After going dark March 12, Broadway was supposed to return by July 2020. It was then sadly pushed back to September 2020. With no end to COVID-19 in sight, shows are now set to return by June 2021; the longest shutdown in Broadway history. Most of the Broadway community is asking themselves: Will it actually return this summer and what will it take to get there?
Both the performers and the audience need to feel safe- perhaps that will mean there needs to be a tried and true COVID-19 vaccine. Maybe that means plexiglass between theater seats and aisles as there is certainly no way to socially distance and have a profitable show. Either way, when theater does return, it will be stronger than ever as you cannot replace a live performance. Watching ‘Hamilton’ on Disney Plus is far from the real thing, and people simply crave culture in New York City. And it’s not just Broadway; the NYC Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, the Rockette’s- over 100,000 Broadway & Arts jobs were lost due to the COVID-19- and to this community, it’s not just a job… it’s their livelihood.
So will it actually return this summer? Maybe not. It took 4 years for Broadway and NYC Tourism to recover from 9/11; most Broadway patrons are traveling from outside of the city, and around 20% are over the age of 60 (not the best combination to endure a large crowd). It’s been said that shows will roll out little by little- not all at once. We may find that ticket prices are a bit more expensive, and shows may close faster than usual due to not filling all of the seats. However, I’ll say it again- you cannot replace live theater and watch from home- when it does return, it will return triumphantly.
How is this affecting performers, musicians, artistic staff and tech? Firstly, they are not getting the same attention or aid from the government that other industries are getting- very discouraging. This is an extremely strong community; so many performers have gone into other fields while they anxiously wait to perform again. From real estate to hosting on QVC, they are doing their best to remain relevant and stay financially afloat. However, some see no end in sight, and have moved outside of the city for a fresh start. Additionally, there are companies like Broadway.com who have had major layoffs with even more to come as Broadway remains dark. Though it hasn’t been publicized, I have to imagine Public Relations companies that focus on theater like Polk & Co. have downsized significantly as well.
Back in May, I interviewed Shereen Pimentel, a fresh-faced Juilliard graduate who had just opened the Broadway Revival of West Side Story as Maria. While Shereen was devastated by the shutdown, she does have hope and is keeping busy teaching master classes and performing in concerts via Zoom. However, Shereen is 22 years old- she can afford to wait for the return of theater. Others do not have that luxury, especially dancers.
In June, I interviewed Tony- Award winning mega- producer Ken Davenport about the shutdown. Ken was very positive about the return (and he’s the one that crunches numbers, which is encouraging) and he remains positive today. Ken conducts weekly livestreams with Broadway performers which are very popular on Facebook and Instagram. It’s also a way for them to stay relevant. Ken told me in June, ” Social distancing does not work for the theater. I do not believe that you are going to see Broadway or Off- Broadway theaters open up and say, we’re only going to do this at 25% capacity. We’re not a restaurant. We’re providing an experience for that audience. And that experience is so much better when every seat is full. You’ve been to a show or movie that isn’t sold out, it just doesn’t feel like the same thing. I don’t think we can come back until we can deliver an experience that is similar to the one we had before. We’ll have a lot of changes that will have to be in place. So we’ll be out longer…but we’ll come back stronger. You have to remember, we are a word of mouth industry. Word of mouth is best when we have a full theater and tons of people sharing an unbelievable, exciting experience and telling their friends. So we’ll be out longer, but we’ll be stronger as a result.”
Next week, I’ll be checking in with performer Claybourne Elder (before the shutdown, he was starring on Broadway as Andy in ‘Company’) about what he’s up to, and what his thoughts are about the return.
Broadway Fans- while you wait for live theater to come back, try the Broadway HD app- there are tons of plays and musicals you can watch through the app to help scratch that theatrical itch…