Here’s How Broadway Shows Could Come Back Before June 2021
Broadway theaters were some of the first to close its doors when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit New York City. While the city’s residents were quarantined, four Broadway shows ended up shuttering for good. The first was the play Hangmen, which was supposed to have its first preview on March 19, but never had the chance. Its closing was announced on March 20.
Next on the chopping block was the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? revival, which was closed on March 21. Beetlejuice, which was quickly growing in popularity after the 2019 Tony Awards, was the first musical to close, followed by Disney’s Frozen.
Broadway shows won’t reopen until June 2021
Not wanting to see another show meet an untimely end, fans hoped the theater production companies would be able to devise a way for the remaining shows to make a comeback once it was safe to do so. (A successful outdoor production of Godspell at a regional theater in Massachusetts this summer gave people hope.) But the Broadway community was delivered a devastating blow on Oct. 9: Broadway shows will not reopen until June 2021, at the earliest.
The nature of live theater (hundreds of people sitting in close quarters indoors) doesn’t fit into COVID-19 safety measures, so the extra precaution makes sense. But with so much technology at our disposal and seven months worth of COVID-19 safety education, how is it that these production companies can’t figure out a viable, temporary alternative like other industries?
Sports have been able to resume its seasons with vigorous quarantining rules and daily COVID-19 testing for athletes. Restaurants and bars are able to serve customers outdoors (although indoor dining at less capacity has resumed in New York City). Stores welcome mask-wearing customers. Drive-in/outdoor movie theaters have seen a rise in popularity. Stand-up comedy has used drive-ins, parks, and outdoor bars as its venues. And film, TV, and commercial production has resumed in NYC with appropriate safety measures in place. (Even Saturday Night Live is back to working live from Studio 8H.)
Broadway might be one of the last industries to reopen following the COVID-19 pandemic
Given all of this, it’s fair for theatergoers to question why seemingly every other industry has been able to adapt.
The fact is, there is a viable alternative, but it’s less lucrative and more of a one-time gig for performers and production staff. Broadway shows could follow in the steps of Hamilton by bringing the casts back to film the shows. Although the Disney+ recording was filmed in 2016 when there wasn’t a global pandemic to combat, the success of the Tony winning show on Disney+ proves that people will indulge in theater in different mediums.
If Broadway casts and staff were to responsibly quarantine together for two weeks and were given access to frequent COVID-19 testing, the productions could be recorded with no audience present and sold to streaming platforms. In fact, this is already happening!
Can Broadway shows be watched online?
For starters, there’s BroadwayHD—a subscription service where fans can watch old live recordings of a limited number of shows, concerts, and films. But none of the shows currently on Broadway are available.
Then there’s the Princess Diana musical, Diana. The biographical musical was supposed to open on March 31, but in August, the show’s producers announced it would be filmed and debuted on Netflix in 2021. With the possibility of seeing live performances being out of the question until next summer, Broadway and streaming platforms alike would be smart to make like Hamilton and Diana and jump on the opportunity to release live recordings. The first viewing of these shows could also be monetized, like Disney+ did with the Mulan reboot. Fans could even be given renting or purchasing options, like on YouTube and iTunes. All of this could help the cast and crew of these various productions get a paycheck again. (It’s not just Broadway fans who suffer from a Broadway shutdown.)
A fair critique of this plan is that it could deter people from buying tickets to see the shows in person once Broadway reopens, but the pandemic has put us all in unprecedented circumstances. No doubt, when Broadway is able to resume live performances, people will flock to the theaters just out of excitement of being able to see live music again. And knowing the shows worked hard to get the art out to its fans during the pandemic would promote brand loyalty. Making the shows available on streaming platforms could also boost album and merchandise sales.
And on top of all of this, this would make Broadway the most accessible it has ever been for people who can’t afford tickets, deaf people who would benefit greatly from captions, people abroad who can’t afford a trip to New York/see a touring production, and more.
The reality is, nothing will replace the feeling of live theater. But until we can have live theater again, the show must go on.