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After Cuomo announcement, Broadway holds fast to fall reopening

The Broadway League reiterated a commitment to a fall reopening, following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s declaration that he will loosen restrictions on May 19.

(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

The Broadway League reiterated a commitment to a fall reopening, following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s declaration that he will loosen restrictions on May 19.

On Monday, Cuomo announced that he will remove capacity restrictions from Broadway theaters, as well as other businesses, while continuing to enforce social distancing measures or proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test. Members of the theater community welcomed the unexpected news, while also outlining the obstacles that remain in place.

In a statement Monday, the League said it was “encouraged” by Cuomo’s announcement, but emphasized a need to wait until the fall and for a return to full capacity.

“We look forward to reopening at full capacity and are working to safely welcome audiences and employees back to Broadway theatres this fall. As always, we continue to work closely with our elected officials and will share more information as soon as plans become finalized,” the League said in a statement.

While Cuomo lifted the technical capacity requirements, the need to social distance within the theater clashes with the financial model and the audience sizes Broadway leaders have said are needed to move forward.

Last week, the League spoke to a September reopening and an upcoming announcement to that effect. Broadway producers and theatrical offices have also been preparing for that date.

Producers have previously outlined the lengthy amount of time it will take to remount Broadway productions, which includes putting tickets on sale and building an advance, as well as reassembling and rehearsing casts.

Broadway productions, producers and theater owners are also waiting on awards of up to $10 million from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. Applications for the grants, which can be used to cover some reopening costs, have opened, but no money has yet been distributed.

Moreover, Broadway’s reopening hinges on producers reaching an agreement with theatrical unions on contracts and safety protocols. Those discussions are ongoing.

“We are having regular and ongoing conversations with the Broadway League about what protocols for a safe reopening would look like, and have a clear understanding of their timetable,” Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity Association, said Monday. “We welcome this unexpected announcement and look forward to a safe reopening of theatre, both on Broadway, Off-Broadway and beyond, that prioritizes the safety of the workers.”

While Off-Broadway theaters have greater flexibility in reopening, thanks to smaller houses and reduced costs, Cuomo’s declaration has not yet altered any plans, according to Casey York, president of the Off-Broadway League. That’s both due to the surprise of the announcement Monday, as well as continued negotiations with theatrical unions and the requirement to have a socially distanced audience.

“It’s helpful, but it doesn’t eliminate all the obstacles,” York said.

However, unlike Broadway, York said many of the Off-Broadway League’s 100 members could sustain a reopening at 50% to 75% capacity. It’s a matter of calculating whether seating patrons six feet apart is more financially viable and welcoming to ticket buyers than requiring COVID-19 testing or proof of vaccination, she said.

She expects additional Off-Broadway productions to open this summer — “Perfect Crime,” “The Office! A Musical Parody” and “Blindness” have already opened — leading up to a rush of openings this fall.

Until then, Monday’s announcement gave industry members hope for a reopening on the horizon.

“We’re optimistic that audiences will soon get to enjoy the sound of live music again in all of their favorite venues, and we’re optimistic that our musicians — and our entire industry — will get back to work soon,” AFM Local 802 President Adam Krauthamer said in a statement.