Hi! I’m Eli Kline, and I’m a junior undergraduate student at Duke University. When the Spring 2020 semester ended, I randomly reached out to Nathaniel Hill, founder of Broadway Plus, for advice to stay productive during an isolated summer. After talking to Nathaniel and the team for a few days, they offered me a summer internship with the company and I was more than thrilled! At the end of the summer, I talked to Nathaniel about Broadway Plus’s pivot to offering virtual experiences, and started writing about what it has meant to me.
In March of this year, when schools told their students not to return from spring break and finish the semester virtually to combat the growing Coronavirus pandemic, the path forward seemed simple: stay safe, stay healthy, and try to complete the semester. Then the school year ended. Two months into a national quarantine that would, in one form or another, last the entire summer, students were already fatigued and anxious, contemplating the countless opportunities lost — internships, travel, summer jobs planned on or secured earlier in the semester all vanished. Even in an age when virtual connection has never been easier, most of us could not help but feel a deafening and silencing isolation.
The stay-at-home orders were first issued and we were fed inspiring lines like, “A quarantine is a great time to create! You know, Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the Black Plague!” This kind of encouragement may work for some people — for all I know, a new Shakespeare flourished — but for many students, including myself, this “inspiration” felt like an impossible pressure. When it hit me that I would spend my summer in isolation in my parents’ house, I decided that my best course forward was to be productive. But what does that mean? I tried writing, I tried filmmaking, I tried studying – but all of these paths led nowhere as an aimless fog encroached my mind. This inability to proceed in an unexpected and structure-less time that seemed to go on forever, I realized, was not a unique experience.
A few weeks after the semester ended, I wanted advice on how to stay productive without structure. I decided to reach out to a Duke alum I had long admired for his tenacity and determination. His name is Nathaniel Hill, and after graduating in 2012, he created Broadway Plus, a concierge business that specialized in backstage tours, meet- and-greets, and other VIP experiences on Broadway. I had met him once before — after seeing Hamilton through Broadway Plus’s partnership with the Duke Alumni Association — and thought that he could give me some advice “on how to better apply myself in isolation,” as I wrote on May 18. Within 15 minutes, he wrote back. The next day, we Face-Timed and he told me all about Broadway Plus’s transition from in-person events to virtual programming after Broadway shut down.
When I interviewed Nathaniel for this article, he walked me through the timeline of his transition. “On March 5th, they told us no backstage tours for shows for a while, and then on March 12th, they said no shows will play for at least a month,” Hill said. “So then I had to spend two days cancelling and refunding everything. My first thought was, I have a client list of thousands of people, I have a lot of actors I have already worked with, and I can use this as an entree to meet more actors — and I have no income right now, so I have to try something.” Nathaniel had to move quickly, not only to fill the market before another business did, but for his and his actors’ livelihoods. He took a day to reconfigure the website for virtual experiences and then approached actors that he had relationships with and convinced them to get on board. Over the next few months, Broadway Plus’s talent base grew from around 30 actors to over 200.
“It was a dream come true,” Nathaniel said, to watch Broadway Plus grow and touch thousands of people around the world. He is excited to continue growing Broadway Plus, and even when stage doors open in 2021, his business will continue with virtual experiences. “Even when Broadway is open, a lot of actors are between jobs … my hope is that actors are always going to want to do this.” This summer Broadway Plus has provided income and structure for hundreds of out-of-work actors, and will continue doing so for as long as it can.
Shortly after our initial call, as the business was growing rapidly, I started an internship with Broadway Plus. For weeks I’d been wandering around the house, picking up and putting down books, and annoying my parents with my aimlessness, but suddenly I was emailing with Broadway stars and clients, moderating group meet-and-greets and concerts throughout the day, and putting together video projects for Broadway Plus — and I loved every minute of it. Not only was I productive in my job, but I found myself much more motivated to continue and complete creative projects. I had rediscovered my spirit.
For me, this was an important lesson in inertia. As a college student, I’d taken for granted how the structure of classes and extracurricular activities encourages my body and brain to keep moving. I was not expecting — and was woefully unprepared for — the world to enter shutdown mode, and my brain and body followed the rest of the world into a form of hibernation. Once I started moving, I couldn’t stop. And I won’t.