When the show doesn’t go on
Although New York City entered the final phase of reopening on Monday, many New Yorkers’ lives are still on hold, as the city’s restaurants, bars and entertainment venues remain closed indefinitely.
Thirty-one-year-old Michael Valvo is one of thousands of “New York City expatriates” who fled the city and headed home in March, where he’s been ever since.
During the weekend of March 14, Valvo and thousands of other New Yorkers were faced with a difficult decision as COVID-19 infection rates and the corresponding death toll continued to climb: stay in the city and shelter in place or head for the safety of home and family.
For Valvo, the choice was obvious: “I had no work. All three of my jobs were gone. All auditions were canceled, and Broadway closed,” he recalled. “I got a plane ticket, packed a couple bags and flew home with my cat.”
For Valvo, home is the tiny hamlet of Kennedy, where he’s been living with his parents, Ronald and Dianne Valvo.
“I never thought I’d be living at home again for this length of time due to such an uncontrollable circumstance,” he said.
It’s been several years since Valvo has lived in Chautauqua County, where he gained his earliest performing experiences. He graduated from Falconer High School in 2006 and attended Jamestown Community College for one year before transferring to the State University at Fredonia, where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music Theatre in 2011.
Within a month of moving to New York City in 2012, Valvo booked his first off-Broadway show on 42nd Street in the theater district, and he has worked steadily as an actor ever since. Some of Valvo’s performance highlights include working with Henry Winkler on the set of television show “Royal Pains,” performing the role of Sophia Petrillo in a sold-out run of the all-male production “Thank you for Being a Friend, the Golden Girls Musical,” two year-long contracts as a mainstage performer for Disney Cruise Line, and his dream role of LeFou in “Beauty and the Beast” at Wisconsin’s Fireside Theater.
Just before the pandemic devastated New York City, Valvo performed in the role of Scuttle in a run of “The Little Mermaid” at the Argyle Theater on Long Island.
“I closed ‘Little Mermaid’ at the end of February, and I was back to my ‘survival jobs’ at the Laurie Beechman Theater, a cabaret club, the West Bank Cafe, as well as Top Notch Catering Company,” said Valvo. “It was the weekend of March 14, and in 24 hours, I was laid off of all three jobs, just one after the other. The shows at the theater stopped, the restaurants closed and all my catering events were canceled. I decided it would be best to come home.”
Valvo’s apartment is just half a dozen subway stops away from one of the early epicenters for the virus: Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.
“This was before masks; this was when they were originally saying hand sanitizer wasn’t doing anything,” said Valvo. “All we had was fear. There wasn’t an answer for anything. I was very fortunate that home has such a comparatively low infection rate, and being close to home, it was a very easy option for me.”
For many New Yorkers, home is New York City, which is the case for one of Valvo’s roommates who has remained in their apartment. Others chose to stay put in New York because home wasn’t much safer than the city. Regardless of their living situation, nearly all of Valvo’s friends and colleagues face numerous obstacles.
“My life was yanked away from me in a weekend, essentially,” Valvo told The Post-Journal. “That’s not just me as an actor. That’s artists, in general, people who work in the ushers union, gift shops, technicians, costumers, makeup artists, musicians –so many people other than actors who are affected by Broadway.”
NEXT WEEK: How Valvo is honing his craft locally this summer and how he and other performers will navigate the post-pandemic entertainment world.