So You've Been Told Your Show Is Closing | Playbill

Special Features So You've Been Told Your Show Is Closing

Almost Famous' Anika Larsen on how to navigate grief and how to pick yourself back up again.

Anika Larsen at opening night of Almost Famous
Anika Larsen at opening night of Almost Famous Heather Gershonowitz

Tony nominee Anika Larsen, who played mom Elaine Miller in the recent Broadway musical Almost Famous—based on the hit Cameron Crowe film of the same name—had been with the show since its first staged reading in 2018 and the subsequent 2019 engagement at San Diego's Old Globe.

COVID thwarted plans to move the Crowe-Tom Kitt musical to Broadway in 2020, but the musical finally arrived on the Main Stem October 3, 2022, officially opening one month later at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on November 3. Last month, the musical's producers, Lia Vollack and Michael Cassel, made the difficult decision to close the production, which had been consistently struggling at the box office. When it closed January 8, Almost Famous played 30 previews and 77 regular performances.

Said the producers in a joint statement at the time, "Almost Famous, like the music it celebrates, will endure. We look forward to the release of the cast recording on March 17, and to the many productions in communities across the country and world, for years to come."

In the essay below, Larsen—who will be part of the upcoming Stars in the House for Climate Action concert, benefiting The Broadway Green Alliancepens an open-hearted letter to all of the theatre makers who pour their hearts and souls into their work, from the moment of creation to closing night. Larsen candidly charts this journey, while processing the many emotions one experiences when a production closes much sooner than anticipated.



Anika Larsen and the cast of Almost Famous in the 2019 production at the Old Globe

Dear Theatre Makers,

It’s January. The most dreaded month of the Broadway year. Sales drop precipitously from the holidays, and many shows aren’t able to survive until spring. They close, and other shows take their places. The circle of Broadway life.

So many shows are closing this particular January. It’s easy to respond to the news of a closing with a shrug and the question, “What’s coming in next?” I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve been guilty of that myself. But starting this January, I will never again dismiss without a second thought all that went into a show before it closed, and all of the people it affected.

So to all the makers of all of the shows closing too soon this month, or any month, or any year, I want to shine a light on the long, joyous, arduous, fulfilling, heartbreaking path you took.

Let me guess what it might have looked like for you.

Some of you brave souls had an idea, and you dared to write, to compose, to choreograph, to direct, to collaborate. To hope. For hours and months and years you did this, and along the way you found like-minded people who dared to produce your creation—not just to pour their resources into this risky endeavor, but their hopes into it, too.

You became a team. A team that grew to include people who dared to design, build, costume, shine light, augment sound. To manage all the aspects of your risky endeavor. But, of course, you needed to see, hear, feel your idea realized, so you planned a workshop. And you chose people who dared to try to make a life by singing, acting, dancing to come show you what you made. Those performers gave their all to your creation—hoping, hoping, hoping that this risky endeavor might be one of the few risky endeavors to succeed.

Your workshop was heartening, edifying. Your team rewrote, cut, added, argued, conceded, improved. And hoped. You workshopped more. Your performers became a cast. And hoped. Years maybe passed. You gained momentum, buzz. And, after much labor and much hope, you took your creation to a theatre out of town: D.C., Chicago, San Francisco.

Drew Gehling, Anika Larsen, Casey Likes, Solea Pfeiffer, and Chris Wood in rehearsal for Broadway's Almost Famous Krista Schlueter

There, it was like grown-up theatre camp, with all of you, all of your growing team—you professional darers, working and playing together, reveling in the euphoric collaboration of creating a new play or musical, falling in love with your creation, and with each other. By the time your out-of-town run ended, your team was decidedly family.

But maybe here is where your path took an unexpected turn. Because of a pandemic. Maybe it thwarted your plans to come to Broadway. Maybe it interrupted your run before you could really get started. Or maybe you thought it was over, but its effects were still wreaking havoc on your industry.

Regardless, you locked down with the rest of the world. And you waited. You hoped. You pivoted. You floundered. You innovated. You quit. You hustled. You despaired. You dared. You lost hope. You hoped.

The rest of the world began to move on, but you still had to wait, hobbled by the fact that theatre is an art form of communion. Eventually some of you brave souls dared to take the leap. Then more of you. Then more.

At long last, your family came back together, bursting with anticipation and excitement for your run on Broadway. Some of you moved here from other cities, some of you brought your own families with you. New performers, stage managers, darers were brought into the fold. Some of you would be making your Broadway debuts! It was thrilling to be creating Broadway history, to be making a hat where there never was a hat.

You were also giddy to think that you had found job security in an industry where it is so elusive. You fantasized about what having a steady gig would mean for your life. How you might be able to take a break from the hustle, you might make big, long-delayed purchases or improvements on your home, you might be able to afford to have a baby after all. You dared hope that, just maybe, your days of bartending or nannying were over.

You moved into your Broadway theatre for tech rehearsals, and there was a whole slew of new people to welcome into your family. A phenomenally capable and loving house crew and front-of-house staff. Musicians who made your show sound stunning. Wardrobe and hair teams you instantly adored. A stoic running crew who, after a brief period of ice-breaking, became as silly as anyone backstage.

Tech and previews were exhausting, stressful, exhilarating, and you felt triumphant that together your family made it through to the magic of Opening Night. You were submitted to the powerful judgements of non-theatre makers, and you hoped that audiences would be able to decide for themselves how they felt about your creation.

Rob Colletti, Anika Larsen, Casey Likes, Drew Gehling, Solea Pfeiffer, and Chris Wood at opening night of Almost Famous
Rob Colletti, Anika Larsen, Casey Likes, Drew Gehling, Solea Pfeiffer, and Chris Wood at opening night of Almost Famous Heather Gershonowitz

Then you heaved a collective sigh of relief as things settled. The musicians, crew, wardrobe, and hair teams all trained subs so that you might call out sick, take personal days, eventually take vacation. Understudies, you brave souls, had long been ready to step in and crush it. No less than 100 of you came to the theatre every day to make your show happen. And you all eased gratefully into a comfortable routine.

But at some point, the unthinkable came to pass. Maybe you saw it coming, maybe you were blindsided. You were told, lovingly and sorrowfully, that the run of your creation would be ending. The heartbreak was sickening. You were dizzied by the sudden drastic change to your future.

You dreaded telling your loved ones, because they—your parents, your partners, your friends, your children—they, too, had ridden the rollercoaster of this experience, the rollercoaster of your whole career, they rejoiced and suffered along with you. But you were grateful you had your loved ones to hold onto through this, because without them it could be so much worse.

Of course, it could be worse. You sometimes felt waves of shame at how devastated your closing made you, knowing how much worse so many had it. It was just a play. It was frivolous compared to the headlines you were reading every day. You were healthy and safe and loved. And you would work again.

No time for wallowing, because no less than 100 of you still had to go perform the very specific roles you played in mounting your creation for the little time you had left. It was tough, but the joy of doing your show was undeniable, you believed in it more fiercely than ever. And you had each other, your show family.

You all reckoned with the stages of grief in your different ways. It ebbed and flowed unpredictably. You woke up some mornings with the foggy, uncomfortable thought: Something bad happened. Go back to sleep so you don’t have to remember what it is yet. Other mornings you woke up and thought: I feel better. I’ve dealt with the heartache of theatre long enough to have learned resilience. Then, one day, you grasped the full reality of how difficult it would be to let your creation go so soon, and you felt awful again. You thought, I can’t keep doing this with my life. It’s too painful.

You lamented the loss of your new family. You knew the odds were nil that everyone who made your show happen—the no less than 100 people in the theatre plus the folks who worked on the show from office buildings nearby, never mind the creatives and designers who had scattered to the winds—that your complete family would ever be together again. It occurred to you that you’d never before felt adequate empathy when hearing about a factory closing down somewhere, but you would from now on.

In the days following your closing notice, you asked each other dispiritedly about your plans. Some of you were trying to get out of leases, some were moving back to the cities you came from, all of you were hustling for the next gig. Some of you in the crew knew quickly, bittersweetly, what show you’d move on to. Some of you would do wardrobe daywork or return to subbing in orchestra pits until another full-time job came along. 

It was already known what show would replace yours in your theatre.

You and your theatre family wrestled with your grief together. Maybe you suggested this was like a breakup. You didn’t feel like you could ever love again, but maybe you’d be surprised at how quickly an attractive new show would strut by and your heart would crack right back open. Maybe some of you believed things happen for a reason, but others of you didn’t, and you debated the notion until you realized that you actually agreed that you must make things happen for a reason. That when clouds descend, you must forge silver linings onto them, to take control when things feel so out of your control.

You started to have glimmers of perspective, zen, the sense that maybe you didn’t feel cheated, that you’d gotten everything out of this experience that you had ever dared asked for. Perhaps, essentially, what you’d lost was time: time together, time to stow away savings, time to share more performances with more people. But you had gotten to take on all of the unique stages of making a show together, the complete life cycle of a creation.

During your final performances, no less than 100 of you enjoyed the hell out of each other. You relished serving up your beloved creation with a joy intensified by its evanescence. Audiences were electric and ecstatic, and among them you could feel the love, admiration, and support of the theatre community, your extended family.

Chris Wood, Anika Larsen, Cameron Crowe, Joni Mitchell, Drew Gehling, Solea Pfeiffer, and Casey Likes at opening night of Almost Famous
Chris Wood, Anika Larsen, Cameron Crowe, Joni Mitchell, Drew Gehling, Solea Pfeiffer, and Casey Likes at opening night of Almost Famous Jenny Anderson

The next day, you mourned. The day after that, you began to hope. And dare. And maybe, just maybe, you began to create all over again.

That is what I imagine happened to you, beyond the one-sentence headline that your show was closing.

So this January, I feel compelled to say to all of the Theatre Makers, not just on Broadway but everywhere: I am in awe of you. I appreciate like never before the breathtaking audacity of your persistence and insistence on creating theatre, against such odds, particularly in a time that is so inhospitable to success. You get knocked down, but you get back up, your resilience rooted in your ardent faith that this magical art form—this art form as old as people, telling stories not through screens, but directly to one another—is vital. It is vital, in these challenging times, that you—the storytellers, the Theatre Makers—dare to be purveyors of hope.

I am humbled by you, hopeful because of you, and overwhelmingly proud to count myself among your numbers.

Your sister,

Anika

See Photos of Casey Likes, Solea Pfeiffer, Anika Larsen, More In Almost Famous

 
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