The Broadway dancer whose lockdown business bloomed

By Lucy Ash
BBC News, New York

image copyrightGuglielmo Mattioli

When the pandemic closed New York’s theatres, hundreds of performers discovered themselves out of labor – some have been even unable to pay for his or her medical health insurance. One prime dancer rapidly opened a business, impressed by a present from a fan, which gave individuals a option to categorical affection throughout lockdown.

In the basement of his Manhattan condo, Robbie Fairchild is surrounded by buckets of scarlet peonies. “These flowers are storytellers,” he tells me, stripping some leaves from the stems. “I love the way they start off all balled up and you don’t know what they are going to turn into. It’s like a live performance and each flower is so different – it’s incredible.”

Robbie is nostalgic about stay performances – they have been half and parcel of his life till final spring. The son of a wildlife biologist from Salt Lake City, he grew up with a ardour for nature but in addition fantasised about following within the footsteps of Gene Kelly. Aged 15 he went to ballet college and spent greater than a decade as a principal within the New York City Ballet earlier than starring on stage and on display screen in musicals corresponding to An American in Paris and Cats.

On 12 March 2020, Robbie had tickets for the opening evening of Six – a pop musical in regards to the six wives of King Henry VIII which had simply transferred from London – however the efficiency was cancelled only a few hours earlier than the curtain was because of go up. As Covid casualties soared, New York governor Andrew Cuomo introduced he was shutting down Broadway for the primary time for the reason that terror assaults of 9/11.

“At first I thought, OK, well, it’s just going to be for two weeks”, says Robbie. “And then gigs that I had in August, gigs that I had in September started getting cancelled. I thought, ‘Oh Lord! this is going to be rough.'”

Flowers have been a lifeline for me over the previous yr and a half – I had no stage so I crafted a brand new efficiency area

Robbie stored himself in form originally of the lockdown by dancing on the roof of his condo constructing, to the delight of his neighbours. Sometimes he danced on his personal; typically he choreographed breezy numbers together with his flatmate, who’s a dancer in music movies.

“It felt really good, because I think people were starved of things like joyful movement when there were refrigerated trucks all over town,” he says, referring to the makeshift mortuaries containing the our bodies of a whole lot of Covid victims parked on New York streets and out of doors hospitals.

“When things go horribly wrong, as an artist you have to find some kind of escapism for people,” he provides.

The rooftop routines turned an Instagram hit however they did not pay Robbie’s lease. He was additionally instructed he hadn’t labored sufficient weeks within the yr to be eligible for well being cowl and needed to begin paying $900 a month to his insurance coverage firm. “After working for 15 years as a performer, being suddenly dropped like that by the insurance company was dehumanising,” he says.

According to the Broadway League, the commerce affiliation for theatres nationwide, the livelihoods of virtually 97,000 individuals depend upon exhibits carried out in Manhattan’s Midtown.

Many of them – performers, producers, technicians, stage managers and others – instantly discovered themselves out of labor.

Robbie realised he needed to discover one other option to make a dwelling.

When a fan within the Netherlands despatched him an infinite consignment of roses and peonies, he organized them into bouquets and took them to Mount Sinai West hospital throughout New York City’s 7pm city-wide clapping and cheering for important employees.

“Seeing how flowers can brighten people’s day reminded me of the way I feel in front of an audience,” he says. “As a performer, you just crave that communication, whether you’re on stage or whether you’re delivering bouquets.”

The expertise impressed Robbie to open a floristry business referred to as Boo.Kay promoting preparations with names just like the Showstopper, the Grand Dame and the Broadway Veteran.

He had first discovered about floristry whereas dwelling in London through the West End run of An American in Paris. His flat was across the nook from the Covent Garden Academy of Flowers and out of curiosity he enrolled for a category on a uncommon day without work. “I discovered it was fantastic therapy,” he says.

picture copyrightGetty Images

picture captionRobbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope in An American in Paris, on the Dominion Theatre, London

During the pandemic, making hand tied bouquets in his bed room turned studio relieved his boredom and stress. And quickly it was proving profitable, with bouquets promoting for $150 or extra. Robbie believes that since individuals could not see mates and relations or hug them, they despatched lavish flowers as an alternative.

“It was kind of amazing. I mean, we were we were pretty busy for a pandemic,” he says. Soon Boo.Kay wanted extra space for storing and Robbie moved to a floor ground condo with a basement, to accommodate a 10ft-wide flower fridge.

At the beginning of his new life, Robbie needed to soar on his bike at 6am to get the perfect offers on the wholesale flower market. He remembers how unusual it felt to cycle down Broadway at daybreak on the peak of the lockdown.

“It was still dark out and no-one was there. No cars either, he says. “I used to be wanting up on the theatre that I used to carry out at. It was simply so eerily quiet however all of the lights have been on. Part of me thought, ‘Oh My God, no one is right here! Let’s save electrical energy and switch them off!’ I imply what about local weather change and international warming? But I suppose individuals wanted the lights on as an indication of hope.”

At first Robbie worked on his own, delivering all over Manhattan on foot or sometimes in his sister’s car. As business bloomed, he began employing other out-of-work Broadway performers who shared his passion for flowers. Adam Perry, a dancer who became seriously ill with Covid for five months last year, says making bouquets helped to bring him “again to life”.

On a balmy Friday evening Robbie is selling his wares outside a shop in New York’s West Village. People are standing around, sipping sparkling rose wine and listening to a couple of his friends belting out Broadway hits.

image copyrightGuglielmo Mattioli

The weekly event is known as Friday Flowers and was the brainchild of Jennifer Shanker, who normally sells jewellery through department stores but opened a pop-up shop, Muse, when these stores had their shutters down. Somebody put her in touch with Robbie and she began selling hand-blown glass vases to go with his flower arrangements.

“As an unintentional retailer myself, I admired Robbie’s pandemic hustle,” she laughs. “The neighbourhood felt so miserable and his flowers added a much-needed splash of color.”

Robbie is now back on stage across the country and preparing for a special performance for the 80th birthday of America’s leading contemporary dance choreographer, Twyla Tharp.

But Boo.Kay is still in business with a part-time staff of six – a growing list of weekly clients has helped to keep the company in the black. Robbie has asked his former ballet company if he can supply them with flowers and has suggested matching the colours of his bouquets with those of the tutus and tunics of upcoming productions. One Broadway star regularly orders bouquets for her dressing room; he hopes others will follow suit when more theatres reopen in the early autumn.

“It felt like our business was so dispensable and but we contribute a lot cash to this metropolis’s financial system,” says Robbie (one estimate puts the figure at $14.8bn annually).

“Dancing and performing at all times takes second place to sports activities occasions and but when individuals take into consideration New York, they consider Broadway.

“Flowers were a lifeline for me over the past year and a half and I created my own company around them,” he says. “I had no stage so I crafted a new performance space and I am immensely proud of that.”

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