Broadway audiences will need proof of vaccination and masks

The New York Times
New York, United StatesWritten By: Michael Paulson © 2021 The New York Times CompanyUpdated: Jul 30, 2021, 11:58 PM IST


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This policy announced just days before the first Broadway play in over 16 months begins performances, allows children who are not vaccinated to attend performances if they are tested for the virus.

Broadway’s theatre owners and operators, citing the ongoing dangers of the coronavirus pandemic, said Friday that they have decided to require that theatregoers be vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks in order to attend a performance.

The policy announced just days before the first Broadway play in more than 16 months is to start performances, allows children ineligible for vaccination to attend shows if tested for the virus. But some performing arts venues in New York say they will go even further: The Metropolitan Opera, which hopes to reopen in late September, and Carnegie Hall, which is planning to reopen in October, are planning not only to require vaccinations but also to bar children younger than 12 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

The new vaccination requirements for visitors to New York’s most prominent performing arts venues come as the highly contagious delta variant has caused COVID-19 cases to rise, leading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that vaccinated Americans in virus hot spots resume wearing masks indoors. Several major businesses, local governments and the federal government have recently decided to require their employees to get vaccinated or submit to frequent testing.

The Broadway rules, which will be in place at least through October and apply to all 41 Broadway theatres, require that audiences wear masks, except when eating or drinking.

The Broadway vaccination mandate will apply not only to audiences but also to performers, backstage crew and theatre staff. There will be limited exceptions: “people with a medical condition or closely held religious belief that prevents vaccination,” as well as children younger than 12, can attend with proof of a recent negative coronavirus test.

A vaccine mandate is already in place for Bruce Springsteen’s concert-show, which began performances in June, and for “Pass Over,” the new play that plans to start performances Aug. 4. The new rules will affect all of the shows that follow; 27, including many of the blockbuster musicals, plan to get underway in September and October, starting with “Hadestown” and “Waitress” on Sept. 2.

“We have said from day one that we want our casts, our crews and our audiences to be safe, and we believe that this is a precaution to ensure that,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League. “We’re doing everything we can to open safely and protect everyone.”

Deciding what to do about young children has proved particularly vexing, given that no vaccine has yet been approved for pediatric use. Although Broadway, which has a number of shows that depend on ticket buying by families with children, has decided to allow those younger than 12 to attend if tested, the Met Opera, which draws fewer young children to most of its productions, is taking a more restrictive approach.

“Children under the age of 12, for whom there is no currently available vaccine, are not permitted to enter the Met regardless of the vaccination status of their guardian,” the company declares on its website.

“Obviously, it’s painful to me personally and to the company not to have young people coming into the theater,” said Peter Gelb, general manager of the Met, who said that the company’s vaccination policies were designed to protect its roughly 3,000 employees and to make audiences feel comfortable about coming back and sitting in close quarters. The Met is also requiring all visiting artists and the members of its orchestra and chorus, as well as its staff, to be vaccinated.

Barring children younger than 12, for now, had been a difficult decision, Gelb said: “They are our future audience.”

Gelb said that he hoped children would become eligible for vaccines by December when the Met is planning two holiday presentations aimed at families and children: the company’s shortened, English-language version of “The Magic Flute,” and “Cinderella,” an English-language adaptation of Massenet’s “Cendrillon.”

Both Broadway and the Met are planning to open at full capacity, meaning no social distancing, and the Met says that masks will be optional. Broadway theatres range in size from 600-1,900 seats, while the Met can seat 3,800.

Broadway will provide additional safety measures backstage. An agreement announced Thursday between the Broadway League, a trade association representing producers as well as theatre owners, and Actors’ Equity Association, the labour union representing performers and stage managers, requires weekly testing for employees, as well as the vaccine mandate.

The tough new rules for audiences are not entirely a surprise. “Springsteen on Broadway” and “Pass Over” have mandated audience vaccination, and Disney Theatrical Productions, which produces “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” on Broadway, required proof of vaccination by attendees at a four-night concert run this month at the New Amsterdam Theater. (Disney allowed those younger than 12 to enter if accompanied by a vaccinated adult.)

There are some venues staging work in New York without requiring vaccinations, but others have implemented mandates, including Madison Square Garden, which in June required vaccination for patrons at a Foo Fighters concert. The Park Avenue Armory, which had accepted proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for its first dance show this summer, has been getting stricter; all attendees must be fully vaccinated for its next show, a new work by choreographer Bill T. Jones called “Deep Blue Sea” that is scheduled to start performances in September.

Broadway theatres are especially high-visibility and especially challenging since they draw audiences of all ages and from all over the world to sit side by side in tightly packed buildings with small lobbies and bathrooms and cramped backstage areas. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York had suggested in May that Broadway should consider a vaccination mandate, but some producers had hoped to avoid such a step, fearing that it could dampen attendance at a time when tourism is down and consumer readiness to return to theatergoing remains uncertain. The recent rise in transmission persuaded the industry’s leadership to set aside those concerns and embrace the vaccination mandate, at least for the next few months.

For those who have already purchased tickets and are unwilling or unable to comply with the new policies, there are likely to be options: Most shows have adopted liberal refund and exchange policies for the fall.

The League said that in September it would reassess safety protocols for performances in November and beyond.