Jenny Anderson may be miles away from the theatre district, but her heart is still with Broadway. The photographer, responsible for memorializing some of Broadway’s most iconic moments, from intimate backstage preparations to grandiose Tony Award celebrations, is self-isolating inside her apartment like most of the world.
Gone are the red carpets and the crowds that she has grown accustomed to throughout her 13-year career on the Great White Way. Instead, it’s just a photographer, a computer, and the desire to capture this moment in theatre history.
What started as a way to check in on her colleagues has become a growing digital portrait series on her Instagram. From Celia Keenan-Bolger to Leslie Odom, Jr., Anderson has been hosting virtual photo shoots with members of the Broadway community, capturing each person as they shelter-in-place in their respective homes.
Take a Look at Photographer Jenny Anderson's Virtual Broadway Portrait Series
“I call people on FaceTime or Zoom and photograph it in my studio," she says. "I want the photos to look like portraits, so we do our best to find the good lighting, and I take photos of my computer screen with my camera.”
It may seem like a departure from Anderson’s normal routine, but, without the frills of a typical photo shoot, it cuts to the heart of Anderson’s work: connection. After more than a decade of photographing Broadway, Anderson has become a central figure in the theatre community, with actors, designers, producers, and more gravitating toward the artist.
Anderson doesn’t take that longevity for granted. Broadway is a world she has always been eager to be a part of. The daughter of two theatre artists in Mississippi, theatre has been a part of her life for as long as she remembers. “I love theatre, I’ve loved theatre since I was a baby, so being a part of the theatre community is the ultimate dream.”
When she arrived to New York fresh out of college, Anderson was quickly hired by a theatre publication. It didn’t take long for Anderson to simultaneously grow with the industry she once idolized from afar while also shaping it.
"I try to adapt as quickly as I can as a photographer when it comes to equipment, how you shoot, but I’m not really an ‘equipment' photographer. The industry is constantly changing and moving. There are constantly new people and new shows or people who have been doing this for years, but I’m just meeting for the first time—I try to change with the industry as quickly as it changes."
Still, adapting isn’t easy, especially during a pandemic. On the day the Broadway shutdown was announced, Anderson was supposed to photograph the opening night of Six, the highly anticipated pop musical about the wives of Henry VIII. “Broadway shut down so abruptly. Usually when a show ends, you always get a goodbye so you can come together and have one last moment. When it shut down, it was so scary. It pulled the rug out from underneath [me].”
After a few weeks of learning to adjust to the newness of the shutdown, Anderson, inspired by the work of her colleagues pivoting to online platforms, felt the spark of an idea.
“I texted [actors] Ariana DeBose and Ashley Park, who are my photography muses, and said, “I want to do a FaceTime shoot, but I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t think that it’s glam and editorial… but maybe it is?” Anderson explains. “It started with [Ariana and I] chatting and talking, sharing our feelings about how we feel about theatre, our family and friends, and how we didn’t feel creative. And then we found some good lighting and she did some movement and we just played.”
The creative process may have shifted as the series continues to grow but the core has remained the same: shining a light on the theatre community. “The only question I am asking everyone is how are you staying creative if you are or if you aren’t, how are you dealing with it," Anderson says. "Because that is what the project was born out of for me. And everyone says what they want. They lead with their heart, and I don’t edit or filter. And that’s been the best part: when I turn on my computer and we get to connect face to face. I’m speaking with people that I have known for years but we don’t often get this one-on-one time. The connection part has been the best part. I didn’t realize how much I needed it. It’s been healing.”
And coming full circle for the photographer, Anderson uses the project to support the community that has supported her through her career, encouraging viewers to donate to The Actors Fund and #BroadwayFeedsBellevue.
While shutdown persists, Anderson continues with her project with an eye toward Broadway’s return “Of course there is hope. What that looks like and when is the tough part, but we’ll be back.”