On March 20, 2020, NYC’s Broadway, as well as theater districts around the nation, abruptly shuttered their doors to patrons, actors, producers, and thousands of other lives tied to the industry. Due to the spread of COVID-19 and the nature of the virus, indoor venues have faced the most uncertain of futures. As phase after phase of re-openings have rolled out, theater lovers nationwide are waiting for better news to arrive. When will it be safe to attend a musical? When will Broadway reopen?

Three weeks ago, it was announced that NYC’s Broadway is to remain shuttered through at least May, 2021. Though exact dates for specific shows and performances are yet to be known, producers and venues are now offering full ticket refunds for shows through May 30th. What does this mean? It is highly unlikely that Broadway will reopen before then.

According to the Actors’ Equity Association, which represents 51,000 theater actors and stage managers, the painful and costly decision to delay the reopening of Broadway until further notice was largely because the nation “lacks a coherent national strategy for masks and testing which could help bring the virus under control.”

We’re not sure what conditions have to be in place before members of the Actors’ Equity Association and the Broadway League—a representation of producers—agree to resume shows. But in consideration of what we know about COVID-19 and how it spreads, we think either a vaccine or required COVID-19 testing at venues will have to be in place before Broadway reopens.

But smaller, Off-Broadway theater venues are taking their case for reopening to court.

On November 12, 2020, twelve independent NYC venues are going to court to propose reopening sooner than June 2021. The owners will argue that by allowing small venues with high-capacity air filtration systems to reopen at 25% capacity, countless workers in the arts will be able to return to work, earn revenue for the venues, and pay back landlords who’ve been hit by the pandemic.

Originally, small theater venues were lumped in with restaurants and bars, all of which shuttered mid-March. But when indoor dining was addressed to reopen at 25% capacity back in September, no attention was brought to the fate of small venues and theaters. Attorney Jim Mermigis, representing the twelve venue owners, is arguing this as a case of neglect towards an industry on the verge of collapse.

Catherine Russell, owner of the Theater Center and one of the organizers of the suit., said to Broadway World:

“We’ve obviously slipped through the cracks when it comes to re-opening. In some capacity, all industries in New York City have reopened. But Off-Broadway and other small independent entertainment venues have been entirely forgotten.” Russell continues, “why are the small theaters who have invested in air sanitizing upgrades, implemented every safety protocol, and have mandates requiring that people are masked the entire time they are in the venue still left without some sort of reopening schedule or tentative reopening date?”

We will have to wait until December, maybe even January, to learn the fate of these independent New York City Venues. They will be arguing, amongst many, the following facts:

  1. The New York City infection curve has been flat since June 13.
  2. No borough tests more than Manhattan, where these entertainment districts and venues reside. And, New York State currently has the second-lowest positivity rate nationwide.
  3. Cutting edge air scrubbers, HVAC systems, MERV13 filters, and various other sanitation protocols have been implemented at the Theater Center, one of the venues going to trial, setting a model for other establishments to follow. In smaller venues, such implementation is much more doable.

If Off-Broadway succeeds in their case to reopen ahead of large-scale Broadway productions, we think it will light a path for other venues to resume business. But, as of right now, large Broadway houses will not reopen until June 2021.

Don’t sleep on purchasing Broadway tickets in the meantime. When the legendary theater district reopens, you want to be ready. We’re rooting for Off-Broadway, in hopes their success will hasten the return of some incredible musicals and plays scheduled for next year.

The twelve venues taking the Governor to court this month are listed, below.

The Theater Center

The Players Theater

The Actors Temple Theatre

Soho Playhouse

The Gene Frankel Theater

The Triad

Broadway Comedy Club

New York Comedy Club

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