The Broadway League confirmed on Tuesday that theaters will remain dark for an additional three months, although industry insiders expect the reopening date to remain changeable, perhaps until early 2021.
In the longest planned expansion to date of the Broadway theater outage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Broadway League trade organization announced on Tuesday that the 41 leading New York theaters that have gone dark on March 12 will remain at least until September 6.
It’s been three months past the last extension, which pushed back the original end date of April 12 for closure to June 7. However, few experts expect theaters to open on September 8, the day after Labor Day, which falls on a Monday when most Broadway theaters remain dark. The situation seems likely to be reassessed as this date approaches, with theater producers and owners adopting a standby policy in accordance with state guidelines and other economic and safety considerations.
“No one wants to go too far before the governor on this,” said a prominent producer who spoke outside the file.
“While all Broadway shows would like to resume performances as soon as possible, we must ensure the health and well-being of everyone who comes to the theater – behind the curtain and in front of it – before the shows can return,” a said Broadway. League President Charlotte St. Martin in Tuesday news release “Broadway League members are working with theater unions, government officials and health experts to determine the safest ways to restart our industry . Throughout this difficult time, we have been in close communication with the office of Governor Cuomo and are grateful for its support and leadership as we work together to bring back this vital part of New York’s economy – and the mind. “
The League’s decision follows last week’s announcement by the Society of London Theaters, extending the closure of live entertainment venues in the British capital until June 28. Like Broadway, this date seems to be a marker rather than a fixed plan for its reopening. West End cinemas have canceled performances on an ongoing basis, which looks set to continue throughout the summer.
Broadway was the first area in New York to impose a general suspension of operations on March 12, and most insiders expect it to be one of the last to return.
While some have come up with the idea of reopening theaters with socially distant seating plans, few if any producers believe that this model would work given the exorbitant operating costs of Broadway. The most likely scenario involves temperature controls for spectators with mandatory masks and gloves, no interruptions and thorough cleaning of the auditoriums between performances. But many questions remain, in particular on how to provide adequate protection to actors in productions that do not allow social distancing.
The famous quote from William Goldman on the film industry seems particularly applicable to Broadway after the pandemic: “Nobody knows anything. But smart money seems to indicate a reopening in early 2021, with anecdotal estimates ranging from January to March.
In what could prove to be a harbinger of things to come for many stages across the country, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, one of the largest and most respected nonprofits in the United States, last week took the bold decision to announce the resumption of operations with a mini tablet – season of only three productions in progress from March to August 2021. This represents a massive reduction compared to the 11 emissions initially planned, with a reduced budget from $ 31 million to $ 12.6 million. These draconian measures allow the time necessary for the construction and rehearsal of productions, highlighting the complicated logistics for the theater sector which is coming out of the closure.
An industry survey by Shugoll Research this month found that only 41% of New York viewers say they are likely to return when theaters resume, while almost one in five, or 17% is very unlikely. More than half, 58%, said they would wait at least a few months before attending a show.
When the theaters fell into darkness, the 2019-20 season was just a little beyond the midpoint, with 16 more productions scheduled to open before the April 23 deadline for the 2020 Tony Awards review. The announcement was made on March 25 that due to the shutdown of the coronavirus, the Tonys will be postponed to a later date to be set once Broadway resumes operations.
Two Broadway shows that started sneak previews when the lights went out – Martin McDonagh’s Hanged and a revival of Edward Albee Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – have already announced that they will not reopen after the suspension ends. Other shows from nonprofit producers who were about to start performances have been pushed back to next season, including Roundabout’s Birthday candles and Caroline, or change; Lincoln Center Theater Fly at sunset; and Manhattan Theater Club How I learned to drive.
That still leaves 10 incoming productions in limbo, some of which had minimal advance sales and a silent buzz at the time of closure, let alone now. It remains to be seen how many of them will go ahead with the opening plans. Uncertainty also hangs over established exposures that had started to see a slight decline in activity after the initial boom period – Bad girls, Harry Potter and the cursed child and even Disney Frozen among them.
Many are quietly wondering the wisdom of returning to half-empty houses, even for long-standing behemoths like The Phantom of the Opera, which relies heavily on tourism for the majority of its traffic. Even the most optimistic estimates do not predict that large numbers of tourists will return to New York before the summer of 2021 at the earliest.
If most of the 41 Broadway homes reopen, the likelihood of rapid financial loss and rapid closures could mean that many high-profile sites will remain vacant for the first time since the collapse of the 1980s and early 1990s. steady growth since then, which propelled Broadway to a record $ 1.8 billion in revenue last season with an attendance of 15 million people, now seems inevitably heading towards a major reset. Some industry is asking if this will mean renegotiating ticket price scales, owner percentages and union rates to reduce the prohibitive costs that put Broadway beyond the reach of many entertainment consumers.
The losses suffered by the industry are difficult to calculate, especially without certainty as to the reopening date, but gross box office revenue for 2019 from mid-March to Labor Day totaled $ 915 million. Industry analysts generally believe that taking into account the losses of Broadway economy-fueled theater companies – hotels, restaurants, bars, parking lots, taxis and auto services – means tripling total sales of tickets. This would represent the overall financial blow for the six-month period at an astounding amount of $ 2.7 billion. Either way, the impact on one of New York’s main economic drivers and job pipelines will be devastating, and the fallout will certainly be felt in the years to come.
As for the Tony Awards, there are two main schools of thought on the way forward.
Some are lobbying to end the partial season and award prizes for shows that opened before March 12. This, however, would handicap recent openings like West side story and Girl from the north of the country since not all of Tony’s nominating committee members will have seen them and certainly not the majority of voters. The programs that opened at the start of the season, on the other hand, like Red Mill! and the limited-engagement revival, led by Tom Hiddleston, of Harold Pinter Treason, would have an advantage.
The alternative plan is to combine the truncated 2019-2020 season with all open shows between the resumption of Broadway operations and the end of late April for 2021, Tony Tony presenting the double awards at a ceremony in June l ‘next year. This option also has obvious drawbacks for some, since voters notoriously have short memories and shows like Treason or The legacy that have closed for a long time will be ancient history by then.
No matter which route the Tonys choose, there will certainly be disgruntled players. But even a partial ceremony of Broadway’s artistic talent right now could serve as a much-needed morale booster for an industry facing unprecedented challenges.