Broadway Will Remain Closed at Least Until June, and Probably Longer

Broadway will remain closed for at least another two months, industry leaders said Wednesday, as they formally acknowledged what has been widely known: that their initial target of reopening in mid-April has become impossible because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Broadway League, a trade association representing producers and theater owners, said the 41 Broadway houses would remain shuttered at least through June 7. But industry leaders widely expect the theaters to remain closed longer — many say that a best-case scenario is reopening following the July 4 weekend, and that it is possible that the industry will not reopen until after Labor Day.

“We’re hopeful that the restrictions will be lifted by June 7,” said Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League. “If they’re not, we will continue to monitor government restrictions and will advise ticket holders as soon as we know what those restrictions are.”

The pandemic that has killed tens of thousand of people around the world and has battered the global economy is also wreaking havoc with the theater industry. Broadway is not only an important center for the art form, but is also big business: The industry drew 14.8 million patrons last season and grossed $1.8 billion.

The entire industry — like so many others — is on pause, at the cost of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars.

Spring and summer programming has already been canceled in other sectors of the performing arts world — all five Edinburgh festivals, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Jacob’s Pillow dance festival, and New York nonprofits including Lincoln Center Theater and the Roundabout Theater Company. In Britain, London’s West End theaters have canceled all performances through May 31, and in Canada, Toronto’s Mirvish Theaters have closed until June 30 “at the very earliest.”

Broadway has been loathe to officially announce a far-off reopening date for several reasons: ticket sellers are reluctant to refund more tickets than they need to, sooner than they need to; each closing extension requires another consideration of whether and how to compensate or provide health benefits for unemployed workers at a time when there is no box office revenue; and getting ahead of government mandates might endanger insurance coverage. (Theater producers and 14 labor unions are now negotiating a possible extension of health benefits for workers affected by the ongoing suspension of performances.)

But theater presenters also expect that their stages will recover more slowly than some other parts of the economy because live performance usually involves large numbers of people getting together in confined spaces, which could be viewed as a public health risk, and theater tends to draw an older audience, which is a population particularly vulnerable to this coronavirus.

Broadway has even more challenges than other parts of the theater world: It is heavily dependent on tourism, and it is not clear when visitors from around the country and around the world will again be excited about visiting New York. And the high production costs of Broadway shows mean high ticket costs, which could be an obstacle during a recession or depression.

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