On March 11, 2020, Sanctuary City unknowingly played its final performance to audiences. The next day Broadway theatres (and NYTW) announced a shutdown in response to the rising transmission rates of the coronavirus in NYC. Sanctuary City was in previews for only a week before the closure, which was originally planned for 30 days, but extended nearly 18 months. Over that period, the set and lights remained intact at the Lucille Lortel Theater and the company stayed in contact, eager to return to the play. On September 8, 2020, the cast and crew performed the play for the first time to a live audience since the closure.
Actors Sharlene Cruz and Austin Smith shared thoughts about returning to the stage and to this particular production.
What was your experience of the final performance in March 2020?
Sharlene: So emotional. It was hard saying goodbye.
Austin: The final performance in 2020 felt like a life raft of sorts in this moment where things were changing so rapidly and we were all watching something unfold that none of us had experienced before. Despite everything going on and the imminent threat of this pandemic, in that moment, I could ground myself in this play. And I was incredibly grateful for that.
What was your experience of being back in the theater on the first day?
Sharlene: Surreal. Everything was exactly the same (except the updated ventilation!) The stage manager, Merrick, asked “how was your long weekend?” And that’s exactly what it felt like! Like we were all just there.
Austin: Oddly, it felt like we had only been away for a long weekend, rather than a year and a half. I think the weirdest part was how normal it felt to be in a theater. So I guess I’m in the right profession.
What are you most looking forward to about sharing this piece with the audience?
Sharlene: Honestly just sharing it feels massive. To be in a theater with people again. Can’t wait.
Austin: I’m most looking forward to sharing this incredible story with people who have no doubt felt more isolated than ever before over the past year. As with all theater, I hope that people see themselves reflected and ultimately feel less alone. I think Sanctuary City is about so many things, and the fear of isolation is definitely one of them.
Is there anything that you learned about Sanctuary City (your character, the play, etc.) during the shutdown?
Sharlene: It’s timeless. The world that lives in the text is limitless. I’ve been with this play since 2019 and there’s always more.
Austin: This isn’t necessarily something I gleaned from the play itself, but a lot happened in the world since we last did this play. And I think all of the systemic injustices that the pandemic laid bare reminded me of how necessary a story like this is. So I’m grateful that we get to revisit it and share it with people again.