Next on the chopping block was the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? revival, which closed on March 21. Beetlejuice, which quickly gained popularity after the 2019 Tony Awards, was the first musical to close, followed by Disney’s Frozen.
Broadway shows won’t reopen until June 2021
Not wanting to see another show end prematurely, fans were hopeful that theatrical production companies would be able to find a way for the remaining shows to return once it was safe to do so. (A successful outdoor production of Godspell at a Massachusetts regional theater this summer gave people hope.) But the Broadway community received a devastating blow on October 9: Broadway shows won’t reopen until June 2021, at the earliest.
The nature of the live theater (hundreds of people sitting up close inside) does not fit into COVID-19 security measures, so the extra precaution makes sense. But with so much technology at our disposal and seven months of COVID-19 security education, how come these production companies can’t find a viable and temporary alternative like other industries?
The sport was able to resume its seasons with rigorous quarantine rules and daily COVID-19 testing for athletes. Restaurants and bars can serve patrons outside (although lower capacity dining has resumed in New York). Stores welcome customers wearing masks. Drive-in / outdoor cinemas have seen their popularity increase. Stand-up comedy has used drive-ins, parks and outdoor bars as venues. And film, television and commercial production has resumed in New York City with proper security measures in place. (Same Saturday Night Live is back to work live from Studio 8H.)
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Broadway could be one of the last industries to reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic
Given all of this, it’s fair for theatergoers to wonder why all other industries have seemingly been able to adapt.
The point is, there is a viable alternative, but it’s less lucrative and more of a one-time gig for artists and production staff. Broadway shows could follow the steps of Hamilton by bringing back the castings to film the shows. Although the Disney + recording was made in 2016 when there was no global pandemic to contend with, the success of the award-winning Tony show on Disney + proves that people will indulge in theater in different mediums.
If Broadway actors and staff were to responsibly quarantine themselves for two weeks and have access to frequent COVID-19 testing, productions could be taped without audiences and sold to streaming platforms. In fact, this is already happening!
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Can Broadway Shows Be Watched Online?
For starters, there’s BroadwayHD, a subscription service where fans can watch old live recordings of a limited number of shows, concerts, and movies. But none of the shows currently on Broadway are available.
Then there is the musical Princess Diana, Diane. The biographical musical was slated to open on March 31, but in August the show’s producers announced that it would be filmed and broadcast on Netflix in 2021. The possibility of seeing live performances being out of the question until then. next summer, Broadway and streaming platforms alike would be smart to do as Hamilton and Diane and take the opportunity to release live recordings. The first viewing of these shows could also be monetized, as Disney + did with the Mulan to restart. Fans might even have rental or purchase options, like on YouTube and iTunes. All of this could help the cast and crew of these different productions get a paycheck again. (It’s not just Broadway fans who suffer from a Broadway stop.)
A fair criticism of this plan is that it could deter people from buying tickets to see the shows in person once Broadway reopens, but the pandemic has put us all in unprecedented circumstances. No doubt when Broadway is able to resume live shows, people will flock to theaters just out of the excitement of being able to see live music again. And knowing that the shows worked hard to bring the art to their fans during the pandemic would foster brand loyalty. Making shows available on streaming platforms could also boost sales of albums and merchandise.
And on top of all that, it would make Broadway the most accessible of all time for people who can’t afford tickets, deaf people who would benefit greatly from captions, people who can’t afford to buy tickets. foreigner who cannot afford to travel to NYC / see a production on tour, and more.
The reality is that nothing will replace the feeling of live theater. But until we can have live theater again, the show has to go on.