Broadway’s coronavirus shutdown has an end in sight.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced comeback plans Thursday to set up vaccination sites for Broadway performers and theater workers to ensure shows can return to the city this fall.
“It’s time to raise the curtain and bring Broadway back,” he said during a virtual news conference, promising to “move heaven and earth.”
Broadway theaters abruptly closed March 12, 2020, knocking out all shows – including 16 that were scheduled to open. Producers, citing health and city authorities, extended the shutdown through at least June 7.
Along with vaccination efforts, the city’s plan for reopening this fall includes pop-up coronavirus testing sites near theaters, crowd management before and after shows and a mobile vaccination unit for off-Broadway performers and workers.
“We’ll do everything in our power to bring Broadway and off-Broadway back strong,” de Blasio said, calling on New York state to issue clear guidance for mask usage and coronavirus testing for workers and audiences to ensure reopening can go on as planned.
The announcement did not include information regarding what theater capacities might look like upon reopening. All New York state movie theaters were allowed to reopen this month, with capacity restricted to 25% and no more than 50 people per screen. Assigned seating, social distancing and masks (except when eating or drinking) are required.
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The financial demands of Broadway shows don’t favor keeping seats purposefully empty. The average operating costs for a play are about $300,000 per week, and weekly costs run $590,000 for musicals.
The Actor’s Equity Association, a labor union that represents more than 51,000 theater actors and stage managers, called Thursday’s announcement “important recognition … that a strong theatre industry means a healthy, strong economy.”
“Mayor de Blasio clearly understands that we cannot socially distance in our work, making the availability of vaccines and testing critical for maintaining a safe workplace,” said Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity Association. “We have been having conversations with the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment about safety on a regular basis throughout the pandemic. It is clear that we were heard and the city is pushing forward-looking policy changes that will serve the entire theatrical community.”
“Hadestown” star André De Shields, 75, joined Thursday’s conference virtually to cheer on the efforts to bring theater back.
“New York is on its way back, but it will not completely arrive until not only Broadway but all theater across this great city has returned,” he said. “What’s important about the theater are the stories we love to share. That’s the power of our profession. We know, through our storytelling, we can transform individual lives. We can alter governments. We can be the change we want to see in this world. Broadway is the cultural spine of this city.”
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Contributing: Ilana Keller, Asbury Park Press