They arrived as early as 5 a.m., sporting steel-toe boots and loose clothing. By mid-morning, as the Orpheum Theater opened its doors for the first time in over a year, the line on 2nd Avenue stretched around East 7th Street. Outside, dozens of jittery dancers hoofed the pavement and stretched their muscles.
On Wednesday, Stomp held its first open call auditions since the start of the pandemic. Hundreds of pent-up New Yorkers turned out for the chance at a spot in the long-running percussion performance, slated to return on July 20th.
“It’s hard to dance in your living room for a year and a half, but we did it,” said Simon Randle, a recent musical theater graduate living in Washington Heights. “It’s my first COVID audition. I’m nervous, but it’s good nerves.”
With Broadway not scheduled to reopen until after Labor Day, the show, which has been running out of the Orpheum for 25 of the last 26 years, will be among the first major productions to return to New York’s stages. Nearly everyone on line said they had been eagerly awaiting this moment.
“My head was getting big because I wanted to create and create and create,” said Maria Camp, a 25-year-old performance artist, who recently moved to New York from Mexico. “Today’s the opportunity, so we’ll see what happens.”
In addition to the eight-person returning cast, roughly six new members will be selected in the coming weeks from the open auditions, according to Roberta Roberts, the show’s general manager. “It’s certainly a larger turnout than we’ve had in the last few years, partially because the arts industry has been decimated.”
According to a state report released earlier this year, employment in arts, entertainment and recreation was down 66% because of the pandemic — a sharper drop than any other sector of the city’s economy.
For much of the pandemic, it was far from certain that Stomp would return. Luke Cresswell, the show’s creator, described the mood at Wednesday’s auditions as a “genuine sense of relief.”
“Now the question is: is the city ready for it? Are people ready to come to the theater?” added Cresswell. “Because without it, New York is a different place.”