Broadway and the Coronavirus: Updated Questions and Answers

Initially posted on March 10th, this Q and A has been periodically updated to try to keep track of the constant changes.As of mid-March, the second question has been changed and neither the third or fourth questions make sense anymore. This has been updated on May 13th to reflect further developments.

To the main question on New Yorkers minds – 1. how bad will the Coronavirus epidemic get in New York? — New York theatergoers are asking several more:

2. When will Broadway theaters reopen?
3. Is it safe to go to a Broadway show?
4. How can I protect myself at the theater?
5. How will the pandemic affect the theater?

Here are some of the answers as of now. It’s important to point out: This is a rapidly changing crisis, and the answers need constant updating.

a closeup of the Coronavirus

CNN reporter (not in NYC)

1.How bad will the Coronovirus get in New York?

New York City has now become the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States — and the U.S. is number one in the world.

A week after the first case of Coronavirus was confirmed in the State of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency on March 7. It has continued to grow at an astonishing rate, and, starting on March 26, the U.S. as a whole is now ranked first worldwide in the number of confirmed cases. (The Johns Hopkins tracker at the link updates daily.)

New York City alone, whose first case was reported just on March 1, had more than 41,000 cases and nearly 1,100 deaths by March 31. By May 10th, the number of cases reportedly had grown to more than 180,000 and the death toll to more than 19,000. Check out NYC Health Department’s Covid-19 Daily Data Summary NYC

Numbered among the dead in New York are playwright Terrence McNally , actor Mark Blum, songwriter Adam Schlesinger and critic William Wolf.

 

According to the NYC Department of Health (the NYC Health page on COVID-19 ): “There is now widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in New York City, meaning the sources of new infections are unknown. Everyone in New York City should act as if they have been exposed to COVID-19. That means monitoring your health closely, staying home and avoiding all unnecessary social interactions.”

It continues: “Most people with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms and fully recover without complications. Less commonly, COVID-19 may lead to pneumonia, hospitalization or death.”

The symptoms of COVID-19 are a dry cough, sore throat, fever and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s important to emphasize that there is no known cure, and (unlike the flu), no vaccine yet.

 

The most frequently referenced page for updated health information in the United States about COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel Coronavirus), is run by the federal Centers for Disease Control:  Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

The CDC has created a new website, coronavirus.gov

2. When will Broadway theaters reopen?

Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered all Broadway theaters closed March 12 by 5 p.m. for at least a month. Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway theaters were ordered shut three days later.

On April 8th, the Broadway League, the trade association of Broadway producers and presenters, announced that it would extend the shutdown through June 7, 2020.

On May 12th, the Broadway League extended the cancelation of all 41 Broadway theaters through at least September 6, 2020.

But the truth is, it’s not clear when Broadway will reopen, something even Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League, acknowledged in an April 17 interview: “Unless there’s serious testing and information that we don’t currently have, we’re probably looking at September or later.” Already, the revival of “Plaza Suite,” one show that originally had been scheduled for Spring 2020, has moved their run-dates not to Fall 2020 but to Spring, 2021.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, asked at a news conference in Albany on April 8th about the Broadway League announcement of the extension of the shutdown through June 7, said it was too early to determine when large gatherings could resume. “I wouldn’t use what Broadway thinks as a barometer of anything, unless they’re in the public health business,” he said.

“Before you go to Broadway theaters, people are going to say, ‘When can I go back to work? When can I go back to school? When are the other essential services going to open?’ Before they go to a play, there’s going to be a lot of other questions that they’re going to ask, and that’s going to be a function of numbers.”

The governor’s comments echoed St. Martin’s March 26th private memo to members and staff of the Broadway trade association that “mass gatherings may be the last area of business to come back.”

Whenever New York starts to reopen, Governor Andrew Cuomo said at the beginning of May, it will be in four phases: 1. construction and manufacturing 2. professional services, retail and real estate 3. restaurants and hotels 4. arts and entertainment. Theater, in other words, will be last. And even then, upstate will be first to test New York’s arts appetite.

The Tony Awards announced on March 25th that they were postponing the ceremony indefinitely; waiting to reschedule until Broadway reopens. The Tonys had been scheduled for June 7th. (More on NYC theater awards and how, when and whether they will be presented.)

 

 

[Interesting historical footnote: During the 1918 worldwide influenza pandemic, which resulted in the deaths of 30,000 NYC residents, Seattle shut down all theaters (picture below), but Broadway shows stayed open. According to ‘The 1918 Influenza Epidemic in New York City: A Review of the Public Health Response,” an account in Public Health Reports: “Despite the danger posed by theaters, these public places provided two potential benefits. First, theaters presented an opportunity to educate the public about how not to transmit influenza. Second… keeping sanitary theaters with a low risk of spreading contagion in operation would ‘… prevent the spread of panic and hysteria, and thus to protect the public from a condition of mind which would predispose it to physical ills.”]

 

3. Is it safe to go to a Broadway show?

This is now a moot question since all Broadway theaters were shut down on March 12.
Up to that point, the theatrical response, official and otherwise, had been about cleaning and disinfecting — a response criticized as inadequate, especially after an usher who had recently worked the Booth Theater (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”) and the Brooks Atkinson (‘Six”) tested positive for coronavirus, and neither show was shut down.

disinfecting theater in Seoul
Workers in protective gear disinfecting an empty theater in Seoul, Korea.

4. How can I protect myself if I decide to go to the theater?
As of mid-March, and for the foreseeable future, you can’t, because there’s no theater.
In terms of protecting yourself in general:
STAY HOME. Staying home saves lives.

The poster from the NYC health department (created before the huge spike in cases) points out: “You can prevent the spread of any virus by staying home if you feel sick, covering your sneezes and coughs with your sleeve (not your hands) and washing your hands often.”  Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.

Also: Don’t shake hands or hug people. Bump elbows.

Officials also have also been advising the avoidance of crowded public transportation.

Surfaces? Sneezes? Sex? How the Coronavirus Can and Cannot Spread 

 

The Belasco, one of many reason to love New York theater.

5. How has, and how will, the pandemic affect the theater?

 Theater is going online, both old favorites and new experiments New shows and series are popping up daily.

The immediate effect: Of the 16 Broadway shows that were scheduled to open in the Broadway 2019-2020 season after March 11, two have announced they will not return at all when Broadway reopens: Hangmen and the revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Three more — “Birthday Candles,” “Caroline, or Change,” and “Flying Over Sunset” — are rescheduling for some as-yet unannounced dates in the Fall. That leaves 11 whose opening dates are as of now uncertain.

Also: “Beetlejuice,” which was scheduled to end its run at the Winter Garden Theatre on June 6, will not be returning to that theater, and has yet to decide whether to try to move to another theater when Broadway reopens.

Longterm: “Any event that would drive people away from congregating in the area will be a disaster,” said producer Tom Viertel before the theaters were shut down. “”Broadway will absolutely be affected. How long it will be affected, and whether there’ll be empty theaters, who knows?”

The shut down of movie theaters and/or legitimate theaters is worldwide, in cities as varied as Tokyo, Seoul, Venice, Milan and Palo Alto

“…I’m certain that theatre will survive whatever happens,” declared critic Lyn Gardner in The Stage of the UK> “Theatre has survived the plague in 1606…the uncertainties following both 9/11 and the 2008 financial crash and also several heightened alerts around terrorism.” Yes, theaters were shut down in 1606. “The closure of theatres in 1606 eventually ushered in a new era with the creation of the indoor playhouse. It is possible the Covid-19 virus may play a similar role in shaping the theatre of the future.”

She predicted: “It will not just be back to business as usual once the worst is over.”

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Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

2 thoughts on “Broadway and the Coronavirus: Updated Questions and Answers

  1. Thanks for the update. I’m a little shocked that the shows are still selling tickets beginning 4/13, it’s so clear that they are not coming back then. They need to bite the bullet and cancel for another month or two.

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