new jersey theatre reopening
General Theatre

Indoor Theatre Can Now Return to New Jersey

Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Monday that New Jersey’s indoor performance venues, including music clubs and theatres, can reopen at reduced capacity starting Friday, Sept. 4. This executive order also includes movie theaters.

Venues are allowed to open at a capacity of either 25 percent or 150, whichever is less. Everyone, staff and guests, must wear masks and comply with social distancing. Food and drink can be served. However, this is only for ticketed performances – no standing room or general admission shows allowed.

While this is good news for smaller music venues and clubs, it will be more difficult for larger venues. Even more concerning is what it means for New Jersey’s large theatres – like State Theatre New Jersey, Paper Mill Playhouse and Mayo Performing Arts Center. Some of these institutions have lost millions in the past six months. Now, they are allowed to open at a fraction of their capacity, with (likely) no live shows lined up anyway.

And it may not even be financially realistic for them to open at such a reduced capacity. For a theatre like State Theatre that can sit 1850 people, operating at such a small number is likely impossible. If the capacity number includes employees and audience members, then the amount of tickets they could sell would be next to nothing, not to mention the profit would be essentially nonexistent.

While we likely will not see any big theatres here in New Jersey opening up at these limits, it still gives me hope for the future that live theatre will be able to make its safe return eventually. These theatres have done so much since March to try to stay afloat, canceling and rescheduling shows and shifting to digital programming.

Although theatres legally can reopen now, they probably will not for financial reasons. However, I may be surprised. Perhaps some of these venues have a smaller theatre or a black box theatre where they can put on more intimate shows and be able to function. Or maybe they will continue with the digital programming and wait until they can reopen in full, or at least with a larger capacity. Whatever happens, I am eager for theatre to return.

In the meantime, please contact your representatives and urge them to help the live events industry. The link I have attached allows you to easily fill out a form to send a letter. If you are financially able to, please consider making a donation to the NJ Arts and Culture Recovery Fund. It is the least we can do to help our beloved industry survive.

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What Will Broadway Look Like When it Returns?

Indoor Theatre Returns: Equity Approves Productions at Three Theatres

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General Theatre

Indoor Theatre Returns: Equity Approves Productions at Three Theatres

For the first time since March, Actors’ Equity has agreed to allow three different theatres here in the United States to put on indoor productions.

This is the first time since theatres were shut down that an indoor production has been approved. All three theatres are small nonprofits in New England, where the first outdoor productions were recently approved as well.

Music Theater of Connecticut will be performing a one-man show, and Northern Stage in Vermont will be performing a one-woman show. However, in another first, the third theatre, Weathervane Theater in New Hampshire, will be producing three shows in repertory, including a seven-person version of Little Shop of Horrors. According to the New York Times, the show is still trying to figure out how to stage parts of the show like the dental exam and of course interactions with Audrey II, but will be limiting contact between actors – meaning no kiss between Seymour and Audrey.

The theatres will operate at a socially distanced fraction of their normal capacity, though Music Theater of Connecticut will be also selling online tickets to make up the difference. The Weathervane shows will also feature no brass or wind instruments due to virus-spreading fears, and though it will require masks for moving about the theatre, no masks are required while in seats.

Throughout the country, many nonunion theatres have put on shows with nonunion actors, but this marks the first union-approved indoor productions. Actors’ Equity has been understandably hesitant to approve shows, but the New England area having a low number of cases is why these theatres will be the first allowed to return.

Before this, the only approved indoor show was Diana on Broadway, which will not even have an audience. Actors’ Equity also recently similarly approved a show for streaming at East Lynne Theater Company in New Jersey. And in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Black theatre company Front Porch Arts Collective has been approved to stage a series of cabaret performances outside the Central Square Theater.

I have conflicting feelings about this. On one hand, theatre workers need to work, and this definitely represents a positive turn in all the darkness of this pandemic. On the other hand…I still worry that things are not safe. It would take just one carrier to infect everyone else, and we would have another massive outbreak on our hands. I would like to remain cautiously optimistic, though I do wish there was another way (meaning, government financial support) and while I do understand the desire to get back to “normal,” you certainly will not catch me sitting inside a theatre until a vaccine is safe and available.

I don’t know. I miss theatre. I’m just worried about things going wrong, and having to wait even longer for live theatre to return. What do you think? Are you in support of indoor theatre being allowed or against it? Share your thoughts below. I am interesting in hearing both sides!

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What Will Broadway Look Like When it Returns?

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Broadway

What Will Broadway Look Like When it Returns?

We don’t know when Broadway will return right now. When it does return, hopefully some time in 2021, we know that it will be a completely different landscape than how we left it back in March when it was first shut down indefinitely. So for today, let’s speculate about what Broadway will look like when it returns.

What shows will return?

The first question is, of course, what shows that were already playing on Broadway will be able to return when it reopens. I think it’s safe to assume that the big commercial successes will be the ones absolutely reopening – I don’t think that Wicked or Hamilton will be going anywhere. I would almost guarantee these shows will return. The big Disney shows will probably make it too. The Lion King is such a tourist favorite that I’m sure it will make its way back. But also, RIP Frozen.

And some shows will not be returning, like Frozen, as I mentioned above. As the shutdown continues, I am sure we will be seeing more shows announcing that, unfortunately, they will not come back.

What shows will open?

Some shows that did not get a chance to start performances have already announced their intentions of opening in 2021, such as the revivals of 1776 and Caroline, Or Change, as well as the new musical Flying Over Sunset.

The Minutes, which was able to play a few preview performances, will also be coming back to officially open, and hopefully other shows like Six will be able to return as well.

We have no idea as of yet what kinds of new shows will be able to open. There are certainly plenty of shows that have announced wanting to open with no further details, but other than that, we will have to wait and see what producers will be wanting to fund. Which brings us to our next question…

What will the industry look like?

However, there is an even bigger question of what shows will actually be able to make it to Broadway in the aftermath of this pandemic. Broadway is a billion dollar industry, and a lot of that is foreign tourist dollars. When Broadway is back up and running, producers will naturally want to ensure that they can return to making money, even though the industry as a whole will likely not financially recover for years.

I worry about the implication of this. I worry that producers will only want to “play it safe” so to speak for a while. Meaning, they will rely only on shows that they think can be commercial hits. It will be easier to fund a stage adaptation of a movie or another biographical musical than a wholly original work. Broadway has never been too kind to smaller and more experimental original shows (better suited for Off-Broadway) but we may not get to see anything like that for a long time.

Producers will likely try anything to get people in seats. Even when Broadway does reopen, tourism as a whole will probably be down. I think we will see a lot of stunt casting in order to draw audiences. I have heard rumors that producers are considering everything from cutting ticket prices to limiting seats. I do not think anyone really knows what to do yet, and that is the scary part. We have no idea what actually will happen.

We are going to see a complete reset of the theatre industry. Some theatres where shows have closed may stand empty for months, if not seasons. We have no idea what audiences will actually want to see when it can reopen, or if they will want to come back at all. There will likely be strict social distancing rules enforced, from wearing a mask during a show to sitting in every other seat.

The only thing we know for sure is that we have no clue what to expect. However, I will leave you with one final thought. Theatre has survived literally everything that has been thrown at it throughout history. One pandemic will not change that.

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NBC is Reportedly Planning a Big Broadway Special

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Broadway, General Theatre

Socially Distanced Theatre? Berkshire Theatre Group’s Godspell

Live theatre is back? Well, sort of. Berkshire Theatre Group in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has recently begun performances of “Godspell Under the Tent” in what is one of the first returns to live theatre in America, and one of the first Equity-approved performances as well. (The other approved performance, FYI, is also in MA – it’s Barrington Stage Company’s production of David Cale’s one-man show Harry Clark.)

The show follows strict safety guidelines from the audience to the performers. From BTG’s website:

Temperature scans will be done for patrons at their point of entry. No-contact scanning stations for tickets will be placed at point of entry, spaced at least 6 feet from the temperature scan. Free-standing hand sanitizer stations will be placed at various locations throughout the space. Patrons will be required to wear masks. One way traffic patterns will be enforced with arrows and 6 foot markers on the floor, as well as lines down the center of hallways, to and from the tent, restrooms and concessions. The restrooms will have entrance and exits that are separate and one way. Every other stall, urinal and sink will be marked not usable. A doctor/nurse will be on duty for all performances. Additional safeguards will also be in place.

Not only do they have those safeguards, the cast is distanced from each other as well on stage. Ben Brantley outlined these choices in his New York Times review.

The golden rule here takes the form of their nearly always keeping at least six feet from one another. Whenever they have to cross one another’s paths they make sure their masks (bunched around their necks) are pulled into place. When a chorus sings Schwartz’s tuneful earwig pop gospel — an activity known to let spittle fly — it does so behind the transparent panels of Randall Parsons’s beautifully utilitarian set. (Matthew E. Adelson’s patterned lighting helps keep it from looking like a doctor’s waiting room.)

Now, I love theatre, and yes, I do love Godspell – I think it was a great metaphorical choice to be one of the first returns to theatre. But I have to say…is it worth it? The audience and the performers both have to wear masks. Everyone has to be socially distanced. And though I understand they are all taking massive precautions, it still feels risky to me. The NYT review features a picture of the socially distanced audience and you can clearly see two theatre-goers wearing their masks incorrectly. Despite the safeguards, there are certainly still risks. I worry especially about the crew, who absolutely find it harder to socially distance and be safe while setting up things like the set and microphones.

Though, I have to say, in regards to it being worth it – it does appear that all performances are sold out (this may be because the distanced audience can only seat 75, however).

Overall, I guess I would have to attend the production and see how everything works myself to make an absolute judgment on this show. I do wonder if we will be seeing more Equity-approved productions similar to this. I know that the Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, NJ has been doing theatre under a tent as well. I only know this because it is local to me, so I am sure there are other theatres around the country doing the same thing.

To me, however, it just doesn’t seem worth it. There are just too many risks involved for cast, crew and audiences alike. I empathize with those out of work, but this doesn’t feel right to me. Though, with the government resisting funding the arts during this time, I can understand why artists feel the need to put on socially distanced theatre. I wish that unemployment would be extended, and that the arts would receive grants and funding to ensure that when it is time, it can return fully. But I would much rather everyone stay home and wait until we can perform theatre safely.

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No More Stage Dooring? Live Performance Safety Guidelines Revealed

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Broadway, General Theatre

No More Stage Dooring? Live Performance Safety Guidelines Revealed

Could stage dooring be a thing of the past? According to the 27-page guidelines for COVID-19 reopening released Tuesday by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Stagecraft Safety Committee (IATSE), it is at least for now. These guidelines are intended to be for IATSE members, employers and local unions, but they are interesting to read for anyone interested in how theatre is going to come back. And, despite being 27 pages, it is only supposed to provide general information, according to the IATSE website. Still, 27 pages is a lot, so I’ll go through some of the more important (and interesting) points of the guidelines.

No More Stage Dooring

“Eliminate and discourage the audience and public from congregating outside of the stage
door post performance.”

Like I said above, it’s true! Fans won’t be able to line up outside the theatre for autographs and photos. And honestly, this one is just common sense. While I personally love going to the stage door, as I’m sure many of you reading do as well, it’s way more important to keep the performers safe. Plus, with some of the entitled fans I have been seeing, maybe it’s for the best to keep stage dooring away for a bit.

There will also be no backstage tours given. You’ll even have to grab a Playbill yourself from a rack or table – no more being handed to you.

PPE for Everyone

“All required PPE will be provided and maintained by the employer”

The guidelines require that Personal Protective Equipment is provided to all cast and crew, as well as proper training for how to use it. PPE should be worn everywhere that it can be worn. Everyone also has to practice good hygiene standards and physical distancing when they can.

Special COVID-19 Officers

“One or more autonomous COVID-19 Compliance Officer(s) [CCO] with specialized
training, responsibility and authority for COVID-19 safety compliance and enforcement will
be in the workplace to implement the Covid-19 safety plan and address issues as they arise.”

The CCO will be in charge of a slew of things, including overseeing adherence to things like social distancing, disinfecting, testing, symptom monitoring and anything else the employer decides. The CCO (and whatever assistants they need) should always be available during work hours and should be accessible to all personnel. They also are the ultimate authority in this regard.

General COVID-19 Plans

“Venues must have a written COVID-19 safety plan in place that specifies necessary policies,
practices and procedures. In multi-employer venues there must be a process for coordinating activities related to prevention and control of Covid-19.”

So, everyone needs a plan. Makes enough sense. There are also some more specific plans for how to prepare. Diagnostic testing is good, but as the document notes, it can be imperfect. So it is a good start to reduction rather than a perfect answer. This will depend on how often the employee in question is exposed to the public, and the testing protocols will change as testing does too.

Daily screening will be necessary for workers to ensure that they are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms. If they are, they should not come to work (obviously) and if they develop symptoms on-site, they should be sent home. Those who do test positive should alert the CCO, who will alert those who were close to the sick person so that they can immediately quarantine.

If you want to read this for yourself, I’ll link the document again here. What do you guys think? How different do you think theatre will be when it opens up? Let me know!

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How to Enjoy Theatre in Lockdown

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