CNBC's "College Voices 2020" is a series written by CNBC summer interns from universities across the country about coming of age, launching new careers and job hunting during a global pandemic. They're finding their voices during a time of great social change and hope for a better future. As part of the series, each student chose a recent college graduate to profile to provide an up-close and personal look at who the class of 2020 is, what issues they're facing as they try to find a job in these extraordinary times – and how they're tackling them. Here is the story of Gian Perez, a recent graduate from the University of Michigan.
In a world without the coronavirus, Gian Perez would be on Broadway right now.
Perez, a recent graduate from the University of Michigan with a degree in acting, spent much of what would have been his last semester on campus in New York rehearsing "Sing Street," a new Broadway musical originally set to open in spring.
He had "made it" — he would be performing on Broadway! Some people try their whole lives and never make it. Here, he was, heading to Broadway in his 20s. Then coronavirus hit and smashed his dream come true.
"We see … on Facebook an article that says that Broadway has gone dark," said Perez, who is originally from Puerto Rico. "And then we are called for a company meeting … on stage, and they tell us that they're going to postpone the show indefinitely, which … back then sounded like, 'OK, well, we'll wait like two weeks until things calm down and then we'll come back.'"
The day after the announcement, he got on a plane back to Ann Arbor, Mich., to spend time with his girlfriend and stay in his college apartment. With little information at the time, he and his cast members weren't sure exactly how long the shutdown would last, but he was looking forward to a break from his busy schedule.
Now, four months later, he's on unemployment, living with his family in Florida and looking for a job to tide him over until Broadway reopens, which isn't expected to happen until early 2021 due to the coronavirus.
Perez stopped paying rent in New York, knowing that he won't be back on the Lyceum Theatre stage for a while. He said he's saving money by being in Florida — he's not spending on subway fare, pricey lunches in Times Square or going out with friends.
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"I'm saving a lot of money just by being in Florida because I'm not living a New York lifestyle," Perez said. "I'm saving money in small ways just because my lifestyle has changed that ultimately add up."
He said it's hard not being on Broadway right now — knowing he should be — but he's trying to use the time with family as a break from the demanding lifestyle of performers to work on other artistic projects.
His long-term goal is to make music, so Perez is also using this newfound free time as an opportunity to commit to doing things to make that happen. He's working on songs for a potential album and writing a play. He recently bought an upright bass and is practicing on the instrument a few hours a day.
These are tasks with measurable goals, he said, that could help him continue to make progress in the entertainment industry and keep his creative juices flowing.
"I've kind of taken this time as a blessing to make my other things," he said.
As for making money, Perez is thinking about getting a non-performance job until he knows more about Broadway re-opening and the future of the industry. Perez is not yet comfortable working live gigs at bars because of the health concerns, he said, and he's excited to try a job that is at a different pace than a musical, like working in a record shop.
And when it comes to Broadway, Perez has faith he'll be back on stage when it is safe to do so.
Perez said he's also hopeful people will view art differently after the pandemic, because if there's one thing he learned through all of this, it's the importance of human connections. And human connections — and the emotions and thoughts that accompany those connections —are what art is grounded in.
"In our culture and generation that we live in right now with the internet and social media and everything moving so fast, theater has kind of become entertainment and a commodity, as has music and like most art," Perez said. "People have realized that in times of great stress, like a global pandemic, we all turn to art to keep us sane."
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