There were good things that happened in 2021 – in general (vaccines became widely available, Britney was freed, the coup failed, Derek Chauvin was convicted, Juneteenth was made a national holiday, a bully governor was forced to resign, a surprise asteroid about the size of a refrigerator did not hit Earth), and specifically in New York theater:
More than 20 shows reopened on Broadway, some turning their reopening nights into a block party. ,
Another 15, greatly varied, opened on Broadway for the first time; among these were more plays by Black playwrights than the previous five seasons combined.
The Drama Book Shop reopened
A bully producer was forced to “step back.”
Little Island opened, with two outdoor theaters on this park in the Hudson River.
There were great innovations in digital theater, from the first day of the year (Ratatouille, the Tik Tok musical), and, by the end of the year, the hybrid model (live-streaming of shows that were also presented in person) was embraced by several established Off-Broadway theaters as well as one Broadway play (“Clyde’s.”)
Understudies and standbys got greater recognition and respect
As Saad B. Omer, a theatergoer and the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, put it in a recent Tweet: “Broadway did things right. It mandated masks and proof of vaccination and many shows invested in improved ventilation; this enabled months of safe performances.”
Above all, 2021 wasn’t 2020.
This is of course looking at the theater as half-full. Looking at it as half empty is way easier as 2021 comes to a close. (The second half of Saad B. Omer’s Tweet, whose name undermines his optimism a bit: “But now Omicron is overwhelming some of these defenses. Perhaps those of us who value theater can buy more tickets now for shows in late spring/summer when the transmission risk is likely to be lower.”)
The emblematic story of 2021 may be that of Keenan Scott II, the first-time Broadway playwright of “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” which was faced with a dilemma last week: Three of the seven cast members were felled by disease (one of which was COVID-19, So some fifteen minutes before curtain time, Keenan Scott II decided he would go on stage himself, portraying the character named Wisdom.
The next day turned out to be the show’s last, shuttered three months earlier than planned, after 79 performances and 13 previews.
The half-full theatergoers will see this story as Scott having stepped up to the moment.
A half-full theater maker Javier Munoz says in his Instagram video that Omicron “knocked me on my butt” for two days but now he’s doing “great.”
Year End Theater Reviews
The Last Week in Theater News for 2021
Three Broadway shows closed abruptly last week, citing the coronavirus – Waitress, Thoughts of a Colored Man (both of which cut short what was intended as a limited run, and Jagged Pill. Among the other theater shuttered: The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular and “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell’s one-woman show “Is There Still Sex in the City?”
About half of the remaining Broadway shows canceled performances, sometimes when the audience was already in their seats.
Playbill is keeping up with the schedule of canceled performances, which isn’t easy)
Unsurprisingly, Broadway’s aggregated box office grosses in the week ending December 19 dropped 26 percent from the week before — and was a 43 precent drop from the week before Christmas in 2019,
Some forthcoming productions are looking at the promise of a continuing surge, and rescheduling: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” initially scheduled to begin on January 14 at The Theater at St. Clements, has been postponed until Summer, 2022 “due to the current health situation. ” The Association of Performing Arts Professionals has announced the cancellation of its annual in-person conference in January 2022, changing it to an online conference instead. The presence of the APAP conference in January helped stimulate the presence of a raft of January theater festivals in the city. How many will keep going this month is unclear.
Dr. Joseph G. Allen, Associate Professor, Director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Commissioner on the Lancet Covid-19 Commission: “…with Omicron some things are the same, but some things are changing. I think the thing that’s changing is the urgency around making sure you have good ventilation and filtration systems [in theaters].”
“A Strange Loop” will open at Broadway’s Lyceum in Spring 2022. Casting, dates, and ticket to be announced. My review of “A Strange Loop” when it was Off-Broadway, and my interview with playwright Michael R. Jackson when it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
SAG-AFTRA and Actors Equity extend the video pact for live stage performances, “In another nod to worsening pandemic conditions.”
Albert Vincent Jr. has been named the new executive director of Actors Equity, taking over the retiring Mary McColl. He comes from United Food & Commercial Workers International Union without a background in theater
New York City movie theaters will offer weekly open-captioned screenings for every film shown, thanks to a new law passed by the New York City Council. “Open-captioned” refers to on-screen captions or subtitles.