By Gordon Hughes
It’s about time. On August 18, 2021 I was back in Gotham for the first time in almost a year and a half.
What better way to make reentry than attend the reopening of the venerable Joe Allen’s. The place was packed with actors, directors, dancers, singers, and, of course, producers. Laughs abounded about the crazy way so many of us had been spending the months of estrangement from the Theatre District. But of course, there were also tears for friends we had lost to COVID. Questions, tons of questions, buzzed around the restaurant regarding the yin and yang of the pandemic. Broadway had closed down in early March of 2020. It seems like ages ago. A dark cloud had hung over the Great White Way and the lights of Broadway were dark. Some consider Broadway the heart of NYC. These had been very strange days indeed.
People were scared of not only losing their jobs, but also of losing their lives. It was not just theatrical jobs that were lost, but all the ancillary jobs like bartending and table-serving. Young artists were forced to move back with their parents in Omaha, Dallas, Biloxi—a long way from the dreams that had brought them to the heart of Times Square.
Well, I am probably telling you the obvious. That said, things began to show a glimmer of light in late spring as vaccines were distributed, the weather warmed, and masks began to disappear and were replaced with hopeful smiles. Gyms and nail salons were re-opening and restaurants were next in line. The Broadway League began developing guidelines for theater audiences. Two rules were: masking during the shows, and mandatory proof of vaccination for the audiences as well as the casts and crews.
Now, I’m involved in three productions and have discovered there is not one all-encompassing business model. Each of the musicals is distinctly different in its operational execution.
I can’t share inside information but I can give an overview. Some of the productions received federal funding with strict rules regarding how the monies be spent. Some shows are still in negotiations to receive those funds. Bless Senator Chuck Schumer who has fought the good fight for Broadway. Theatre lovers owe him a tip of the hat for his focus on our industry. Some of the shows had war chests, which have helped cast and crews.
Now, here is the hard part and one of the reasons I was back in New York. Ticket sales had begun to reflect the optimism of COVID’s retreat, but then came the Delta surge and ticket sales started to slip once again. The industry is reacting to the pandemic’s ups and downs and it has been hard to keep up. Just as shows were beginning to select opening dates, schedule opening events, and develop ad and marketing campaigns, confusion was rearing its ugly head.
So as of now, producers and investors are working carefully to move our shows ahead.
My personal advice is to stay close to your search engines for updated show opening information. This is a remarkable industry and we will get through this tough period. Not to be self-serving, I would, however, recommend the three shows I’m involved in: Come From Away, Diana The Musical and the revival of Company. I look forward to seeing you at the theatre.