Coming to Broadway: Vaccinations for New York’s Theater Workers

This post was originally published on NY Times - Theater

Written by: Julia Jacobs and Michael Paulson

Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the city would create a vaccination site for theater workers to try to help Broadway shows reopen by the fall.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said on Thursday that the city plans to open a Covid-19 vaccination site on Broadway, as well as a mobile vaccination unit and pop-up sites specifically for theater industry workers.Jeenah Moon/Reuters

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday that the city plans to create a coronavirus vaccination site on Broadway that will be reserved for theater industry workers, promising to dedicate city resources to help Broadway theaters reopen for live performances in the fall.

At a news conference, Mr. de Blasio said that in addition to the Broadway vaccination site, there would be a mobile vaccination unit to serve theater workers beyond Broadway. The sites will be staffed by theater workers, many of whom have been relying on unemployment insurance since Broadway shut down over a year ago.

“This is going to be a year to turn things around,” Mr. de Blasio said. “It’s time to raise the curtain and bring Broadway back.”

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The city’s plans will not change the state’s rules around vaccine eligibility, which currently allow residents older than 50 to sign up for shots, as well as those in certain job categories and with certain health conditions. Mr. de Blasio said that the sites would be set up over the next four weeks or so and that vaccination eligibility is expected to be much more broad by then.

“We want to get the Broadway community involved, and the Off Broadway community, in vaccinating their own folks, by definition a very high percentage of whom are eligible right now,” he said. “We also know that in just a matter of four or five weeks, at latest, everyone will be eligible. I won’t be surprised if that even is sooner.”

There will also be pop-up coronavirus testing sites located at or nearby Broadway and Off Broadway theaters to make sure that there is ample testing available as the theater industry tries to get back on its feet. The city will be assisting Broadway theaters in developing plans to manage crowds as they flow in and out of venues.

This month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that arts, entertainment and events venues can reopen April 2 at 33 percent capacity, with a limit of 100 people indoors or 200 people outdoors, and higher limits if patrons show they have tested negative for the coronavirus. But Broadway producers say it is not economically feasible to run commercial productions at reduced capacity, and although there are likely to be some special events inside theaters this spring and summer, full-scale plays and musicals are not likely to open until after Labor Day.

In the months leading up to a full revival, there will be a period of preparation needed to mount plays and musicals, including rehearsals and stage maintenance, which will involve actors and stagehands returning to work in close quarters. That period will require ample testing accessibility, Mr. de Blasio said.

Mr. de Blasio urged the state to create clear guidelines for the theater industry around mask usage, as well as on how audience members can prove they were vaccinated or received a negative coronavirus test result before a performance. He did not mention a similar effort for other performing arts workers outside the theater industry. The mayor’s office said that once eligibility rules are expanded, this newly announced vaccination site would not turn away workers in the performing arts industry who are outside the theater sector.

Some public officials are anxious about the revival of arts and entertainment next week and are calling for more caution. On Wednesday, Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, urged Mr. Cuomo in a news conference to hold off on the planned reopenings — which will include theaters, music venues and comedy clubs — citing his concern for the spread of the virus variants. New York and New Jersey currently have the highest per capita rates of Covid-19 cases in the country, averaging 39 and 47 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week, respectively.

“We have to scale back the rush to reopen,” Mr. Williams said. “One of the side effects of rushing to reopening is that it makes people feel safe to start doing things again.”

Mr. de Blasio was joined at the virtual news conference by two Broadway performers, André De Shields, a Tony winner for “Hadestown,” and Telly Leung, whose roles have included starring in “Aladdin.” Both of them welcomed the mayor’s support.

“We’re ready, we’ve stayed in shape, our voices are strong,” Mr. De Shields said. “All we need is a stage.”

Mr. Leung said reopening would require safety measures for performers and audience members.

“This pandemic has hit our industry particularly hard,” he said. “We all have a long way to go as a community, but I really do think that today is a really good first step in our healing.”

The Broadway League, which represents theater owners and producers, and Actors’ Equity, the labor union representing 51,000 stage actors and stage managers around the country, welcomed the mayor’s announcement. The union, which has barred its members from working in all but a few dozen productions before live audiences during the past year, has been eager to see its members vaccinated to make the return to the stage safer.

Mary McColl, the union’s executive director, said in a statement that the mayor understood that theater workers could not socially distance, making testing and vaccine availability “critical for maintaining a safe workplace.”

“Our community has suffered catastrophic losses,” the Broadway League said in a statement, “and the sooner we can return to share our stories in a safe and secure way, the better our city will be.”

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