New York City continues to see events and large gatherings paused amid the coronavirus pandemic, as Broadway and some of the city’s biggest venues prepare to temporarily close their doors.
The news of closures began to roll in Thursday as the city was developing density reduction guidelines. On Thursday afternoon, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo shared new guidelines during a press conference, announcing a mandate of no gatherings of 500 people or more going into effect Friday at 5 p.m. local time. Exempt from that rule are schools, hospitals, mass transit and nursing homes.
For Broadway shows, however, the rule goes into effect 5 p.m. on Thursday, with trade organization the Broadway League announcing that all performances will be suspended through April 12.
In order to qualify as official Broadway theaters, auditoriums must have a minimum 500 seats; they range from the Hayes Theatre, the smallest, with 597 seats, through the Gershwin, with 1,933. The monthlong shutdown will cause lost revenues conservatively estimated at $100 million, not to mention the logistical challenges of such a mass volume of refunds and exchanges.
For gatherings under 500, which covers all off-Broadway theaters, seating capacity will be cut in half.
“Most of the people who contact the virus will self-resolve or be treated at home,” Cuomo stressed during his address.
The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall have canceled all events through March 31. The Met has also suspended all rehearsals.
“In response to the public health emergency and in consultation with the office of the Mayor, effective immediately, all Met performances and rehearsals will be canceled through March 31,” reads a statement. “We are announcing this closure at the same time as other cultural institutions, including the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall.”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art will temporarily close its three locations — The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer and The Met Cloisters — starting Friday in support of the city’s effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“The Met’s priority is to protect and support our staff, volunteer, and visitors, and we have been taking several proactive precautionary measures, including discouraging travel to affected areas, implementing rigorous cleaning routines, and staying in close communication with New York City health officials and the Centers for Disease Control,” said Daniel H. Weiss, president and CEO of the museum, in a statement. “While we don’t have any confirmed cases connected to the museum, we believe that we must do all that we can to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our community, which at this time calls for us to minimize gatherings while maintaining the cleanest environment possible. We look forward to soon announcing when we’ll be able to welcome our staff and visitors back to the museum.”
The Juilliard School, located at Lincoln Center, will postpone all performances until March 29. The decision coincides with the school’s decision to move to remote learning across all divisions; more than 90 events will be affected, including many student recitals. Film at Lincoln Center will be closing the Walter Reade Theater and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center effective 5 p.m. on Thursday.
The Upright Citizens Brigade Theaters have canceled performances at all venues on both coasts indefinitely.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had told CNN on Thursday that new rules were imminent, but that they were trying to avoid a shutdown of the Great White Way. “I don’t want to see Broadway go dark if we can avoid it,” de Blasio had said. “I want to see if we can strike some kind of balance.”
Cuomo announced a state of emergency last week as the coronavirus — now considered a pandemic — continues to spread across the state and the globe. As of Thursday morning, there are 62 confirmed cases in New York City, including a Broadway usher who worked at theaters housing the shows Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Six.
Both those productions were in previews at the time, with Six scheduled for an official opening on Thursday, which has now been canceled. Producers have requested that critics, most of whom saw the show at press performances in recent days, hold their reviews until performances resume.
There are 31 shows currently in production on Broadway. Producer Scott Rudin had reduced ticket prices to $50 each for all five of his shows, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, with some other productions following suit. As recently as Monday, producers remained confident that a shutdown could be avoided, but as the pandemic accelerated this week, that drastic safety measure became inevitable.
“Our top priority has been and will continue to be the health and well-being of Broadway theatergoers and the thousands of people who work in the theater industry every day, including actors, musicians, stagehands, ushers and many other dedicated professionals,” said Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin in a statement on Thursday.
In addition to Six, other shows scheduled to open in the next few weeks that will now be pushed back include Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen, Tracy Letts’ The Minutes, the Virginia Woolf revival, Stephen Sondheim musical revival Company, new musicals Mrs. Doubtfire and Diana, and the epic drama The Lehman Trilogy.
With opening dates to be rescheduled for those productions, other incoming shows set to open later in April and due to begin previews in the next few weeks also will be impacted, even if operations resume on April 13 as per the League announcement.
Those include the plays American Buffalo, with Laurence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell and Darren Criss; Birthday Candles, with Debra Messing; Take Me Out, with Jesse Tyler Ferguson; Plaza Suite, with Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker; How I Learned to Drive, with Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse; and the musicals Flying Over Sunset; Caroline, or Change; and Sing Street.
All that reshuffling casts a cloud over this year’s Tony Awards, given that it will be almost impossible to pin down new opening dates in time for the eligibility cutoff date of April 23. The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to the Tony Awards administration for comment as to whether that date or even the awards themselves could end up being pushed back and will update this story when a response is available.
If the Broadway shutdown lasts the full month as expected, it will be the longest disruption to the Great White Way in modern history. In 1975, 12 musicals were shut down for 25 days due to a musicians strike, and the 2007 stagehands strike caused a shutdown for 19 days. These stoppages had minimal impact on shows doing strong business, but they did force struggling productions or shows that were still finding their footing at the box office to close early.
The 9/11 attacks happened on a Tuesday so shows were canceled that evening, as were both matinee and evening performances the next day. But they were back up and running by Thursday and while business initially was slow to resume, a popular campaign to encourage New Yorkers to get out and help reanimate the city in the wake of tragedy had a positive effect.
Beyond Broadway, dance production Beyond Babel also announced a hiatus on Thursday. Following Thursday’s 8 p.m. performance at The Gym at Judson, which seats 150 people, the shows for March 13 through April 6 will be rescheduled into May.
One of the city’s major off-Broadway companies, Signature Theatre, has canceled all performances of its productions through March 22, including Cambodian Rock Band and The Hot Wing King, with refunds being issued automatically to ticket holders.
Renowned dance theater company Noche Flamenca’s Antígona, which was scheduled to run at La MaMa March 19 through April 5, has also been postponed in response to President Trump’s travel ban from European countries, which he announced during his Oval office address on Wednesday night. The ban “makes it impossible for company members to come from Spain to New York right now. The organizations are rescheduling the performances for sometime in the next few months and will announce the new dates as soon as possible,” reads a statement.