CityWatch: Broadway gets a shot in the arm toward safely reopening in September


The show must go on — and it needs to go on safely. 

More than a year into the coronavirus lockdown of Broadway, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City has launched a special initiative to help make its safe return a reality in September. 

“It’s time to raise the curtain and bring Broadway back,” de Blasio said Thursday in his daily news conference. “We’re working with the Broadway community now to develop the plans to make the reopening go smoothly.” 

In the next month, the city will set up COVID-19 vaccination sites dedicated to the theater community, a mobile unit for off-Broadway workers and pop-up testing sites near venues. The city will also help theaters plan how to manage crowds before and after shows.

De Blasio has called upon the state to expeditiously issue guidelines for audiences on such issues as wearing masks and presenting proof of vaccination. 

Because theatrical productions involve so many people and are made up of so many interconnected parts — onstage, backstage and at the box office and beyond — shows need months of notice to be ready for reopening.

The complexity of reopening theaters safely amid COVID-19 can’t be overstated. A dance-theater event at the Park Avenue Armory was recently canceled after three performers tested positive for the virus.

The economic impact of theaters on New York City is dramatic. It’s a $15 billion industry and supports 100,000 jobs, the mayor said.

His announcement comes as a few Broadway venues will be used in April for live pop-up events. Besides being entertaining, the shows will provide useful information about operating safely. 

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Shows are also getting ready to run this summer in New York’s great outdoors. That includes the Public Theater’s “Merry Wives,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor.” It runs free from July 5-Aug. 29 at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. 

The latest measures aimed at awakening the sleeping giant of New York theater comes as other industries in the city are making strides toward accomplishing comebacks of their own.

As of March 19, indoor dining at restaurants stands at 50% capacity, up from 35%, and nearly 490 city high schools partially reopened March 22. 

Some, including de Blasio and other city leaders, have balked at the speed with which the state is reopening New York City, fearing new variants of the virus could cause new outbreaks before vaccinations hit a critical mass. In early April, 11 p.m. curfews will lift on bowling alleys, pool halls, gyms and casinos; and outdoor stadiums and entertainment venues can reopen at reduced capacity. 

“Right now, the city is in a tight race between the vaccines and the variants,” New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said in a statement earlier this week. “Rushing to reopen, getting ahead of ourselves, will only help the virus get ahead of us. We need to slow down.”

Read next: U.S. tops 30 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 as Biden pledges $10 billion investment to expand vaccine access

In New York City, there have been 817,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 30,793 virus-related deaths. Across New York state, 2.9 million people have been fully vaccinated. The percentage of New Yorkers testing positive on a seven-day average Wednesday was 6.2%.

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