When the coronavirus first struck, Broadway theaters were among the first establishments to acknowledge that shutdowns and staff furloughs would have to occur in droves. As the months dragged on, even surefire hits like Frozen and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf were canceled permanently, and planned productions such as Plaza Suite and a bio-musical about Michael Jackson were postponed to spring 2021 at the earliest. However, there was still tentative hope that social-distancing theater could go on later this year. Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed by Monday’s announcement from the Broadway League that all Broadway performances in New York City will be suspended through the remainder of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
What this means for the present is that the Broadway League is continuing to develop safety measures like screenings, sanitizing techniques and backstage protocol so that productions can eventually be put on for audiences safely. Returning productions are expected to resume over a series of rolling dates early next year, and tickets for performances in the fall and winter of 2021 will be made available for purchase in the next few weeks. However, for theater diehards, the impossibility of seeing a Broadway show in 2020 must certainly be a blow.
“The Broadway experience can be deeply personal but it is also, crucially, communal,” Thomas Schumacher, the Chairman of the Board of The Broadway League, said in a statement. “The alchemy of 1000 strangers bonding into a single audience fueling each performer on stage and behind the scenes will be possible again when Broadway theaters can safely host full houses.” Of course, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City has also canceled all of its fall performances, so it’s not like the necessary absence of communal Broadway theater is totally unexpected, but that doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing. Even though online galas and live-streamed performances have become popular during the pandemic, you can’t replicate or replace the feeling of taking in a show from the front row.