BROADWAY'S CURTAINS ARE FINALLY UP! (OR SO IT HOPES)
Broadway has been a staple in New York City since the 1920s. It is a huge part of the economy; it employs thousands of people and has a considerable impact on the tourism industry and the overall arts world. According to the Broadway League, when you combine actors, stage managers, tech crews, costume designers, lighting experts, and many more, the theater industry creates about 96,900 jobs. In addition, theater has been a booster of people’s morale in the city for years. It has been a sense of comfort for New Yorkers through the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, the September 11th attacks of 2001, and a variety of blackouts and natural disasters. The catch: it has only ever turned off its lights for, at most, four days. So when the pandemic hit the city almost two years ago, and 41 theaters closed their doors indefinitely, it only made it more difficult for those involved in the theater community.
As of May, Broadway was given the green light to open its doors, and it seemed to many as if the COVID-19 pandemic was coming to a close. However, since then, cases have been rapidly increasing, and tourism has been decreasing along with it, which can be detrimental to the Broadway industry. In fact, according to the New York Times, tourists make up at least two-thirds of Broadway’s audience. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has led to detrimental effects on the theater community, there have been some sparks of hope. Four Broadway shows opened over the summer as a “test run” for the new safety protocols in place, and all four have yet to miss a single performance, which is reassuring for all Broadway productions planning on reopening.
However, as the theater returns, navigating the increased restrictions and regulations is going to be complex. Theaters need new air filtration systems, more frequent disinfecting of theaters, and testing of cast and crew. All employees are to be tested weekly, and all audience members are required to be vaccinated, with the exception of those 12 and under, who require a negative test. Additionally all audience members are required to be wearing a mask when they are not eating or drinking.
In addition to the increased regulations, theaters need to start dusting off their equipment. As Guy Kwan, a production manager on a variety of popular musicals, stated, “If you turn off your car or computer for 18 months and then turn it back on, you don’t know what problems you might come across….We didn’t want to be in a situation where we start finding problems after audiences come back.” Many costumes and designs had to be replaced after such a long time of not being in use, especially in musicals with particularly elaborate costumes and props, such as high-budget shows like Hamilton and Six. Actors, too, need to start stretching (both physically and vocally) and re-learning skills that may have deteriorated over the course of the 18 months spent not performing. Many Broadway actors and actresses have been busy training, preparing, and rehearsing for their opening nights.
While these actors are busy returning to where they were before the shutdown, others have permanently closed their scripts. Popular shows like Frozen and Mean Girls announced early in the shutdown that they were not reopening on Broadway, and the theaters were going to be used for other productions in the future. Furthermore, many actors have had issues returning to the roles they played before. Some have made the choice not to return, others have been forced to leave roles for issues like aging out and no longer fitting the roles they played. All in all, casting has been and is continuing to be a big issue for these productions that are reopening.
Overall, New York City is thrilled to welcome back live theater, and all the actors that had been left with a gaping hole in their hearts are filled with hope for Broadway’s full return.
The shows that have opened thus far have been welcomed with thunderous applause and standing ovations, and as shows continue to re-open, we are all hoping for nothing but success and joy for our beloved Broadway theaters.
Curtains Up! How Broadway Is Coming Back From Its Longest Shutdown. (2021). New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/13/theater/broadway-reopening.html
The Demographics of the Broadway Audience 2018–2019 SEASON. (2018–2019). The Broadway League. https://www.broadwayleague.com/research/research-reports/
Broadway League, Actors’ Equity set vaccine mandate, safety protocols for Broadway casts. (2021). Broadway News. https://broadwaynews.com/2021/07/29/broadway-league-actors-equity-set-safety-protocols-vaccine-mandate-for-broadway-casts/