Broadway considers the path forward for shows to go on

Broadway considers the path forward for shows to go on

Broadway considers the path forward for shows to go on

NEW YORK — When Broadway theatres finally reopen, at least one musical theatre fan will show up. But she’ll look a little different.

“I would wear a mask and gloves,” said actress Emily Hampshire, the “Schitt’s Creek” star and huge “Hamilton” fan. “I don’t think we can forget what happened for a long time.”

COVID-19 has shaken theatre fans and shuttered all New York City’s venues, including Broadway, which grossed $1.8 billion last season and attracted a record 15 million people. How Broadway — one the city’s jewels — will reopen is still not clear.

Will every other seat be kept empty? Will there be thermometer checks? Mandatory masks? Bar service? Deep cleanings between shows? More ushers? More exits? No shows until a vaccine?

Producers and labour groups are discussing various options, but one thing Actors’ Equity Association stresses is the Broadway community has one chance to get it right.

“We have to be really, really careful about how we start to come back,” said Mary McColl, executive director of the association, which represents more than 51,000 actors and stage managers.

“If we step wrong and we do something too quickly when we haven’t figured out all of the ramifications, and it goes badly and people become sick because of it, that is going to set the whole industry back a long time.”

Broadway theatres abruptly closed on March 12, knocking out all shows — including 16 that were still scheduled to open — and postponing indefinitely the Tony Award schedule. Producers, citing health and city authorities, have extended the shutdown through at least June 7.

The financial demands of Broadway shows don’t favour keeping seats purposefully empty. The average operating costs for a play are about $300,000 per week, while weekly costs run $590,000 for musicals.

Conventional wisdom is that many shows can break even while taking in 50% of their potential grosses — as long as they have full-price tickets and some premium customers.

But insiders say tickets will need to be deeply discounted to attract wary customers when Broadway reopens, and that means theatres will need to be full. In that scenario, some theatremakers will be taking home less than before.

“I cannot imagine Broadway theatres functioning at less than capacity unless all costs are reduced,” said veteran producer Robyn Goodman, who this season was to bring a reimagined “ Company ” to Broadway. “That could be a monumental task but the only way to reopen.”

The shows with the best shot of survival will probably have to be both popular and offer attractive sale prices. Broadway will also have to depend more on New Yorkers, since tourism accounted for 65% of sales during the 2018–2019 season and the number of city visitors will likely dip.

Already some creators are adapting and innovating. Playwright Richard Nelson has written a six-person play designed to be livestreamed. Others have turned to putting new works on podcasts, benefit concerts or offering a song cycle online.

The shutdown frustrated composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s plans to mount a musical remake of “Cinderella” in London’s West End. He and his cast were ready for rehearsals when they were stopped by force majeure, the legal term for unforeseeable circumstances.

Now he’s thinking of returning to a business tactic he used at the start of his career when he couldn’t get backing for a stage version of “Jesus Christ Superstar”: Release a cast album first.

“Not because I really want to go that way round, but because force majeure kind of makes one have to do that,” he said. “It’s not something I’ve done for a very long time, but it may well be that that’s the direction we’d have to go.”

Actors’ Equity Association is rethinking almost every direction: How can more space be added to dressing rooms? Which costume fabrics resist the virus better? How many people need to touch a prop in a 10-minute period and how can that prop be cleaned? They’ve hired David Michaels, who ran the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under President Barack Obama, to advise.

“I think if all of us — the whole theatre community, producers, labour unions, artists, public health professionals — put our heads together, we can figure out a way in the mid-term to have live performance happen,” McColl said. “And in the long term, how to figure out how to bring it back to close to what it was before.”

Broadway could learn some tips from the feisty, experimental downtown theatre company The Wooster Group. If city authorities demand social distancing at its 110-seat performance space, the non-profit will comply — just increase the number of daily performances.

“We are small and flexible,” said associate director Kate Valk, who is already at work on an audiovisual work tacking the pandemic. “I feel for the theatrical artists who depend on a commercial production. The bigger the machine, the harder it is to reinvent.”

Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts offers another model — it’s reducing its 520-seat main theatre to one-third, increasing the distance between rows and seats and deep cleaning the theatre after every show. Audiences will be required to wear masks. Additional entrances and exits are also being built, and there will be no intermissions for performances.

Some creators see an opportunity for change. One of the most outspoken is Theresa Rebeck, an award-winning playwright and creator of the Broadway TV series “Smash.”

Rebeck hopes the shutdown can correct inequities like some producers taking too big a piece of the box office. “You end up with audiences paying very high ticket prices and actors and artists getting paid very little,” Rebeck said.

“There are many, many people living right at the edge of disaster, and this is really going to destroy a lot of lives and careers and there’s no way to pretend that that’s not happening right now,” Rebeck said.

Right now, perhaps one-man and one-woman shows will be deemed smarter than shows with large casts. Perhaps outdoor shows will be more attractive than cramming people into a conventional theatre.

“I think that for a while, theatre might look like it did before all of the technology that we’ve accomplished over the last centuries,” said McColl. “I think it’s going to be stripped down to storytelling.”

John Carucci And Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UCP MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka Ron Orr. (File photo)
MLA Ron Orr: Benchmarks were achieved but goalposts were moved

Orr responds to concerns, calls on province to fully open Step 2

Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Albertans need to keep making safe choices to start bending the curve back down. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, 257 additional cases province-wide

Red Deer sits at 459 active cases of the virus

(Black Press file photo)
Blackfalds continuing its fight for a registries office

The Town of Blackfalds has been fighting for a Registry Service outlet for roughly a decade

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that the province may consider a regional approach to loosening COVID-19 restrictions if numbers continue to decline. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Province further easing health restrictions

Numbers of people hospitalized and in intensive care has dropped dramatically, says premier

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

hands
The call is out in Rimbey to sign on with a group that is all about building connections

‘Already, we are building a network where we can rely on each other and help each other out’

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

Many rural seniors are having to travel a long way to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Stettler residents are being told to go to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose. (Black Press file photo).
Rural central Alberta seniors have to travel far to get vaccines

Stettler residents are being directed to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose clinics

Samantha Sharpe, 25, was stabbed to death at Sunchild First Nation on Dec. 12, 2018. Chelsey Lagrelle was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for manslaughter in a Red Deer courtroom on Tuesday. Photo contributed
Central Alberta woman sentenced to 4 1/2 years for stabbing friend to death in 2018

Chelsey Lagrelle earlier pleaded guilty to stabbing Samantha Sharpe during argument

Calgary police say they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020. (Pixabay)
‘Racism is a real problem:’ Muslim women fearful following attacks in Edmonton

So far in 2021, three of seven hate-crime-related investigations have involved Somali-Muslim women

Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro speaks during a news conference in Calgary on May 29, 2020. Shandro says Alberta is considering whether to extend the time between COVID-19 vaccine shots to four months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta may follow B.C.’s lead on faster rollout of first COVID-19 dose

Tyler Shandro says a committee of COVID-19 experts is analyzing emerging data and a decision is coming

Most Read