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Local actresses working in NYC talk about being idle amid coronavirus shutdown

Local actresses working in NYC talk about being idle amid coronavirus shutdown

"There's a lot we're trying to grapple with," says Niskayuna native Cathryn Wake
Local actresses working in NYC talk about being idle amid coronavirus shutdown
From left: Cathryn Wake, Happy McPartlin and Raya Malcolm.
Photographer: photos provided

Cathryn Wake, one of New York City’s busiest stage actresses, isn’t quite sure what to do with herself.

“There’s a lot we’re trying to grapple with,” said Wake, a Niskayuna native and 2009 Colonie High graduate who, like thousands of actors earlier this month, suddenly found herself out of work due to concerns about the coronavirus. “A painter can still paint, a composer can still write music. But by the very nature of our art, we need people to gather. We need an audience.”

Wake and two more Schenectady County natives, Happy McPartlin and Raya Malcolm, were all busy plying their trade in and around the New York City area when the theater community went dark on March 12 following a directive from Governor Andrew Cuomo limiting the size of public gatherings. Wake, one of four cast members in Joe DiPietro’s new play, “Conscious,” about Joseph McCarthy and Margaret Chase Smith at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center in New Jersey, actually heard the news during a Thursday matinee performance,

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“We all got on our cell phones because we heard that Broadway had shut down,” said Wake, who made her Broadway debut in 2016 in "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.". “It shook us up. We went out and finished the show, and then got a phone call that night at 9:30 letting us know that the show was cancelled. Now we don’t know what’s going to happen. Our industry has been decimated.”

McPartlin, a Niskayuna High grad, was busy with her second Broadway show, "Come From Away," currently enjoying a long run at the Schoenfield Theater in Midtown Manhattan, when things along the Great White Way came to a sudden halt.

"As heartbreaking as it is for all of us, we know that Gov. Cuomo did the right thing closing the theaters," said McPartlin, who has spent more than two decades in New York City as a professional actress and enjoyed her Broadway debut back in 2013 in "Hands on a Hard Body." "We hope when all the dust has settled and this national nightmare is over that our beautiful show about helping others in times of tragedy will be more relevant and more needed than ever,"

"Come From Away," nominated for seven Tony Awards in 2017, is based on true events that occurred in Newfoundland, Canada the week following the terrorists attack on September 11, 2001. McPartlin is part of a 12-person ensemble cast and has played five different characters in the show.

"We look forward to being able to heal with our fellow men and women when we are finally allowed back into our beloved home at the Schoenfeld Theater," said McPartlin. "Until then I pray the spirit of human kindness and generosity we speak of in our show will prevail and will help us through some dark days as a country,"

While McPartlin and Wake seem firmly ensconced in the New York theater community, Malcolm is a bit of a newcomer, albeit a busy one. Since graduating from Schenectady High in 2012 and Suffolk University in Boston in 2016, she has performed with Saratoga Shakespeare, the Puppet Showplace in Boston, ThinkBig Theatre Arts in Patchogue and the Troy Foundry Theatre. Earlier this month she was in Brooklyn rehearsing for a Stages in the Sound production of "Hamlet" when the coronavirus pandemic struck.

"It was going to be a production that toured to different parochial schools in New York City," said Malcolm, who has an apartment in Washington Heights. "Last Wednesday rehearsals just stopped. They were postponed until further notice so everything now is one big question mark."

While the "Hamlet" production was to keep her busy into May, Malcolm had another major event scheduled for the summer, having signed on with a group of Suffolk University graduates to stage a new musical at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

"Our rehearsals are still scheduled and we're keeping our fingers crossed that we'll still go to Edinburgh in August," said Malcolm, who performed with the Schenectady Light Opera Company in "Annie" in 2007 and later honed her skills at the John Sayles School of Fine Arts at Schenectady High. "I have so many actor friends who are out of work, and then they also can't take jobs in the service industry because those jobs are gone, too. There's just so much uncertainty. It's all very depressing and creating a lot of anxiety."

Malcolm, McPartlin and Wake all have family members still living in the Schenectady area, and while McPartlin and Wake are firmly entrenched in the New York area, Malcolm is riding out this storm back in Schenectady.

"I finished up my web site, so I'll probably do some work on that and add a few monologues," said Malcolm. "I'm going to stick around upstate until it makes sense for me to head back to New York."

Wake, whose New York resume also includes a gig as the female lead in the off-Broadway smash, "The Fantasticks," will spend much of her time in her Queens apartment waiting for the phone to ring, hoping for positive news about "Conscious." She plays Jean Kerr, McCarthy's first wife and research assistant, and joining her in the play was Broadway veteran Harriet Harris. Winner of a 2002 Tony Award for her performance in "Thoroughly Modern Millie," Harris plays Smith, a senator from Maine and one of the first politicians to stand up against McCarthy during the Red Scare of the 1950s.

"I'm hunkering down, just waiting to see what happens," said Wake, a Pace University graduate who grew up as Cathryn Salamon and also performed at SLOC while in high school. "This was a great new play and we were performing at a theater where other shows have gone on to Broadway.  But we don't know how long this crisis is going to last, and there's so much financial risk in putting on a new play, you don't know what will happen. But I'm glad we had an opening night. I have friends who had their opening night cancelled. There are so many sad stories out there, and everything remains up in the air."

McPartlin, who graduated from Niskayuna in 1993 and went on to graduate from NYU's Tisch School for the Arts, lives in suburban New Jersey just outside of New York City with her husband and four-year-old child.

"This has been quite a shock for all of us in the Broadway community and the New York area in general," said McPartlin. "Our lives have been turned around. Many are self-isolating to try to help slow the spread of the disease since no one seems to know if they are a carrier. Things are very tough here."

.Wade added that the theater community along with most New Yorkers are taking the coronavirus seriously.

"I'm proud of my city because everybody seems to be on the same page," she said. "I live next to a park, and I go there and to the grocery store. Other than that people aren't going out."

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