The curtain rises again in theaters, thanks to the rising voices of the crowd

Independence Day 2021 – what a difference a year makes.

A year ago, honestly, I was unsure if our beloved and normally vibrant curtain call in Stamford could survive an extended shutdown. Today we are back in action and preparing for normal activity levels.

The holidays mean so much more to me this year. I had never been more active in government than voting in every state, federal and local election to which I was entitled. It wasn’t just the controversial presidential race that motivated me, it was the survival of the industry I’ve been a part of for most of my life – the arts. And more precisely, the theater. We couldn’t die.

Mark Twain may have shed light with his quote, “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” when his obituary was published in error, but theaters and other art venues were indeed dying. And yes, I am familiar with the quote from another great writer: “The theater is the only institution in the world that has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed” (John Steinbeck).

The art form necessary for the soul of our world would surely not succumb, but what would it take to survive a global pandemic? Steinbeck’s quote ended with this: “It takes hard, dedicated people to keep him alive.

I’ve seen huge organizations with multi-million dollar budgets (and their insanely large lobby groups) push Congress for survival funds. Organizations that are totally worthy and in need of support. But smaller organizations like Curtain Call (thousands across the country in fact) were being left behind. I couldn’t stay still. And while I never had a problem being a squeaky wheel when needed, trying to make a change at the federal level was going to take a lot more noise and a lot of dedicated people.

Through a chance meeting with US Senator Richard Blumenthal, I made my first meaningful contact with a member of the Connecticut federal delegation. This inspired me to contact Senator Chris Murphy and Representative Jim Himes.

I then spoke to our constituents and begged them to write to these lawmakers and more. I reached out to influential friends in the industry – writers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Amanda Green, and Drew Cohen, president of one of the largest musical theater licensing agencies (MTI), and many others, and the momentum picked up from there. I tweeted to over 100 members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. I have emailed and left voicemail messages and have encouraged my colleagues across the country to do so. And it paid off. (Special thanks to the Connecticut Federal Delegation and its staff who have kept in touch with me regularly as the various obstacles of federal funding programs were presented to us.)

As a nation, we have our problems, many of which may never be resolved. Our history is imperfect, our founders were imperfect, none of us are perfect. But to create a more perfect union, we must all participate. My voice alone did not make the necessary changes to the Shuttered Venue operator grant. Rather, it was the small group of artists and patrons who joined me. As Margaret Mead said in 1978: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and engaged citizens can change the world: indeed, it is the only thing that has ever existed.

This July 4th, no matter how flawed our union is, I will be more grateful than ever to have a voice in our democracy. When I take the stage this fall playing John Adams in “1776” (September 17 through October 9 at Curtain Call), I will look at these characters in a very different way. Acknowledge their mistakes and what they did wrong, but appreciate everything they got right in this 1,300-plus-word document that we are celebrating today.

Happy Independence Day!

Lou Ursone is Executive Director of the Curtain Call Theater in Stamford.