Speaking at an industry video conference Saturday, Broadway League Chairman Thomas Schumacher said that restarting Broadway after the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic will be gradual and dependent on tourism rebounding.
“Without those tourists, it’s going to be a challenge for us to hit both the capacity targets and the average ticket price that people want to hit,” Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical and head of the Broadway trade association, said at producer Ken Davenport’s TheaterMakers Summit. “To imagine that the faucet just turns on isn’t a healthy way to approach it. It’s going to take some building.”
In Broadway’s last full season before performances were suspended in March, the average ticket price was $124 and tourists accounted for 65 percent of admissions, according to the League, which represents theater owners and producers.
Interviewed by press agent Rick Miramontez, Schumacher, 62, declined to predict when in 2021 Broadway will reopen. “Many, many people on this call are thinking that their shows are going to open in the fall,” he said. “And there are people who are very hopeful that some shows will be able to open over the course of the summer. We’re going to get guidance both from city government and from state government as to how we do that. And we have to follow that guidance.”
The Disney executive defended the trade association’s laconic communications with members and the public about reopening, which sparked criticism within the industry.
“Everybody wants access to information,” Schumacher said. “But the information is complicated. And it’s very nuanced and it’s very layered. And in an effort to make sure that nothing gets out of control, it’s a relatively small circle that gets the information and shares it with membership at large. That is a necessary but very complicated process, as we try to manage information in a world where everything you say is amplified and broadcast and often misinterpreted.”
Schumacher said rapid testing of Covid could be key to restarting Broadway, along with mass vaccinations expected next year. “If we’re able to have really accurate, really clear rapid testing,” he said, “that’s also going to change how people feel about this.”
“We’re going to rely on science, technology and medicine. And big things are all going to work together. I think there are things that are coming that may not be public yet about protocols that we can do that will be valuable.”
Schumacher was speaking from Sydney, where he was wrapping up two weeks of government-mandated quarantine ahead of tech rehearsals for a production of the musical Frozen. Australia is a pandemic success story, thanks to the closing of its borders, a state-ordered lockdown, contact tracing, testing and social distancing.
Schumacher also addressed the subject of diversity backstage and in theatrical offices. He praised the advocacy groups Black Theatre United, Black Theatre Coalition and the Broadway Advocacy Coalition. (He didn’t mention We See You, White American Theater, which in August tweeted headshots of the League’s predominantly-white board of governors.)
Schumacher said the League is poised to hire a specialist in equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), but insisted that its power to influence individual members is limited. “The League doesn’t curate Broadway, doesn’t pick the shows, doesn’t pick the creative teams, doesn’t employ very many people. All the League can do is speak to its members and give them the opportunity to get training, have awareness, host seminars and do all of that. The hard work needs to be done by the producers — producers, directors, writers working together to really build this community.”
Schumacher punted on disclosing the date of the Tony Awards for the 2019-20 season, despite heavy promotion of the nominations, which were announced on Oct. 15. “Check the press releases,” he said. “Of all the things people should be anxious about, the Tony Awards might slip a little further down on that list while we try to get back up to full employment in our community, which would be my big goal.”