ENTERTAINMENT
19/02/2021 18:19 GMT | Updated 19/02/2021 20:59 GMT

Benjamin Scheuer's 'Empty Stage' Is A Solemn Look At COVID-19's Impact On The Arts

The "Lion" singer-songwriter's latest project is a dazzling short film -- and dance lover's dream -- after a painful year.

Benjamin Scheuer had planned to spend much of 2020 on the road, touring in support of his long-awaited debut album. The singer-songwriter’s dream was dashed, of course, once COVID-19 obliterated his opportunities to perform before a live audience or join his collaborators in the studio.

Scheuer’s disappointment was shared by legions of singers, actors, musicians and dancers around the world as their professional lives were indefinitely upended when theaters and other performance venues shuttered. He set out to capture that sentiment for posterity with a new single, “Empty Stage,” which became the soundtrack for a short film starring a dazzling corps de ballet.

Unveiled Friday and viewable above, “Empty Stage” intertwines clips of Scheuer and legendary dancer-choreographer Carlos Acosta taking in the English countryside with footage of Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers in rehearsal and, ultimately, executing an evening’s performance with no audience in sight. Collectively, it serves as a hopeful response to the pandemic’s devastating impact on live performances.

Roseanna Anderson and Joshua Ben-Tovim
Singer Benjamin Scheuer unveiled his new single, "Empty Stage," this week.

Scheuer, a New York native now based in London, said he wrote and recorded the song last fall after an evening stroll past scores of empty theaters in the British capital. Days later, he was contacted by Acosta, who was appointed artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2019. Acosta hoped to use the song for a digital project, to be directed by Roseanna Anderson and Joshua Ben-Tovim.

“Stages are empty when performances can’t happen,” Scheuer told HuffPost. “But they’re also empty right after a performance has happened, and right before a performance does happen. In all instances, they echo with the shows that have been in them ... Together, we made something that celebrates the arts themselves.”

Acosta said that when it came to adapting Scheuer’s words and music on film, “we wanted to hold a mirror up to all those in the industry, acknowledging what we have all been through and that we are all in it together, to those struggling to find meaning and audiences who have stayed away from theaters. It’s a message of hope and support.”

Roseanna Anderson and Joshua Ben-Tovim
Members of the Birmingham Royal Ballet appear in the "Empty Stage" video.

Scheuer has never confined himself to a single artistic medium, and his confessional, guitar-driven tunes bridge a gap between Broadway and a neighborhood open mic night. He is best known for 2014’s “The Lion,” a one-man, semi-autobiographical musical recounting his early bout with cancer and his fractured relationship with his father. The original New York production of “The Lion” nabbed Scheuer a Drama Desk Award for outstanding solo performance, and he has since performed the show in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, among other cities. 

Last year, it was announced that Scheuer had signed a deal with Atlantic Records to release a solo album. In March 2020, he released his first single, “I Am Samantha,” in which he recalled a transgender friend’s journey to self-acceptance. Both “Empty Stage” and “I Am Samantha” will appear on the new record, now slated for release later this year. He’s also at work on two musicals and, on Thursday, received the 2021 Kleban Prize for most promising musical theater lyricist.

If there’s one thing Scheuer hopes audiences take away from “Empty Stage,” it’s that “the arts allow us to see ourselves in new ways.”

And while his company’s return to the stage remains out of reach for now, Acosta added, “[this is] a reminder that this time will pass and that we will be back together again.”

Roseanna Anderson and Joshua Ben-Tovim
Birmingham Royal Ballet artistic director Carlos Acosta describes "Empty Stage" as a "message of hope."