While Broadway shows raising the curtains may remain on the horizon, their venues will soon offers signals of hope—and signs of life—amid the continued coronavirus shutdown.
Select Broadway venues (beginning with the Music Box Theatre, home to Dear Evan Hansen) will welcome audiences beginning in April as part of New York State’s NY PopsUp program, which will offer (mostly) free, pop-up style performances to the public through Labor Day. No word yet on the exact programming; the degree to which performance details will be released ahead of time will vary, on the account of both safety measures and the impromptu nature of the initiative.
Tony winner Gavin Creel and Broadway veteran Shoshana Bean were among the first artists to perform as part of the PopsUp series, singing from a Lower East Side storefront February 27. Additional performers lined up include Renée Fleming, Hugh Jackman, Billy Porter, Sutton Foster, Idina Menzel, Kelli O’Hara, Danielle Brooks, Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, and Rhiannon Giddens.
Additionally, many iindoor performances spaces around New York City and State that qualify as “Flex Venues” will be able to reopen as soon as April 2. These spaces, which allow for socially distanced seating configurations, include New York City’s Park Avenue Armory, St. Ann’s Warehouse, The Shed, Harlem Stage, The Apollo, La MaMa, and National Black Theatre. Offerings will range from original programming to more PopsUp performances, with additional announcements to follow.
With the launch of these Flex Venue guidelines, performance spaces will be able to exceed the social gathering limit of 50 people, up to 150 patrons or 33 percent maximum occupancy, provided attendees receive a negative diagnostic test prior to the event. (If not, the capacity will be limited to 100).
Through the initiative, the New York State Department of Health will work with theatre operators to effectively create a reopening pilot program, implementing health protocols and safety procedures that will allow the venues to gradually increase capacity size, ultimately leading to full audiences on Broadway and beyond once again. Steps could mirror efforts currently taking place in Australia, such as contact tracing, staggered entry and exit times, and mandated face coverings.
Currently, Broadway productions are to remain dark through May 30, though industry members are eyeing a fall date as a more feasible timeline.
The Empire State’s PopsUp program is led by Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal, whose involvement signifies two of the initiative’s culminating events: the opening of Little Island at Pier 55 and the 20th annual Tribeca Film Festival.