Culture | May 28, 2020 7:00 am

As Broadway Looks to Reopen, Rule Breakers Are Keeping People Away

Theatergoers don’t fear the Phantom. They fear people without masks.

The Broadway marquee for the musical Hamilton
Turn your face away from the coughing man in row A ...
Sudan Ouyang/Unsplash

Forget the Phantom of the Opera — the biggest fear for New York theatergoers in the age of COVID-19 is someone not wearing a mask.

According to a recent New York Times/Siena College Research Institute poll, the thing keeping local Broadway audiences from feeling comfortable returning to the theater are other audience members who may not follow recommended health guidelines, such as wearing masks and social distancing. 

Live theater has been one of the hardest hit industries during the coronavirus pandemic, in no small part because it is expected to be one of the last sectors to reopen due to its very nature (i.e., packed in like sardines with strangers for multiple hours). As the center of the theatrical world, all eyes are on Broadway for clues about reopening. But even if theaters reopen on September 7, the earliest reopening date outlined by the Broadway League, many New Yorkers say they won’t be ready to return.

As The New York Times writes, the recent poll only asked residents of New York State about their willingness to attend Broadway performances, as the industry expects an extended decrease in tourism.

“According to the poll, 58 percent of New Yorkers who attended at least one Broadway show in 2019 but did not report that they were very likely to return this year said that they did not trust others to adhere to social distancing. Fifty-five percent gave as a reason that they did not trust others to wear masks,” wrote the Times.

What about enforced social distancing in the theater with everyone spaced six feet apart? As Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League, told the Times, that “won’t work for Broadway.” 

In short, Broadway may stay dark until 2021. At least we have Hamilton to look forward to.

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