Broadway has no plans to shut down as the omicron variant continues to surge throughout New York City, even as more and more individual shows have either closed or announced they are postponing through the holidays.
"We have absolutely no plans to shut down," Charlotte St. Martin, the president of The Broadway League which represents theater owners and producers, told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday. "We are paying serious attention to the protocols ... But our number one priority is safety and security and, if the show is opening, we believe that we have the correct information that says it is safe to open for the cast, the crew and the audience. If we don’t feel it’s safe, we don’t perform that day."
Last week, almost a dozen Broadway shows canceled performances due to COVID spreading among casts and crews; it was the largest number of shows to be put on pause since Broadway came back at the start of the fall.
This week, things have gotten even more stark: Hamilton, Aladdin, Dear Evan Hansen, Ain’t Too Proud and Hadestown announced they are canceling all performances at least through Christmas; MJ also canceled preview performances through Christmas, and the upcoming new play Skeleton Crew delayed its premiere until January 16th.
And Jagged Little Pill, the jukebox musical based on Alanis Morissette's hit album which opened in 2019, announced on Monday that it would close down permanently after multiple positive COVID tests within the production.
“The drastic turn of events this week with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant has, once again, changed everything,” the producers said in a written statement. “In light of the extreme uncertainty ahead of us this winter, and forced to choose between continuing performances and protecting our company, we’ve made the difficult decision to close our doors.”
The New York Times adds that, despite winning a Grammy (best musical theater album) and being nominated for 15 Tony Awards and winning two (best book and best featured actress), Jagged Little Pill had soft sales throughout the fall, compounding its financial troubles.
There is currently a vaccine mandate for audiences and workers, and attendees must wear masks in theaters as well. Each theater has its own testing policies for productions. Nik Walker, one of the leads in Ain’t Too Proud, explained to Gothamist last week what the show's testing situation is like at the Imperial Theatre.
"Each show gets assigned a COVID officer or a COVID team, so we have three or four people who are with us," he said. They are tested every day, and if someone tests positive, they are isolated from the rest of the company, contract tracing begins, people they've been in contact with are tested, and they continue to be monitored after that."
He added that, "If somebody gets exposed, there's that incubation period of 2-14 days, and they're really monitoring them during that period to see if the close contacts of the people who've been exposed ... That involves antigen tests, rapid PCRs, lab PCRs, and all sorts of testing. It's a big push, but it's definitely possible."
St. Martin, the Broadway League president, told THR that entering the month of December, they had "84 to 85 percent of the seats in all of our theaters occupied," and the return of international tourism had been a great boost for Broadway. To clarify things for audiences, the trade launched a new website, BwayToday.com, to help theatergoers better keep track of which shows were available or had been canceled.
"Because there were so many false rumors that Broadway was shutting down, we got our folks together on Friday and made that all happen in one day," she said. "We’re very aggressive in our outreach of saying: we’re not closing. Yes, some shows are closing. One day we had five closings, and three of them turned out to be false positives."
Back on March 10th, 2020, as the pandemic was just starting, St. Martin told Gothamist that Broadway planned to stay open until mandated by the city, state or federal government to shut down: "We are believers in the 'show must go on,'" she said. "We have 60-65% of our audience [coming] from outside the tristate area and we don’t want to disappoint them."
In addition to the desire to keep people employed with their productions, the other reason they were reluctant to shut down was because, at the time, if a Broadway production canceled shows voluntarily, it would not receive insurance coverage for loss of income.
Two days after that interview, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo suspended all performances, which did not resume until this fall.