Broadway actors: 'One chance' to get reopening right

Safe restart to live theater means 'letting the science guide us,' official says

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Before Broadway can reopen, shows need to meet four major guidelines for protecting performers and crew members from COVID-19, the Actors’ Equity Association says.

The national union, which represents more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers working in live theatre, released minimum standards on Tuesday that range from bringing the pandemic under control to modifying theaters to reduce infection risk and seeking input from everyone involved in productions.

The community has only "one chance to get it right," according to the union, which sought the advice of Dr. David Michaels, who was head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under former President Barack Obama.

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"That means letting the science guide us," said Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity Association. "If we don’t do that, the entire industry will suffer."

Broadway's ordinarily crowded theaters grossed $1.8 billion last season, attracting a record 15 million people, and closing them inflicted widespread financial pain.

The cast of Broadway's "Girl From The North Country" performs on February 25, 2020 on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

As the union sees it, having the virus "under control" means having few cases in the area as well as establishing the infrastructure for contact tracing.

Association members also want fast and accurate testing to be readily available so people who need to be isolated can be identified.

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The cast of Broadway's "Moulin Rouge" performs live on "Good Morning America," Tuesday, February 18, 2020 on ABC. (Photo by Paula Lobo/ABC via Getty Images)

Auditions, rehearsals, performances and stage management may also need to change, and venues may need alterations to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

While the guidelines lay the groundwork for a safe reopening, McColl says the effort is far from over.

"We intend to build out protocols that can be used by our employers and all of our colleagues to ensure that everyone who works in the theatre has the safest workplace possible," she said.

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Broadway theaters closed on March 12, knocking out all shows — including 16 that were still scheduled to open — and postponing indefinitely the Tony Awards schedule.

Producers, citing health and city authorities, have extended the shutdown through at least June 7.

When Broadway does reopen, it will have to depend more on New Yorkers, since tourism accounted for 65 percent of sales during the 2018–2019 season and the number of city visitors will likely dip.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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