Since the onset of the pandemic, all the venues and various live performing stages around NYC, from concert halls to Broadway stages, have been shutdown to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Despite certain industries reopening indoors in recent weeks, the state and city has remained careful about reopening indoor activities too quickly, to the point that the State Liquor Authority has banned restaurants and bars from offering live music, ticketed events, and other forms of entertainment except "incidental" music, even outdoors.

But there is one space in the city that has quietly reopened with limited capacity live shows thanks to a loophole in the rules. Open Jar Studios, a complex of 21 rehearsal studios located in Times Square, has begun hosting a Broadway Concert Series in the last couple of weeks, with three shows coming up this weekend. And their set-up may give us a glimpse of the kinds of changes other venues may be making in the future.

A photo of Joshua Henry performing at Open Jar Studios

Joshua Henry performing at Open Jar Studios

Joshua Henry performing at Open Jar Studios
Roberto Araujo

Open Jar, which is situated at 1601 Broadway near 48th Street, only opened in June 2019. When the pandemic first started, it became the home for the Broadway Relief Project, for which Broadway costume designers and sewers produced PPE such as masks and gowns for local hospitals and first responders.

Being involved with that effort led to Open Jar developing "a robust protocol for safety," Open Jar president & CEO Jeff Whiting told Gothamist. "We interfaced closely with [the city] in developing our safety measures," he added, and "when the format of the live performances came into play, we implemented additional protocols for the safety of both the audience and the performer."

They are only selling 48 tickets per show in their 4,015-square-foot performance space, with people seated more that 20 feet from the stage and separated from one another by plexiglass dividers. Everyone has to wear masks while inside the space at all times — they've even developed a special mask for singers, which you can see in the video below — have their temperature checked at the door, and also fill out a health questionnaire. The space is cleaned and disinfected between events as well.

The reason Open Jar is the only venue hosting live shows right now: they don't have a liquor license, so they don't fall under the SLA rules, nor are they technically considered a theater.

"Our understanding is that bars and restaurants are not allowed to have ticketed events," Whiting explained. "As we are not a bar or a restaurant—or a theatre, for that matter—no one has informed us that this rule would apply to us. We have been told that as long as we are operating at 50% occupancy, we are allowed to operate. In fact, we are operating this event at 16% occupancy."

A spokesperson for the SLA confirmed that they don't have any jurisdiction over the space; Gothamist has reached out to the Department of Health for comment as well, and will update when we hear back.

In the meantime, tickets cost between $45-$90 for the live shows (the concerts are also livestreamed here), with part of the proceeds going to various charities chosen by performers. There have already been four performances, including one by Vinny Pastore's Gangster Squad (a.k.a. Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero from The Sopranos), and Whiting said everything has gone very smoothly so far.

"The response has been truly overwhelming and, yes, most of the seats have been filled!" he said. As for any kinks in the initial rollout, he noted, "I think we overplanned a bit, which I’m fine with. For example, we had a plan for a queue getting into the room pre-show and exiting the space, and we discovered that with actually only 48 people coming to a venue that normally holds 300, we didn’t really need the queuing at all."

The shows this weekend include Teal Wicks (Wicked, The Cher Show, Finding Neverland) on Friday at 8 p.m., Tony nominee Kate Baldwin (Hello, Dolly!, Big Fish, Finian’s Rainbow) on Saturday at 8 p.m., and Tony, Emmy, & Grammy Award nominee Brandon Victor Dixon (Moulin Rouge, Hamilton, Shuffle Along) on Sunday at 8 p.m.

While getting around the SLA rules will be difficult for any venue with a liquor license — depending on the outcome of the lawsuit that was filed last month — Open Jar's unique situation does provide a pathway for other event spaces to look at, as they appear to be the first indoor space to host live events during the pandemic: "I believe we are the only event with a live audience in NYC," said Whiting. "I know other venues are filming and live-streaming but, to my knowledge, we are the only one with an in-person audience."