Since Broadway’s earliest incarnation in the mid-1700s, the theater business’ dedicated workforce has earned a reputation for doing anything and everything in its power to ensure that the show goes on, no matter the circumstance.
But in March 2020, when all 41 theaters were forced to close indefinitely with the arrival of COVID, the industry’s actors, creators and producers were left with no way to ply their craft. For nearly 18 months, marquees stayed dark and audiences stayed home.
Broadway reopened in September 2021, and now, thanks to a collective effort among the scientific community, government and other key players, recovery is in full swing; shows are reopening, new ones emerging and audiences are starting to come back. But let’s not forget the often unsung contributor to getting theater back to normal: the banking industry.
For those who may be unfamiliar, financial institutions play an important role in the industry, especially in the early stages, when producers need a banking partner to set up accounts for development and capitalization.
“You and your bank have a really special relationship,” says Brian Moreland, creative lead producer at B More Now Productions, which is working closely with City National Bank on the revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Piano Lesson.”
“[Your bank becomes] a holding account for you,” he explains. “Once you’re actually going to move into your full commercial raise, they are your account of record — the specific holding account that the SEC can go to and audit. So it’s all sitting there in one place. They’re able to accept your wires in large and small amounts.”
The bank also simplifies interactions among multiple signers on those accounts, because though theater is closed one day a week, the business of Broadway never stops.
That business, no surprise, begins with and relies on the personal touch. Moreland recalls an opening night afterparty at which Erik Piecuch, City National’s team leader in entertainment banking, introduced himself and proposed a lunch where he could explain how City National could be a supportive partner.
“I thought he was extraordinarily kind,” the producer recalls, and the bank was “extraordinarily hands-on, which was something I hadn’t experienced before. I didn’t think about it as a type of collaborative environment, where they are there to help you and serve you. So I said, ‘The next show I have, I’ll bring it over.’ And I did.”
Everything tilted on its axis on March 12, 2020, when Broadway was forced to close, to the consternation of not just producers, artists and technicians, but essential ancillary businesses as well.
Damian Bazadona is founder and president of Situation Group, a premier digital-first marketing agency for Broadway and other live events. He recalls “the uncertainty and trauma that we were all living through … So many businesses in the theater industry were hanging on by a very thin thread.”
For City National’s first response, according to Piecuch, “We immediately reached out to all of our clients to stay in touch and to ask what they needed. We ensured they had full online access to their accounts to reflect their new work-from-home situations.”
Questions were quickly answered as a source of support.
As the pandemic wore on, City National participated in the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), administering loans to nearly 26,000 clients, for a total of close to $6.2 billion, including vital funds for Broadway. “They helped my office with a PPP loan, which was instrumental in getting us through 2020,” says Bespoke Theatricals partner Amy Jacobs. Bazadona recalls being “amazed by how quickly the money was able to be rolled out.”
Moreland’s experience was distinctive in that he “had two shows at competing banks,” each attempting to navigate the untested waters of PPP and Shuttered Venue Operators Grants. With people hurting and confusion reigning around maddeningly complex regulations, Moreland asserts, “I have to say that City National was the first to get it all together. They were literally the easiest, and they were working around the clock.”
Throughout the year and a half long shutdown, City National helped keep the showbiz spirit alive by stepping up donations to nonprofits like Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Entertainment Community Fund. For Broadway Cares, the bank pledged $100,000 for each of three invitation-only “Quarantunes” concerts featuring impromptu performances by big-name stars, with those amounts successfully leveraged to encourage matching viewer donations.
As far as the future is concerned, insiders are bullish. “There’s nothing more fulfilling than taking 1,500 people on a shared emotional journey eight times a week,” asserts Amy Jacobs, and “in a world where people practically live online and through their social media, live experiences are that much more special and treasured.”
Bazadona agrees: “Humans will always desire to do human things, and sitting in a theater surrounded by your community is a very beautiful human thing.”
At the same time, he senses that the pandemic “brought us all a new sense of urgency in how we think, how we do business and how we view the world. It forced us to think differently.”
Thinking outside the box is an effective way to prepare for the future, and a hallmark of the culture of City National.
“Success in the theater is built on two driving forces: your ability to create meaningful relationships and your ability to sustain the hustle,” Bazadona asserts. “City National Bank has uniquely accomplished this in the Broadway business. They invest in deepening relationships by showing up and contributing to the industry conversation. And at the same time, they understand how to keep pace with the ever-changing needs that this industry uniquely requires.”
The pandemic changed the industry’s needs as never before. And based on its long history of supporting artists and entrepreneurs, City National was uniquely positioned to rise to the occasion and meet the challenge.
“While we were all overwhelmed and stressed,” says Bazadona about City National, “they were there. They brought the hustle and met the moment.”
City National Bank Member FDIC. City National Bank is a subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada.