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‘Flexibility’ has been lost

Michael Valvo is a 2011 graduate of SUNY Fredonia, where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre. He is pictured here in the title role of SUNY Fredonia’s 2010 production of “Charley’s Aunt.”

Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts.

KENNEDY — Even though New York City is slowly reopening, it’s still a grim situation for individuals like Michael Valvo, a New York City-based actor who has returned home to Chautauqua County for the pandemic.

With theaters closed and restaurants open only for outdoor dining at a limited capacity, jobs for artists are scarce and the competition is stiffer than ever.

“Creatives depend on the flexibility of something like a restaurant because of the opportunities for their main work, like auditions, or gigs, or an art exhibition,” Valvo explained. “The flexibility is the greatest appeal because of the need to work around auditions, call backs, recording sessions, night classes, voice lessons, dance lessons and more.”

Valvo pointed out that a creative’s education rarely ends with a college diploma, for participation in acting studios, casting workshops, agent interviews and more are essential to being successful in one of the most competitive job markets in one of the busiest places in the world.

“The list goes on and on for networking and growing your craft,” said Valvo, who is signed with theatrical agent Danny Prather of Hudson Artists Agency.

“And if you want to live comfortably and not be stressed, you’re going to have a survival job or two, as well.”

In the meantime, Valvo has enjoyed a different pace at home in Kennedy.

“The time spent with family has been the best part,” he said. “This is the first time in years I’ve been home to celebrate everyone in my family’s birthday, for example.”

Valvo is considering a fall return date to his apartment in New York, as Broadway is planned to reopen on Jan. 1.

For now, he and everyone else in the performing industry are learning what the new chapter of their lives may look like.

Because no studios are holding in-person auditions now, the audition scene is changing to video auditions for the first round.

Valvo explained, “You’re given material ahead of time via YouTube and the sheet music to put together an audition video to submit. That’s becoming the new industry standard, and that’s true for television and film, too. It’s affecting everyone: Las Vegas, the West End; it’s entertainment, period. There are very few things that union actors are approved for right now, but in general, the theater scene can’t come back yet because there’s not a social distancing plan in place yet for actors and audiences.”

Now, Valvo is still enjoying his craft, but in a very different way. For the past two weeks, he has been sharing his experience and skills with students in the Playground Academy’s Shine On Summer Day Camp at the Dunkirk Lighthouse.

“Right now, I’d be reprising the role of LeFou in a production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for the Charlottesville Opera in Virginia, which got cancelled,” he said. “If I can’t be in ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ what better thing than to teach ‘Beauty and the Beast’?”

Indeed, Valvo spent the first week of Shine On working with middle and high school students as they performed a variety of songs from “Beauty and the Beast.” He’s recently spent the second week helping Janie Villella-Sharon, Playground Academy executive director, teach selections from “The Little Mermaid” to elementary students.

“Growing up in this area, I was fortunate enough to participate in things like All-County choir at Chautauqua Institution, Junior Guilders, Little Theater and Camp Broadway at Shea’s Performing Arts Center,” Valvo recalled. “Struthers Library Theater was my first professional paying job in seventh grade. I spent so much time working with professional actors in the area. I used to be the kid, and now I get to be the one teaching the kids.”

Life has come “full circle” for Valvo, who attributes his success to the experiences he had growing up in western New York.

“Growing up here had a big influence on me because this is my career,” he pointed out. “If one of these kids ends up performing and I got to teach them, I continue that circle.”

He believes that for kids interested in the arts, it doesn’t get better than this area.

“You can start very young, at both ends of the county, and you can develop your talents all the way through high school, JCC and SUNY Fredonia and make it in an area like New York City or Los Angeles. If your child is interested in performing, the amount of resources Chautauqua County has to offer, I think, is very rare. The National Comedy Center, Chautauqua Institution, the Lucy-Desi Museum: all of this fosters a love for the arts. The education that a child can get in this area in the arts is outstanding. Don’t take this for granted.”

Valvo is no stranger to the skeptical attitude some have regarding careers in the arts. While far from easy, his journey proves that success is certainly possible in an industry that many are seeing with new eyes during the pandemic.

“We need the arts now more than ever because for every time you enjoy a TV show, or listen to a song, or read a book, all of those are escapes, and without artists, we wouldn’t have these entertainment options during a lockdown or any other time,” Valvo pointed out. “It’s really important to support the arts as they come back for those whose livelihood depends on it and so that kids today can have the opportunities that I’ve been fortunate enough to have.”

For photos, videos and updates on Valvo and his work, visit www.michaelvalvo.com.

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