By Anna Griffin
Greensboro, North Carolina
A week before March 12, Broadway actress Jeanna de Waal was weeks away from the opening night of Diana, a brand new Broadway show about the life and times of the late Princess Diana. She was spending every day doing interviews, photoshoots, and hours upon hours of rehearsals. In the midst of all of the commitments with Diana, she was also running her company, “Broadway Weekends”, which provides musical theatre classes to all ages, and is taught exclusively by Broadway and West End professionals. Right, when everything seemed perfect, rumors of Broadway and the world shutting down started to flourish due to the changing climate of the then-novel COVID-19.“ We had some sort of inclination, but it still took us all by surprise.” de Waal said. The cast and crew of Diana kept restarting until they found out devastating news. de Waal says “We actually saw it on our phones that Broadway was shutting down….. then we had a big meeting with all the producers in the theatre. There were lots of tears.”
Once Broadway shut down, de Waal decided to close her pop-up musical theatre classes with Broadway Weekends. She immediately met with her team to discuss the future of their company, and ultimately decided to move the classes online. “After one week of quarantine, we had a full schedule of zoom classes,” says de Waal. Broadway Weekends at Home started as a Facebook group where de Waal and her team would post the zoom class links each week. “It took a journey until we found a platform,” says de Waal. At first, all of Broadway Weekends at Home’s classes were donation-based, but after three months, they had to move to a tuition-based format. Now, they run one to six different classes a day, all taught by Broadway and West End actors. Students of all walks of life can purchase a monthly subscription, class package, or simply purchase class by class. Broadway Weekends at Home offers classes in every aspect of theatre including foundation class like beginner tap, intermediate ballet, and acting through song. They also have a dance-class with dance combinations from popular musicals like Hamilton, Hairspray, and Mean Girls. With all of the performing aspects of theatre, BWAH offers classes in costume design, stage management, and even the history of Broadway musicals. “The most exciting part about it is the community we have built around it...there is something so special about it,” said de Waal.
Once settled in the operation of the new and improved BWAH, the team started developing more ways to outreach and. This past October, the group had the first official collaboration with a Broadway Musical, The Prom. This was a weekend-long intensive with workshops with the Star of The Prom and was geared toward the show's fanbase of younger students. “We hope for this collaboration to be the first of many.” said de Waal when asked about the future of collaborations. Broadway Weekends at Home is slated to do another weekend of The Prom in November for students on east-coast time. Over the summer, de Waal and her team developed Broadway Weekends at School. “Broadway Weekends at School really developed because people were asking for personalized workshops for their art’s community…. the workshops are completely tailored to that group’s needs.” said de Waal. Much like Broadway Weekend’s classes, all classes are taught by Broadway and West End professionals. The Broadway Weekends at Home team has also set up a Scholarship Fund for students from low-income students and schools who cannot afford to take their classes once they move to a subscription model. Broadway Weekend’s scholarship fund hopes to provide its offering for free to these students. “It was on our conscience for a while.” said de Waal. It is now a registered charity, and recently had a successful Halloween event where over 2500 dollars were raised. To strengthen the bond of the community, BWAH has created different clubs and committees that their participants can join. Each club or committee has a different group that has different roles and jobs that range from planning events to marketing. There is an application and interview process for each new committee member. “Our teachers get the most incredible feedback always. I think that is what makes our company so special. We love our teachers!” said de Waal.
Despite the major challenges of this year, there have been some upsides for everyone. During the summer, de Waal got some great and uplifting news. She learned Diana the Musical was going to be filmed and become a Netflix original. The whole cast would have to quarantine together, get tested regularly, and all would have to wear PPE regularly to ensure no spread of COVID-19. “It was beyond anything I could ever imagine. I just had no idea that was coming!” said de Waal when asked about her reaction to the news. When reflecting on her year de Waal said “I think that the theme of this whole year is a complete surrender to the unknown. It’s been the craziest year.” Jeanna de Waal is an inspiration to many and has defined what it means to be busy during the quarantine. If you would like to check out Broadway Weekends, Broadway Weekends at Home, Broadway Weekends at School, The Prom Weekend or donate to the Broadway Weekends scholarship fund you can find even more information at broadwayweekends.com.