By Linnette Cruz, 11th Grade
It is no surprise that the COVID-19 crisis has affected every aspect of our everyday life ever since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a global pandemic in March 2020. The rampant virus has managed to transform the way we work, shop, and live in our current society–and the global theater industry has been no exception. Due to various new outbreaks and the development of rising levels of coronavirus strains (including variants such as Delta and our most recent cause for concern–Omicron), performing arts theaters far and wide have had to close their doors once more after coming back from its longest shutdown.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time that professional theater has had to take a hiatus from showing many fan-favorite productions. During the years 1960, 1964, and 1968, Broadway had to shut down due to crucial labor movements, including theater unions such as the American Federation of Musicians banding together in order to protest against their low wages. However, Broadway doors were only closed for only days and sometimes weeks unlike our current situation. Broadway productions also closed after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Other times Broadway has had to shut down was for natural disasters and blackouts (Dilella, 2021).
Not only do they provide entertainment for native New Yorkers and tourists alike, according to the Broadway League, but this world-renowned industry also contributed approximately “$14.7 billion to New York City’s economy and supported 96,900 jobs during the 2018 season.”Additionally, Broadway also served as an open coronavirus vaccination site for those who work in these productions (Sabri Ben-Achour and Rose Conlon, 2021).
Fan-favorite Broadway actors from hit shows such as “Hamilton”, “Aladdin”, and “Hadestown” have also found themselves affected by the pandemic as many have lost jobs and been informed that their shows may not be coming back after restrictions are lifted. For example, actress Laura Leigh Turner only got to play her role of Karen Smith for only two days before Broadway shut down for an extended period of time (Benbrook, 2021). Not only have they been put off of jobs, but many actors have also settled down to start their families or even left their roles altogether. The only thing that Broadway performers can do now is sit back and pray that the number of new cases per day goes down just enough for Governor Kathy Hochul to decide when to lift COVID restrictions. As of January 12, the Worldometer reports a daily average of 761,122 cases a day, with an average of 40,116 cases belonging to the city of New York.
When Former New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo decided that Broadway could reopen its doors on September 14, 2021, organizations that own Broadway theaters took it upon themselves to follow public health guidelines and protocols established by the WHO. Some guidelines include required vaccination cards for audience members and staff as well as hand sanitizer dispensers present in each establishment.
Nowadays, one can’t help but wonder what the future holds for Broadway productions when the tumultuous pandemic comes to a long-awaited end. At the height of the pandemic, the idea of filmed versions of Broadway shows available for consumption on streaming services came to light. This all started when the hit Tony Award-winning musical Hamilton–a play literally about America’s face of the ten-dollar bill and Founding Father Alexander Hamilton–was set to be released in theaters in October 2021, but because of the pandemic, Disney made the decision to stream it on their streaming platform Disney+. The film stars all of the original actors from when Hamilton first debuted on Broadway in August 2015, including luminary writer, composer, and actor Lin Manuel Miranda. Streaming platforms were at their all-time use during the pandemic for obvious reasons, and it’s no surprise that Hamilton became so popular, with tickets now selling for $500-$1000 despite the fact that the show has been around for almost 7 years. Another example of a Broadway production turned blockbuster is “In the Heights”. This alone has many questioning whether the live tickets are truly worth its cost when one can simply watch the show from the comfort of your own home as many times as you want for a $7.99 monthly subscription. Nevertheless, as the world moves on from COVID-19 in spite of high infection rates, theaters continue to seem stuck in time and its fate remains unknown.
- How COVID-19 Has Impacted Broadway Productions. (2020, August 1). LawJournalNewsletters.Com. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.lawjournalnewsletters.com/2020/08/01/how-covid-19-has-impacted-broadway-productions/?slreturn=20220012150336
- DiLella, F. (2021, March 12). COVID-19 Shutdown Isn’t the First Time Broadway’s Lights Have Gone Dark. Spectrum News NY1. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2021/03/12/covid-shutdown-isn-t-the-first-time-broadway-s-lights-have-gone-dark
- Ben-Achour, S. (2021, April 3). For Broadway performers, a year of pandemic unemployment and reflection. Marketplace. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.marketplace.org/2021/04/02/broadway-reopening-pandemic-shutdown-unemployment/
- Paulson, M., & Sommerfeld, M. (2021, November 10). Curtains Up! How Broadway Is Coming Back From Its Longest Shutdown. The New York Times. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/13/theater/broadway-reopening.html
- Benbrook, J. U. T. (2021, March 12). One year later: Broadway shutdown puts actors’ dreams on hold as COVID-19 pandemic continues. USA TODAY. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://eu.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/celebrities/2021/03/12/covid-19-pandemic-anniversary-broadway-shutdown-effects-on-theater-actors/4645824001/