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Capacity Restrictions on NYC Theaters, including Broadway, Lifted as of May 19th BUT Reopening Still Likely to be Fall 2021

Stage Directions • Industry NewsTheatre Buzz • May 3, 2021

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state-mandated capacity restrictions, which shutdown Broadway on March 12, 2020, will be lifted May 19 in New York City. Theaters, including Broadway theaters, will no longer have capacity restrictions BUT theaters will still need to follow CDC guidelines of social distancing. Many theater producers, certainly Broadway producers have insisted that the audience reduction resulting from social distancing makes playing to a partial house too high a financial hurdle overcome. The only way to avoid the social distancing reduction would be if all the audience had proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result. Even Cuomo acknowledged that Broadway, “may make their own economic decisions” and reopen later than May 19th.

Of course, beyond the economics of audience capacity, another challenge to fast reopening is the sheer volume of logistics involved in any production. All the Broadway productions will need ample time to get back up and running. None are expected to reopen even in June. September 2021 appears to still be the target date. And even then it is believed that only a handful of smaller productions are expected to take the stage. Most will not be reopening, or for some opening, until at least later in the fall.

The Broadway League, put out a statement after Cuomo’s announcement saying: “We applaud the Governor’s recent announcement easing capacity limits on performance venues in New York State. We are encouraged by this good news, which is a long-awaited indication that New York is truly on the road to recovery. We look forward to reopening at full capacity and are working to safely welcome audiences and employees back to Broadway theatres this fall. As always, we continue to work closely with our elected officials and will share more information as soon as plans become finalized.”

Actor’s Equity Association’s Executive Director Mary McColl said, “We are having regular and ongoing conversations with the Broadway League about what protocols for a safe reopening would look like, and have a clear understanding of their timetable. We welcome this unexpected announcement and look forward to a safe reopening of theatre, both on Broadway, Off Broadway and beyond, that prioritizes the safety of the workers.”

Though it will take a few months more, today’s announcement by the NY Governor, is at the very least an important step that allows for more certainty in planning Broadway’s reopening.

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