Many Broadway theater owners have decided to stop checking the vaccination status of ticket holders after April 30, but all will continue to require theatergoers to wear masks inside theaters until May 31 at less.
The Broadway League, a trade association, announced the change on Friday. The decision was made by the owners and operators of the 41 theaters on Broadway, who initially decided to require vaccines and masks last summer, before the city imposed its own mandates. The theater owners — six commercial entities and four nonprofit entities — have been periodically reviewing the protocols ever since.
They announced the decision as many governments and businesses across the country eased restrictions, but with cases on the rise in New York and the virus forcing several Broadway shows to cancel performances in recent days.
“Since performances resumed last fall, more than five million moviegoers have seen a Broadway show, and the safety and security of our cast, crew and audience has been our top priority,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League. in a report. “Our intention is that by maintaining strict audience masking for at least the month of May, we will continue this safety record for all. And of course, we urge everyone to get vaccinated.
So far, theaters have acted together on protocols, saying they fear varying policies could confuse viewers. But they no longer have a consensus: Broadway’s biggest commercial landlord chose to drop the vaccine mandate, while two nonprofits said they would keep it and another said it was still deciding what to do.
The League did not specify which theaters would stop requiring proof of vaccinations, but the Shubert Organization, which with 17 theaters is by far the largest owner on Broadway, said Friday it would stop requiring proof of vaccinations. from May 1. And Disney Theatrical Productions, which operates the New Amsterdam Theater, said it would do the same to “Aladdin,” the musical that airs there.
Broadway’s other commercial theater operators – the Nederlander Organization, Jujamcyn Theatres, Ambassador Theater Group and Circle in the Square, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Lincoln Center Theater, a nonprofit that operates a Broadway house, the 1,080-seat Vivian Beaumont Theater, said it would maintain its vaccine requirement. The Roundabout Theater Company, a nonprofit with three Broadway houses, said it will continue to require proof of vaccinations during its production of “Birthday Candles,” which is scheduled to run through May 29. but that it would allow commercial producers to rent its other theaters to decide which protocols to use.
Another nonprofit, the Manhattan Theater Club, said it would decide next week whether to keep the requirement in place at the Broadway home it operates, the 650-seat Samuel J. Friedman Theater. The other nonprofit with a Broadway home, Second Stage Theater, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vaccination and masking requirements, long gone in many parts of the country, have dropped in New York; on March 7, the city dropped rules requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining at restaurants, for example. Other environments, including movie theaters as well as some comedy, sports, and concert venues, have chosen to remove masking requirements. Masks are still mandatory on subways and buses, as well as indoor subway stations, but anecdotal evidence suggests compliance has declined.
Virus cases have recently increased in New York, but the number of new cases remains well below levels at the height of Omicron’s surge.
Broadway decided to preserve the masking requirement, given the size of its audience (seating ranges from 585 at the Hayes, where “Take Me Out” plays, to 1,926 at the Gershwin, home to “Wicked.” ), the length of its shows (the longest, at three and a half hours, is “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”), the tight seating (many theaters were built a century ago), and the composition of its audience (traditionally 65 percent tourists, although there are now more locals given the impact of the pandemic on travel).
Theater owners say audiences have mostly embraced the requirements – there have been occasional disputes over mask-wearing, but these have been far less common than on planes, for example, and for the most part, the clients seem to have accepted the protocols.
Ditching vaccination verification will save producers money: Paying workers to check for proof of vaccination has been one of many Covid safety measures that have driven up show running costs off-Broadway.
Some performing arts institutions in New York City have settled for more restrictive audience protocols. The Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall, for example, continue to require proof of vaccination (but have dropped proof of recall requirements) and masking.
The coronavirus pandemic, which in March 2020 led to a lengthy shutdown of Broadway theaters, has continued to plague the industry since theaters began reopening last summer. In December, the arrival of the Omicron variant prompted several shows to cancel performances; this month, the arrival of the BA. 2 subvariant forced four shows to cancel performances after stars such as Daniel Craig, Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker tested positive.
The day before the new protocols were announced, Sam Gold, the director of a new production of “Macbeth” starring Craig, took the stage as an actor to continue the show when an actor tested positive, and all the understudy had already been deployed to replace the others who were absent.
The protocol changes announced Friday only affect customers; vaccination remains a condition of employment for Broadway actors and other theater workers.