Many of Broadway’s theater owners have decided to stop checking the vaccination status of ticket holders after April 30, but all will continue to require that audience members wear masks inside theaters through at least May 31.
The Broadway League, a trade association, announced the change on Friday. The decision was made by the owners and operators of Broadway’s 41 theaters, who had initially decided to require vaccines and masks last summer, before the city imposed its own mandates. The theater owners — six commercial and four nonprofit entities — have been periodically reconsidering the protocols ever since.
They announced the decision as many governments and businesses nationwide have been loosening restrictions, but with cases rising in New York City and the virus forcing several Broadway shows to cancel performances in recent days.
“Since resuming performances last fall, over five million attendees have seen a Broadway show, and the safety and security of our cast, crew, and audience has been our top priority,” Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League, said in a statement. “Our intention is that by maintaining strict audience masking through at least the month of May, we will continue that track record of safety for all. And of course, we urge everyone to get vaccinated.”
Until now, the theaters had acted together on the protocols, saying they were concerned that varied policies could confuse theatergoers. But they no longer have a consensus: The biggest commercial landlord on Broadway opted to drop the vaccine mandate, while two nonprofits said they would keep it and another said it was still deciding what to do.
The League did not specify which theaters would stop requiring proof of vaccination, but the Shubert Organization, which with 17 theaters is by far Broadway’s biggest landlord, said Friday that it would stop seeking proof of vaccination as of May 1. And Disney Theatrical Productions, which operates the New Amsterdam Theater, said that it would do the same at “Aladdin,” the musical running there.
Broadway’s other commercial theater operators — the Nederlander Organization, Jujamcyn Theaters, the Ambassador Theater Group and Circle in the Square, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Lincoln Center Theater, a nonprofit which runs one Broadway house, the 1,080-seat Vivian Beaumont Theater, said that it would keep its vaccine requirement in place. The Roundabout Theater Company, a nonprofit with three Broadway houses, said it would continue to require proof of vaccination at its production of “Birthday Candles,” which is scheduled to run through May 29, but that it would allow the commercial producers renting its other theaters to decide what protocols to use.
Another nonprofit, Manhattan Theater Club, said it would decide next week whether to keep the requirement in place at the Broadway house it operates, the 650-seat Samuel J. Friedman Theater. The other nonprofit with a Broadway house, Second Stage Theater, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vaccination and masking requirements, long gone in many parts of the country, have been falling away in New York City; on March 7, the city dropped rules requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining at restaurants, for example. Other settings, including movie theaters as well as some comedy, sports and concert venues, have opted to drop masking requirements. Masks are still required on subways and buses, as well as at indoor subway stations, but anecdotal evidence suggests compliance has been dropping.
Virus cases have recently been rising in New York City, but the number of new cases remains well below the levels at the peak of the Omicron surge.
Broadway has decided to preserve the masking requirement, given the size of its audiences (seating capacity ranges from 585 at the Hayes, where “Take Me Out” is playing, to 1,926 at the Gershwin, which houses “Wicked”), the length of its shows (the longest, at three and a half hours, is “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”), the tightly packed seats (many of the theaters were built a century ago), and the makeup of its audience (traditionally, 65 percent tourists, although there are more locals now given the pandemic’s impact on travel).
Theater owners say audiences have mostly embraced the requirements — there have been occasional disputes over mask wearing, but they have been far less common than on airplanes, for example, and for the most part patrons seem to have accepted the protocols.
Dropping vaccination verification will save producers money: Paying workers to check proof of vaccination has been one of several Covid safety measures that have driven up running costs for Broadway shows.
Some New York City performing arts institutions have stuck with more restrictive audience protocols. The Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall, for example, continue to require proof of vaccination (but have dropped requirements for proof of a booster shot) and masking.
The coronavirus pandemic, which in March 2020 led to a lengthy shutdown of Broadway theaters, has continued to bedevil the industry since theaters began to reopen last summer. In December, the arrival of the Omicron variant prompted multiple shows to cancel performances; this month, the arrival of the BA. 2 subvariant forced four shows to cancel performances after stars including Daniel Craig, Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker tested positive.
The night before the new protocols were announced, Sam Gold, the director of a new production of “Macbeth” starring Craig, went onstage as an actor to keep the show going when an actor tested positive, and all the understudies had already been deployed to fill in for others who were out.
The protocol changes announced Friday affect only patrons; vaccination remains a condition of employment for Broadway actors and other theater workers.