The bright lights of Broadway have been shut off since mid-March 2020 due to the unprecedented COVID-19 epidemic currently wreaking havoc on the world. Theatergoers have been anxiously waiting to hear any news about when their much beloved shows will open again, but there is still a great amount of indecisiveness and confusion within the Broadway community surrounding opening back up. When it will be completely safe to allow theaters to open and what exactly Broadway will look like in the future are the subjects of heavy debate.
According to Broadway News, New York City has entered Phase Four of its reopening phase as of July 20 2020. Phase Four is the final stage of the city’s reopening plan, and still restricts museums, malls, indoor-dining, movie theaters and live theater. Live theaters were originally supposed to reopen under this phase, but this was quickly rethought as more information came to light. The elderly are some of the most at risk for COVID-19, and Market Watch has reported that more than 16 percent of Broadway theatergoers are over 65 years old. Additionally, one in five audience members at Broadway plays are from outside the United States, which means there would be a significant loss of money if Broadway were to in the near future due to strict travel restrictions.
The fact that a fair amount of the theatres are over a century old has also impacted reopening plans. It would be nearly impossible to keep up social distancing measures in the cramped seats and aisles of these older theatres.
Multiple sources have confirmed that Broadway will be shut down for the remainder of 2020, with many theatres looking at reopening sometime after Jan. 3, 2020. It is becoming very clear that Broadway will not be allowed to reopen for many months, but what will it look like when it can finally open its doors again?
Once the so-called Great White Way does open, experts say it will obviously look very different to what it once was. Plexiglass may be placed between each seat in the audience, and some theatres are even considering putting a plexiglass shield in front of the stage according to Jeff Whitling, the project manager of the largest studios in New York City. Whiting went on to tell NBC New York that this shield would allow the performers to not have to wear a mask while on stage, which could make attending a Broadway show feel slightly more familiar. In addition to these precautions, Whiting said that the audience will most likely be severely limited for shows, and members of the audience may have to have their temperature taken. Some theaters may also have their audience take a short questionnaire about their health before being allowed into any performance. There may be some beneficial changes for the audience, however. Various Broadway insiders told Fortune magazine that due to wariness that potential audience members might feel about traveling to New York City, Broadway shows will probably have to cut ticket prices severely to attract them. While cheaper shows may be a welcome change for theatergoers, this will be a very difficult step for Broadway to make, as it has already lost a substantial amount of money.
Broadway has a long and difficult journey ahead on its path to reopening. Audience members and cast and crew alike will have to accept and adjust to great changes in the coming months. If any of the precautions Broadway plans to use will be successful remains to be seen, but theaters have more than five months to set things in motion and to adjust to a new normal.