On March 12, 2020, after New York state and city leaders placed coronavirus-related restrictions on gatherings of more than 500 people, the Broadway theater district announces it will go dark for an unprecedented 32 days. The longest shutdown for the artistic mainstay in its history, the closure would end up being extended to the end of May 2021, adding up to billions in tourism losses.
High risk factors for theaters, according to The New York Times, included a typically older audience, often rife with tourists, along with cramped seating and an inability to practice social distancing in those spaces.
“There’s no such thing as social distancing for actors—our jobs sometimes require that we go to work and kiss our colleagues eight times a week,” actress Kate Shindle, president of the Actors’ Equity Association labor union told the newspaper. “Although nobody wanted to close the theaters, at the same time people were starting to be scared to work, and with good reason.”
Thirty-one productions were showing on Broadway when the ban took effect, and a handful, including Disney’s musical version of Frozen and Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, were closed permanently due to the closure.
Previously, the longest the district was dark was 25 days in 1975 during a musicians’ strike. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Broadway was shuttered for two business days.
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