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School Lockdowns During Pandemic Put Performing Artists Out Of Work

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How are performers getting by during the pandemic? Many are out of work while their audiences are on lockdown. It's especially hard for children's performers.

MICHAEL COTTER: We had a very healthy April and May on the calendar, and that very healthy number went to zero.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That's the voice of Michael Cotter. He runs Blue Sky Puppet Theatre, which performs in elementary schools up and down the East Coast.

COTTER: But all of a sudden. Somebody called and wanted to have a virtual show. This has opened a Pandora's box for me, being 72 years old and being a tech un-wit (ph).

INSKEEP: Mr. Cotter tried doing shows on Zoom, but his puppets looked too small. So he jury-rigged a rolling tripod that allows him to move his computer in and out to capture the action.

COTTER: Any time over the last 45 years that a door opened even a crack, you would kick that door open. And a crack has opened up, and we're pursuing it with all of our resources.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MICHELE VALERI: That's it. (Singing) Oh, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs. We like bugs a lot.

MARTIN: Before the pandemic, Michele Valeri and Ingrid Crepeau did music and art workshops for preschool teachers.

VALERI: So these are interactive strategies to use in the classroom.

INGRID CREPEAU: Yeah because, developmentally, preschoolers can't sit still. But they can learn while they're dancing.

VALERI: But they shouldn't have to sit still.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: All of their workshops have now been canceled. They tried getting money from the Small Business Administration. But...

CREPEAU: Oh.

VALERI: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

VALERI: Let me see how many times have I been on the SBA website?

CREPEAU: Website.

VALERI: Six hours, last time I tried?

INSKEEP: Now they're turning their workshops into videos.

VALERI: This is our biggest moneymaking time of the year - spring. We always make half of our income...

CREPEAU: Right.

VALERI: ...In a third of the year, and this is the third.

CREPEAU: Right.

VALERI: So that's depressing. And we just miss it. We love going into the classroom. It is the most fun thing in the world to do.

CREPEAU: We do miss it.

VALERI: Yeah.

CREPEAU: It was very hard.

INSKEEP: The children's performers say their lives feel like the end of a children's book where the moral of the story is never give up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOONLIT SAILOR'S "YES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.