Lights went out on Broadway and stages all over the world when COVID-19 made its debut. Since then, theaters of all levels have been trying to come up with solutions to minimize the suffering of productions and performers due to the aftermath of the closures. While New York City has shut down their theaters before, specifically after 9/11, they have never been closed for such an extended period of time. Theaters, large and small, plan to remain closed until 2021.
According to CNBC, in 2019, Broadway had more than $1.83 billion in ticket sales; however, in 2020,
Broadway only reached $300 million in ticket sales before shows were forced to close. The same article
also states that 1,100 actors and managers in the Actor’s Equity Association lost work due to shows
such as “Frozen,” “Beetle Juice” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” deciding to shut their productions for the foreseeable future. These shows are not planning to reopen once COVID-19 is under control.
Shows, on and off Broadway, take an enormous amount of money to produce. With attendance rates in
question, theaters are unsure whether or not to reopen their shows to the public. After the incredible financial struggle that theaters have faced, some are not in the position to take such a risk. While Broadway fanatics are dying for shows to announce their plans, many are unsure whether they will attend the first productions back on stage.
As everything else that has reopened after COVID-19 closures, some people are more skeptical than others to be interacting in public. Some people may purchase their tickets as soon as theaters announce opening dates, but more likely than not, a majority of people will hold off on taking their seats, especially in New York City, where COVID-19 cases were at an alarming high when the pandemic first arose.
As theaters plan to reopen in 2021, there are still questions regarding what health and safety regulations
will be put in place for both performers and audience members. According to the New York Law Journal,
many doubt that Broadway theaters will reopen under strict social distancing requirements because of the risky investment that these shows are under normal circumstances.
The cost to put on each production will likely surpass sales on limited, socially distanced seats. Many theaters question whether shows will be profitable when they reopen, or if they will be barely breaking even. Furthermore, the New York Law Journal also argues that even when Broadway theaters are able to open at full capacity, there may be some conflict with the unions that represent theater workers.
While many theaters plan to reopen in 2021, it is unclear if these productions will be able to do so safely.
David Michaels, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, claims that
in order for theaters to reopen, there needs to be control of COVID-19, modified spaces and procedures and the ability to identify infected individuals.
According to The New Yorker, since the live theater industry may be one of the last to bounce back after the pandemic, the financial impact is incalculable. The article also states that the industry has suffered from the deaths of actor Nick Cordero and Tony Award-winning playwright, Terrence McNally. Both died from the coronavirus while theaters were shut down.
It is hard to say when theaters around the country will be able to open their doors again. Performers,
producers and playwrights alike all remain hopeful that the stage lights will shine again and this time, brighter than ever.
Sources: CNBC, New York Law Journal, The New Yorker