Broadway musicals return
On Thursday night, the first two musicals returned to Broadway since the theater district went dark on March 12, 2020. Devoted fans — vaccine cards in hand and masks in front of them — filled the seats as “Hadestown” and “Waitress” reopened.
My colleague Michael Paulson, who covers theater for The Times, came to see both shows. He wrote about the reopening and took a moment this morning to answer my questions.
Let’s start with the most basic question: what was the energy like? How did it feel?
At each show, you could feel the audience’s intense gratitude for just being there, and all this pent-up enthusiasm.
There was applause for the preshow announcements. There was applause every time a character stepped forward on stage for the first time.
There were nine standing ovations at ‘Waitress’. And at ‘Hadestown’, the audience lingered on the streets afterward, while the cast, creative team and band appeared on the theater balconies to play music and sing.
I’m used to seeing a lot of theater for work but last night everything felt heightened by so much time away. I really felt what a privilege it is to see these artists tell stories.
What are the security measures?
Everyone should be vaccinated – all employees, including actors, and all customers (there is a test alternative for religious and medical reasons and for children). Masks are also mandatory, for everyone except performers on stage.
There is no social distancing – theaters are at full capacity. There are new or improved ventilation systems everywhere. And there is a lot of hand gel.
At “Waitress,” a fully vaccinated cast member tested positive for last night’s performance. She was replaced by an understudy; the cast was tested (as it regularly is) and the show went on. It was the first example we’ve seen of how shows will fare at a time when it seems inevitable that there will be infections every now and then.
How does the Delta variant make the return more difficult?
The restart decisions were made before Delta was a major factor — it takes a long time to put a Broadway show back together — and producers have decided to stick to the announced schedule, but with more safety precautions.
The producers I spoke to think that the pandemic will not end completely soon, but that it is important – in the interest of the workers and the city, to find a way to recreate the cultural life of the city. to start, so they are moving forward. I think Delta is influencing consumer behavior – although some shows sell strongly, others are weak – because some fans postpone ticket purchase decisions until they feel more comfortable.
Five shows — the musicals “Hamilton,” “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Chicago,” as well as a play called “Lackawanna Blues” — are scheduled for September 14. Many other shows are planning to start performances in the fall. And two shows started earlier – Bruce Springsteen opened a limited run of his one-man show in late June, and “Pass Over,” a play, began performances on August 4.
Why is this Broadway reopening important? A thriving cultural scene is one of New York’s great features.
But Broadway also employs a lot of people. It has a very significant economic side effect, supporting hotels and restaurants and taxis and all kinds of businesses frequented by theater goers, plus there are all industries that support theater such as costume makers and set builders and marketing companies.
Probably just as important as the economic impact is the symbolic impact. As long as Broadway is closed, that’s a signal that New York is still sick.
The resumption of the performing arts is of course not without risk, because the pandemic is not over yet and the Delta variant is making the recovery of the country more difficult. But there is a feeling that it is time to try.
An unusual nutcracker season
For dance companies, and for the Christmas season in general, the “Nutcracker” ballet is a bit like the Super Bowl. Usually, kids under 12 fill the ranks of the ballet’s broad ensemble cast, playing with mice, revelers, and candy canes. Often they act in the lead roles of Marie and the Prince.
But the rise of the Delta variant has prompted many dance companies to redesign the holiday favorite as so many potential dancers and audience members are not yet eligible for the vaccine. (In the US, it’s 48 million children.)
For example, at the New York City Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, there will be no performers under 12. Several companies will allow children under 12 into the public, though they will be required to provide negative virus test results.
Understanding Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the US
- Vaccine Rules. On August 23, the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies are increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are permitted by law and have been confirmed in court proceedings.
- Mask Rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in July that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places in areas with outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. Find out where CDC guidelines apply and where states have their own masking policies. The battle over masks has become controversial in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are demanding that students be vaccinated against Covid-19. Nearly all of them are in states that voted for President Biden.
- schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for educators. A survey published in August found that many U.S. parents of school-aged children are opposed to mandatory vaccines for students, but were more in favor of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff who have not received their injections.
- Hospitals and Medical Centers. Many hospitals and major health systems require workers to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, citing the increasing caseload fueled by the Delta variant and persistently low vaccination coverage in their communities, even within their workforce.
- New York City. Evidence of vaccination is required from employees and customers for indoor meals, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement will not begin until September 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system must have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital employees should also receive a vaccine or be tested weekly. Similar rules apply to employees in New York State.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced it would aim to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “by mid-September.” President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or undergo regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
“This is really the only way we can safely make this production happen,” said Jonathan Stafford, Artistic Director of New York City Ballet.
The stakes this year are particularly high. The show will test whether dance companies, which have shut down indoor performances during much of the pandemic, can operate safely.
After suffering heavy losses, many companies are hoping for a comeback with ‘Nutcracker’, a financial lifeline in normal times. New York City Ballet, for example, typically receives about $15 million in ticket revenue from the show, nearly half of the annual total.
And whatever happens, the show must go on.
“I want to bring back the traditions while protecting people,” said Shelly Power, executive director of the Philadelphia Ballet.
What else do we follow
What are you doing
I am a nurse and my husband is deployed to Iraq. Our boys and I do weekly Sunday bike rides on our local trails. We don’t cook on Fridays and I have a margarita every Saturday. These little things get me through it. I have started praying again, but I am not religious. I pray for our nurses and doctors on the front lines who have to deal with this every day, God give them strength. I pray for our troops to get home safely, God protect them. And I pray for our children, may they one day be better than us, God grant them. — Yuli, North Carolina
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