The Unspoken Voices of International Theatre Performers and Professionals
New York, New York. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Guided by these words famously immortalized by Liza Minelli, thousands of international students come to New York City every year to develop their craft, perform on stage, and become stars. They pay thousands of dollars in tuition to learn from the best, study with the best, and become the best.
These international performers and professionals are ubiquitous. Some have accents, some speak flawless English that it’s almost impossible to distinguish them from American performers. But international performers and American performers have one goal: to perform under the bright lights and make it.
But the lights for international performers and professionals are slowly dimming and the curtains are closing, due to no fault of their own.
The current administration’s ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agency has issued guidance and policy limiting the ability of international students to study in the US in the fall, if schools remain online. This means that conservatories and BFA programs such as AMDA, AADA, The Stella Adler Studio, The Lee Strasberg Institute, and more will no longer be able to enroll international students who are aspiring theatre performers and professionals unless the school decides to engage in hybrid learning (online and in-person learning). If the international students are required to go back to their home country, they will lose the countless opportunities which are necessary to excel in their careers: networking, auditioning, creating, and performing.
Additionally, due the ongoing COVID-pandemic, the theatre industry in NYC has taken many protective measures to ensure that the theatre professionals and patrons remain safe. One of these measures has been that Broadway will remain closed through the rest of 2020. The industry said it would refund tickets through January 3, and hopes that shows will be able to reopen “over a series of rolling dates in early 2021.” Some producers have also elected to open a couple of months into the new year. “The Minutes,” a new play by Tracy Letts, hopes to open March 15; “American Buffalo,” a play by David Mamet, is aiming for April 14; “MJ the Musical,” a new show about Michael Jackson, says it will open April 15, and “The Music Man,” a revival starring Hugh Jackman, plans to open May 20.
Since the industry has shut down, international performers and professionals have been without work, meaning that they could be putting their Artist Visas (O-1B Visa) at risk. Similarly, those preparing their Artist Visa (O-1B Visa) applications will most likely be unable to secure future work or prove to United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) that they have future performances. Without future work, international performers and professionals cannot successfully file their application and will be required to return back home.
This is a heartbreaking consequence for a theatre performer or professional that has spent the last 3–5 years studying, living, and working in the US. The inability to be present in the US and work severely limits their ability to maximize their ambition and most importantly, they won’t be able to perform or work on the premiere stages of New York City.
So next time you see a performance of “Miss Saigon,” for example, think of the unspoken voices of the international theatre performers and professionals who are telling the stories of the shows we love to see.
UPDATE: ICE rescinded the policy and international students will be allowed to study online AND remain in the US.