic started, and they elected not to renew it, putting their belongings in storage and moving from place to place instead. Over the last year, they've "spent time in L.A. with friends and family, and spent time in the Midwest with his family and my family," Morton says, saving on housing costs.
Leaving New York helped them cut down on transportation costs like monthly subway passes and cab rides. Though they have been traveling sporadically, they've saved on significantly reduced flight prices.
A year into the pandemic, things are looking up. "We ended up putting an offer on an apartment towards the end of the year," Morton says. "A lot of people moved out of New York, and so that housing market is really accessible right now."
Overall, "we're definitely feeling a light at the end of the tunnel," she says, "and it's sounding like theaters are probably going to be back by the end of the year."
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