After an 18-month COVID-induced shutdown, Broadway hosted its first new musicals of 2021 earlier this week — with some notable changes to operations for public health safety, including mask provisions and a shutdown of concessions to ensure compliance with masking.
Other changes will happen behind the scenes. “The biggest change is going to be more air coming into the buildings and better air,” said Jack Caravanos, clinical professor at NYU School of Global Public Health, in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance Live. “So, quantity and quality of the air coming in [will be improved]. And there are filters that have been installed in almost all the theaters that can capture viral particles. So we'll see some ventilation changes there.”
Different protocols exist for different areas within Broadway itself, Carvanos said. For example, smaller areas like the dressing room may require different ventilation than open areas like the front of the house.
Another significant change that may persist past this initial reopening is the cutting of intermissions during productions. “Yes, it's going to be tough,” Carvanos said of the lack of intermission. “The good and bad there, of course, is people won't be mingling and won't be tempted to take off their mask. People will not be using the restrooms which is always a challenge in Broadway theaters, lining up for the restroom. But it will be a learning experience. I think they're going to have to experience this for a couple of months and see where to tweak it.”
As the U.S. enters flu season, worries about a ‘twindemic’ of influenza and the coronavirus have emerged among medical health experts as a primary public health concern.
As a precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, theater-goers are currently not allowed backstage to get Playbills autographed or meet the actors and actresses. While this may remain the rule for the near future, restrictions on the flow of people backstage may change as vaccination rates go up, Carvanos noted.
“So I think that will come with time as the vaccination rates in New York are getting better and better, they are well over 80%,” he said. “So I think that'll slowly get there, hopefully by the spring.”
The costs associated with Broadway’s strict protocols have been nothing to sneeze at. High production costs already make profit margins fairly thin. “So installing even MERV-13 filters, improved fans, and upgrading is very cost prohibitive also,” Carvanos said. “So it's going to be a challenge. But luckily, there's been some financial support by the state and the federal government to help us through this period of transition.”
"Waitress," "Hadestown." "Hamilton," "Wicked," "Chicago," "The Lion King" and "Lackawanna Blues" were among the productions returning on the inaugural night for Broadway musicals.
Ihsaan Fanusie is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @IFanusie.