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As Theaters Remain Closed, Chicago Performers Get Creative

CHICAGO (CBS) -- This Christmas Eve, there are empty marquees and locked up theaters.

It's been 10 months since they closed and 10 months of no work. CBS 2's Marie Saavedra reports Christmas time is historically the busiest time of year for theatres. This year, that revenue is gone. With it are the jobs that performers count on, so nearly all of them have been forced to find other ways to work.

"I think like most freelance workers, I think I had about four jobs in March."

An actor's life requires hustle, and Lydia Hiller had it, until the pandemic put everyone's performances on hold.

"In the before times, I used to do murder mystery shows and caroling gigs and other performance things, and there are a lot of those around the holidays," Hiller said.

This year, theaters are as dark as the job prospects.

"It's really a bummer that I can't do those things that I used to do," Hiller said. "I really enjoyed them and that's where a big chunk of my income for the year would come from." she said.

So Hiller got creative, as creatives do. Meet Gingersnap the Elf. Straight from the North Pole to Chicago, willing to Zoom and sing for a fee with kids and kids at heart. This is what so many have had to do.

"Costumers are making clothes and masks and aprons and people are making jewelry. These are really talented craftspeople."

Deb Clapp is the Executive Director of the League of Chicago Theatres. She said the lack of productions has hit the entire industry, especially during what would normally be a busy Christmas time.

"I don't know that there's any theatre in Chicago that hasn't had to make significant cuts," Clapp said.

So everyone from the box office to backstage is finding other ways to stay afloat and pay their bills, until we are filling seats again.

"I mean they're just so resilient and that really for me is the good part," Clapp said.

In Hiller's case, she's found a way to keep entertaining.

"It's nice to actually see on a kids face how this really made their day," Hiller said.

Because an audience is an audience, even if it's on Zoom.

Gingerbread the Elf had a few calls with kids Thursday afternoon before some socially distant caroling Thursday evening. Hiller said that work will help cover expenses over the coming months.

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