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Amid the coronavirus pandemic last year, Broadway actress Bianca Marroquín would find herself awake in the middle of the night, trying to make sense of the closed theaters that had turned her world upside down.

“I would wake up at 2 am with a heavy heart and anxiety. My whole existence had changed, ”she said. “I wanted to do that [performing] since I was 3, and now it was gone. I questioned everything about my life. I missed my scene. Then I thought, was it time for me to move on, to say goodbye? ”

Now, Marroquín is back on stage, with “Chicago” on Broadway. Eighteen months after Covid-19 forced the live theater to close, Latino performers are back on the Great White Way – just in time for the theater’s celebration at the Tony Awards on Sunday night.

Bianca Marroquín stars in “Chicago” on Broadway.Courtesy of Boneau / Bryan-Brown

It has been a moving experience, said Marroquín.

“Everyone went through losses and changes so it was good to be together again, to lift each other up,” she said.

She noted that performers and audience members have been through a lot.

“We are together in this fellowship, the phenomenon of live theater,” she said.

Despite the success of shows with various casts, Latinos remain significantly under-represented on Broadway. Of the approximately 51,000 active members of the Actors ‘Equity Association, the theater artists’ union, 3.1% are Latinos.

Miguel Cervantes, who plays the title role in “Hamilton,” said he understands the value of representation.

“Before the pandemic, one of the most significant parts of my job was when young people told me it was amazing to see someone ‘with a name like yours up there,'” he said. declared.

Cervantes had only made 10 Broadway performances in 2020 before the pandemic hit. “I had just gotten used to doing the show here after Chicago, and then we had to shut everything down,” he said.

Now he is performing in front of spectators who are all wearing masks. “It’s always an incredible feeling. I can tell they are all ‘smizing’, ”he said.

Ivan Hernandez plays Larry Murphy in “Dear Evan Hansen”. Nathan Johnson

‘Creepy’

Ivan Hernandez was in “Dear Evan Hansen” when Covid-19 hit New York. Initially, he thought his show would only last a month. Over time, he returned home to Los Angeles.

He and his family then tested positive for Covid-19, an experience Hernandez called “terrifying”.

“There were times when I couldn’t catch my breath,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t know if I should go to the hospital, which was so unsettling. For the first time in my life, I had a panic attack. Not knowing how the disease would progress was frightening. ”

Hernandez said he looks forward to starting rehearsals in October.

“Closing so abruptly was such an overwhelming end,” he said. “Our theater family, we saw each other six days a week, eight shows a week. We were a community.”

A changed landscape with the Covid, equity issues

Hernandez and his colleagues return to a changed theatrical landscape. During the pandemic, some shows – including the revival of “West Side Story,” with many Latino actors – have closed for good. Veteran actor Nick Cordero, 41, died in July 2020 after contracting the coronavirus. Beloved actress Doreen Montalvo, 56, a member of the original cast of “In the Heights,” died in October from a brief illness.

The New York theater community has felt the ripple effects of the nation’s larger social justice movements. Acclaimed actress Karen Olivo shocked the Broadway community by announcing that she would not be returning to “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” citing what she said was abusive practices in the industry and a lack of ” integrity. ”Actors Equity announced a new membership policy to make the union more accessible to“ people of color and people of other marginalized identities ”.

The Black Lives Matter movement also resonated on Broadway.

“Our producers started working with diversity experts,” Hernandez said, “and our cast had [virtual] meetings to discuss racism, representation and inclusion in the casting, in our work, in the company. Sometimes it was painful, but we discussed important things together.

Latino Broadway artists hope their industry can regain a sense of stability, if not normalcy.

For actors and team members, this means working under new security protocols.

“As soon as we get off the stage, we put on our masks,” said Gerianne Pérez, of “Waitress”. “It can be difficult because it messes up your stage makeup. … We do this balancing act by enjoying each other’s company and being extra careful.

Backstage visitors are no longer allowed and actors can no longer greet spectators at the stage door after the show.

“The spectacle is sacred and no one wants to get sick and be away for an extended period,” Pérez said.

Gerianne Pérez is back on Broadway in “Waitress”.Courtesy of Gerianne

Despite being based in New York City, Pérez spent most of the pandemic with her family in Florida. “I did my best to keep busy, but I had times where I wondered if it was time to pivot and leave the company,” she said.

Wanting to return to his adopted hometown, Pérez found a job with a mortgage company in New York City.

“I tried it. I really did. I gave it my all, but I was so miserable,” she said.

Then Pérez received an unexpected phone call.

“The producers of ‘Waitress’ wanted to know if I would do the show on Broadway – and rehearsals started tomorrow. I left the mortgage company that day,” Pérez said. “If you had told me I would be in one of the first shows to open after the pandemic a year ago, I would never have believed you. “

Pérez said the energy of the rehearsals was “joyful and palpable” as everyone is delighted to meet in person.

“It was like sensory overload,” she said. “And we had such a supportive audience. They are also happy to be back. They are applauding us overwhelmingly.”

Tomás Matos, from “Diana the Musical” on Broadway.Jessica osber

“Diana the Musical” ensemble member Tomás Matos is set to make his official Broadway debut. “Diana” had started the previews but had not opened when the pandemic struck.

Matos is the only Latinx person in the series: “Hey, I represent! And for Afro Latinos too!

For Matos, whose pronouns are he / they, being quarantined at home with his family was stressful, and they moved into their own apartment for 10 months.

“For people like me, being at home isn’t always the most liberating environment,” said Matos. “With my sexual orientation and gender expression, I had to go out for a while, which allowed me to expand who I am.”

During their time away from “Diana the Musical”, Matos made a movie and appeared on “Saturday Night Live”. And they came back to live with their families.

“It feels good now, when things are back to normal, to be with my gente,” said Matos.

Matos failed to perform both with their “Diana” castmates and the Broadway audience.

“Dancing on a Broadway stage is magical, and dancing alongside people you love is indescribable,” said Matos. “New York is in need of live theater again, and I feel blessed to be part of the community that can do it for the city.”

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