How Will the COVID-19 Shutdown Affect Broadway?

Martin McDonagh’s HANGMEN will not return after the closedown. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.

They said the show must always go on, so what will happen when they no longer can? Broadway producer and entertainment attorney Richard Roth talks to us the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on NYC show business?

“Closures of theaters will be financially crippling to all Broadway shows, and thousands of productions across the US—from commercial tours to regional nonprofit theaters,” says Roth. “This time of year, Broadway was on track to gross $30 to $40 million per week in ticket sales alone. Thousands of workers have been displaced—actors, ushers, bartenders, stagehands, and more.”

A collectors item: the playbill from WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF at the Booth.

Without that expected income, where do we go from here? Currently Broadway is set to be dark for at least weeks, and Roth says that many new shows don’t have the money in the bank to sustain a closure of much more than that.  “It is very possible that shows may never reopen or may last only weeks after re-opening.” Indeed, we’re already seeing shows announce that they will not return after the closure: Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen at the Golden Theatre and the revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Booth Theatre will close without leaving previews.

This time in the industry is a critical one because the Tony Award eligibility cut off is at the end of April. According to Roth, “16 of the would-be 36 eligible productions this year had yet to open at the time of the shutdown. The next 8 weeks would have seen those productions open, as well as the beginning of the voting process. The fate of the Tony awards logistically, even if they are postponed, is up in the air.” Given that new productions are looking at a fraught future before they’ve even gotten their legs, what does this mean for the industry as a whole?

With tourists as the main demographic of Broadway audiences, it will likely take some time for NYC theater to recover. “65% of the Broadway audience is tourists,” says Roth. “So our return to stability will only come when this is resolved on an international level and when people are once again comfortable flying. And, nearly 16% of our audience is in the 65+ age range, which means they are also the ones who are most at risk from the disease.”.

Things don’t look good for Broadway, as Roth puts it: “Even if we are only forced to stay closed for the bare minimum of 4-8 weeks, we will be feeling the repercussions of this for much, much longer.”

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