In another setback for The Great White Way, all Broadway productions will remain shut down until at least June 2021. Realistically, that could mean that most shows won't actually begin until fall 2021, and that's only if another delay doesn't happen.
The Broadway League, the trade group representing theater owners and producers, made the announcement on Friday. They say that anyone with tickets for dates through May 30th, 2021 should "contact their point of purchase for details about exchanges and refunds."
"With nearly 97,000 workers who rely on Broadway for their livelihood and an annual economic impact of $14.8 billion to the city, our membership is committed to re-opening as soon as conditions permit us to do so," said Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin. "We are working tirelessly with multiple partners on sustaining the industry once we raise our curtains again."
The lights went dark on Broadway back on March 12th in the early days of the pandemic, after ushers at multiple theaters tested positive for COVID-19. Initially, it was announced productions would shut down until at least April 13th; then they pushed it back to June 7th; then they said the earliest would be September. In late June, The Broadway League acknowledged that there would be no performances through the rest of the year.
In their announcement, the Broadway League suggested that there might be a staggered reopening of shows. But in an interview with the NY Times, St. Martin said it would likely take until the fall for most shows to return. While they won't wait for everyone to be vaccinated before reopening, they are looking for "a medical or scientific change. We’re hoping for complete reliability of rapid testing, combined with other medical or scientific enhancements for the audience and the cast and crew. Many products are being tested which are promising, and a combination of those would bring us back. And yes, we’d love a vaccine.”
Another major issue for Broadway setting a new start date is their core audience members: tourists. And currently, there is no clear time when NYC's tourism industry may roar back to life.
There were 31 shows in production, including eight new shows in previews when Broadway shut down in March. Some of those, including the Disney musical Frozen, a new Martin McDonagh play called Hangmen, and a revival of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, have announced that they will not reopen. Others announced tentative new start dates in the spring of 2021—including Tracy Letts' The Minutes (March 15th), a revival of David Mamet's American Buffalo (April 14th), and The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster (May 20th)—which now will have to be changed again.
Broadway has gone dark before, but never for this long a period of time. After September 11th, theaters were shut for 48 hours before reopening. In 2007, there was an 18-day stagehands strike against the Shubert, Jujamcyn, and Nederlander Theaters, and in 2003 there was a four-day Broadway musicians strike that impacted many musicals.
Early in March, the industry was initially reluctant to shutter both because of a desire to keep people employed with their productions, and also because if a Broadway production cancels voluntarily, it will not receive insurance coverage for loss of income. Once there was a government mandate to close, losses incurred after two closed shows were covered.
It has been forecasted that the economic impact of Broadway shutting down could see the industry possibly losing "well over $100 million due to the drop in tourism spending being felt in the accommodation, hospitality, and food industries, in addition to many others."
Despite the success of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton on Disney+ this summer, there are only so many other productions you can stream online (BroadwayHD is your best bet, but there are a few others across the country), which has to do with cost, rights issues, and a fear by many producers that recording shows that aren't already huge hits could hurt ticket sales.
So besides the occasional PSA, award show cameo, or the rare off-off Broadway play, there are almost no livestreams of Broadway productions right now. However, there have been a few attempts at in-person events: "Broadway At The Drive-In" has begun showing movies along with live performances from Broadway stars, including Phantom Of The Opera and Purple Rain, in Astoria. In August and September, a rehearsal studio located in Times Square, hosted a Broadway Concert Series with social distancing (because they don't serve food or alcohol, they didn't fall under the SLA guidelines which prohibit live ticketed entertainment).
And if you happened to live on the UWS over the summer, you probably heard Brian Stokes Mitchell singing out his apartment window a time or two.