“The only thing we can count on, is change,” says Keith Sherman.
Sherman should know. The New York-based press agent — a Local 600 member since 2005 as well as a member of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM) – has run his own business for 30 years, representing more than 300 live shows. He has seen Broadway and the entertainment industry bounce back from the AIDS epidemic, the September 11 terrorist attacks, hurricanes, floods and the economic recession.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has presented Sherman an entirely new set of challenges – both personally and professionally. Sherman and his husband both contracted the virus in the early days of the pandemic. Then all live entertainment shut down, and theater publicists saw their work completely disappear. As Broadway went dark, Sherman closed his Times Square office, and furloughed his three staff members.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I guess I have a sense of perspective. I’ve seen a lot of change, which is a good thing,” he said. But even in the midst of what he calls “an otherworldly, unprecedented time,” Sherman says his message is one of positivity.
“I’m spending a lot of time recently consoling and talking with a lot of friends and colleagues who are stressed out beyond words and who have a harder time understanding the gray of life. I’ve always been comfortable with that.”
Since starting his own business in 1989, he has worked on hundreds of union live shows, films and TV broadcasts including the musicals We Will Rock You, Be More Chill, the Drama Desk Awards, the Tony Awards and the New York Times.
One of his favorite jobs, however, was helping the IATSE promote its 100th birthday. “I met a lot of men and women who had been at their jobs for decades — stage door men, crew members who were part of a family dynasty who carried on through generations. They all had these wonderful human stories,” recalled Sherman. “They weren’t glitzy or star-studded. It was about hard-working men and women.”
“Ultimately, that’s the backbone of the entertainment business,” he continued. “When the credits roll you really see the force that goes into making any project. That’s the force of the union. It’s the men and women who really do make these shows a reality.”
By the early days of March 2020, he started hearing rumblings about the threat of COVID-19. On March 12, Governor Andrew Cuomo shut down the theaters and everything changed.
In addition, Sherman faced the virus first hand. His husband is the medical director of two nursing homes. A resident at one of the homes was diagnosed with COVID-19, followed quickly by six more. The city health department came in and Sherman and his husband were both tested.
“I got the results a few days later and it was negative, but the very next day, I came down with all the symptoms,” said Sherman who figures that the test was either a false negative or he contracted the virus a few days later. “We both ended up with a really terrible case of the flu that lasted for two full weeks. I have been tested for the COVID-19 antibodies, and I have them.”
As for when the lights of Broadway may shine again, Sherman has hope, but no answers.
“The rumor about Broadway and live theater is 2021,” Sherman says. “How do you create social distancing if you have to cut the house by a third or in half? It doesn’t make any economic sense. The nonprofit theaters will be in real trouble if it ends up going that long. Film festivals, too.”
“But we will come back. There will be a vaccine. Time has born that out. I just want people to know that it hurts now, but it’s going to get better.”
And while he waits for live performance to return, Sherman is reconnecting with his unions and reminding people in the film and television industry that his publicists’ chops are still in perfect working order.
“I’ve done a lot of film and TV,” he says, “and lord knows, I want to do more.”