In early October, the Broadway League has announced that Broadway would remain closed until June 2021. Before this announcement, Broadway was supposed to reopen in January 2021, but due to the rising cases of COVID-19 within the state of New York, as well as throughout the country, the date has been moved once again, but how does that affect Broadway?
Broadway has been closed since March 12, 2020, which mean seven months without productions running. Performers, technicians, designers and theatre employees have been out of work and producers are losing profit.
Broadway is part of New York city’s reopening plan. This phase also includes higher education, pre-K to grade 12 schools and malls, to name a few. Phase four coexists with the policies created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, which bans most gatherings of more than 500 people and requires smaller venues to cut capacities in half.
Broadway is one of the main economic gold mines for New York City. Last season, Broadway contributed nearly $14.7 billion worth to New York City’s economy. It is also a magnet for tourism, which is the city’s top contributions to profit.
During the 2018-2019 season, international tourists purchased 65% of the tickets sold on Broadway with shows like “Hamilton,” “The Lion King” and “Phantom of the Opera” on the top of many people’s buckets list. However, due to Broadway closing, tourism has dropped, but more importantly people have lost their jobs.
About 98,000 people who work on Broadway are unemployed and for a lot of these people the future is uncertain.
“I am in a very fortunate situation where I have a job and health insurance and I am able to practice my craft and still be okay,” said theatre professor Michael Walker. “My friend does not have job, a place to go, no auditions. He can’t go play gigs. There’s nothing, so my friend is trying to find outlets and trying to stay positive.”
Like Walker’s friend, many performers, designers, technicians and industry employees working have left the city permanently because they have to provide for their families.
The extended closure is disheartening for those out of a job, but it also means that some might be out of a job even longer with shows not reopening due to COVID-19, shows like “Frozen,” “Beetlejuice” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” just to name a few.
This will inevitably cost millions of dollars for investors, artist and associate businesses alike and will likely trigger a collapse of some of the shows that will be unable to survive the delays and losses.
In early October, the West End started to experiment with ways to ensure the safety of theatre goers and workers alike.
The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) created the “See It Safely” campaign that will help theatre goers know what theatres are safe to go to. In order to get that campaign mark, venues have to sign up to a code for contact that demonstrates the safety steps to reopen. There have been experiments with spaced out seating and drive-in performances that were soon cancelled.
In contrast, Broadway runs on a commercial theatre model where the theatre is entirely running by profit and ticket sales.
Broadway theatres could run a show at half capacity, but they would not be making enough profit out it to pay producers who then distribute the money for paychecks and savings.
Another issue is the spaces themselves since many theatres on Broadway are historically marked theatres.
“Everybody is just on top of each other in a Broadway house,” said theatre professor Dr. David Callaghan.
Another issue is the future of theatre majors. During a time when graduates are entering a world where there is no work, there may still be other venues and theatre companies reopening this coming summer, which gives an opportunity for graduates and other students to step into the professional world.
“Hustle, if you don’t hustle and you don’t like hustle don’t go into theatre. Reach out now,” said Walker.
Theatre professors at UM maintain hope for the future of Broadway.
“Theatre has been around you know for thousands of years. It has literally survived extended plagues and government censored shifts and shutdowns for fifteen to twenty years,” said Callaghan. “We overcome obstacles, so there is no doubt in my mind that theatre is going to be back in the future.”