Side Hustles

How 4 out-of-work Broadway actors are finding creative ways to earn a paycheck during the pandemic

Broadway performers hustle to survive
Broadway performers hustle to survive

In March, 33-year-old actor Matt Doyle had a lead role starring opposite two-time Tony Award winner Patti LuPone in Stephen Sondheim's "Company" on Broadway. At the time, he was making a six-figure salary.

Katrina Lenk as Bobbie and Matt Doyle as Jamie in Broadway's "Company".

Then the pandemic hit. All 41 Broadway theaters — including Doyle's — were forced to shut their doors.

Eight months later, on a brisk Sunday evening in November, Doyle found himself leaning out a hotel window, serenading a crowd of outdoor diners at Manhattan's Breslin restaurant as part of "Broadway at the Breslin," a sort of pandemic-friendly dinner theater. The one-night-only gig pays $500, which Doyle splits with an accompanist (who is playing the piano in the hotel room with him.)

Broadway actor Matt Doyle sings out the window of Room 201 at the Ace Hotel to diners down below.
Michael Hull
"Broadway at the Breslin" diners look up to watch actor Matt Doyle sing from a hotel room window.
Michael Hull

It's just one of several gigs Doyle has had to take over the past year to make money while New York City's theater industry has remains dark.

And Doyle is not alone.

According to the Broadway League, the livelihoods of 97,000 people depend on the Broadway industry, which generates $14.8 billion annually to the economy of New York City. Many of those people had to find creative ways to make a living during the pandemic.

Here's what four Broadway actors have been doing to make ends meet until Broadway comes back.

Gaming and renting out his car

"Without an industry, I have nothing but very small ways of staying afloat," says Doyle, who is now trying to survive on an eighth of the salary he took home last year.

Without an industry, I have nothing but very small ways of staying afloat
Matt Doyle
Broadway actor

But Doyle has come up with several creative ways to make ends meet, like recording more than 500 videos on the Cameo app, where celebrities and others are paid to send video messages. Doyle says he's sung many a "Happy Birthday" for fans, who pay him $40 a pop.

He's also making money freelancing as a comic book writer and streaming himself playing video games on Twitch. (Gamers pay him $5 a month to watch him play.)

Gamers pay $5 a month to watch Matt Doyle play video games on streaming platform Twitch.

And, after buying his dream car last year, a Tesla Model 3, Doyle is now renting it out on a car-sharing platform Turo to afford its monthly payments.

Performing virtually

The hustle is the same for Alysha Umphress, whose Broadway credits include "On the Town," Bring it On" and "American Idiot."

Jay Armstrong Johnson and Alysha Umphress in Broadway's "On The Town."
Joan Marcus

"It was probably, like the first time in six or seven years where I've had to go on unemployment," the actress tells CNBC.

Umphress has been hustling since March with a variety of singing gigs, including a virtual gala and online concerts for a Chicago law firm and a few private residences.

Actress Alysha Umphress sings for Goodspeed Musicals virtual gala.
Goodspeed Musicals

The singer says she filed for unemployment in the beginning of quarantine, collected until June, worked July through October, filed in November and is now working again in December.

"I don't know what my finances are at the end of this year, but it would be probably be less than half of what I made last year," Umphress says.

Playing the drive-in

Actress Ali Ewoldt made history as the first Asian-American to play leading lady, Christine Daae, in Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway.

Ali Ewoldt performs in a drive-thru production of The Phantom of the Opera in Queens, New York.
Tricia Baron

But Ewoldt's most recent hustle took her way off Broadway for a pandemic-friendly drive-in version of Phantom at Radial Park in Queens, New York.

Drive-in production of "Phantom of the Opera" in Astoria, Queens.
Tricia Baron

"People watched safely from their cars," Ewoldt tells CNBC. "It was certainly a type of Phantom performance that I've never experienced before."

Starting a business

The pandemic has pushed others to launch new businesses, like film and stage actor Robbie Fairchild.

"How does one survive on 10% of what they made the last year? I don't know. For me, I opened a flower shop," says Fairchild.

Robert Fairchild attends the "Cats" World Premiere at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on December 16, 2019 in New York City.
Roy Rochlin | FilmMagic | Getty Images

Fairchild, whose credits include the leading role in the Broadway production of "American in Paris" and performing in the 2019 Universal Pictures film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats," is now selling flowers out of his Upper West Side apartment and on his website, BookayNYC.

Actor Robbie Fairchild works on a flower arrangement inside his New York City apartment

The actor's hustle is blooming, too: Fairchild says he's hired five other out-of-work performers just to keep up with demand.

Waiting on Broadway to open

All four actors are waiting for the day the pandemic is behind them and they're back on Broadway.

According to the Broadway League, ticket sales for Broadway performances have been suspended through at least May 2021.

"If you want to do something to help the arts, wear a mask," Fairchild tells CNBC. "Wear a mask, so we can get back on stage."

Christopher DiLella is a producer for CNBC's special projects unit.

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