Broadway will go dark for at least a month — its longest shutdown in modern times — as U.S. performing arts and professional sports screech to a halt in an attempt to limit the public health threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
With Broadway in the thick of its annual spate of openings to qualify for Tony Awards, sixteen new productions — including Six, scheduled to have opened tonight — must reset as all eligible theaters go dark. Most off-Broadway shows also close beginning tonight.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the Broadway shutdown as part of a ban on gatherings of more than 500 people.
The Broadway League, a trade association of producers and theater owners, said that shows would reopen the week of April 13. Mayor Bill De Blasio tempered expectations. “This will not be over soon,” he said about the city’s response to the pandemic. “This will be a long battle.”
The mayor said that the 95 confirmed cases in the city more than doubled from yesterday and could grow to 1,000 by next week.
Said Cuomo: “This is going to get much worse before it gets better.”
The impact is likely to be devastating. According to the League, Broadway shows and venues directly and indirectly employ about 13,000 people, including actors, directors, designers and ushers. The industry is said to support another 75,000 jobs in restaurants, shops and the like.
Absent government aid, nonprofit theater companies of all sizes, which are also suspending performances, face an existential threat, given their modest financial cushions. (Two exceptions, at least in the early phase of the shutdown, are the well-endowed Lincoln Center Theater and Public Theater, which presented a developmental production of Hamilton. )
The financial effect on individual productions isn’t clear. Terms and conditions vary for those with business interruption insurance policies.
Cuomo’s Broadway announcement coincided with the closures of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Carnegie Hall, as well as cancellations of performances by the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic at their Lincoln Center homes.
The NBA season has been suspended and Major League Baseball’s spring training delayed. The stock market’s biggest daily decline since the crash of 1987 added to the gloom.
The mayor said Thursday morning on CNN that he was seeking to avoid Broadway going dark. But that position got pushback from, among others, the Actors’ Equity union. “Unacceptable,” Mary McColl, executive director of Equity, said in a tweet. “Any response must put the workers first and protect the actors, stage managers and everyone who works in the theater.”
The longest shutdown in memory was a 25-day musicians’ strike in 1975. There was a shorter musicians’ walkout in 2003 and a 19-day stagehands’ strike in 2007. Broadway was also closed for a few days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Sandy, in 2012.
In recent weeks, the industry has seen dwindling grosses as tourism dried up. At noon on Thursday, $50 tickets went on sale for West Side Story, The Lehman Trilogy, The Book of Mormon and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Producer Scott Rudin’s much-publicized gambit to fill theaters was ultimately rendered moot.