Written by: Gaia Zol, Italy
The pandemic didn’t spare any industry. In 2020, every sector of the entertainment world lost revenue. From Hollywood to the tiny theater in Nebraska, no one was immune. Worldwide and in the U.S, workers lost their jobs while the industry tried to figure out how to survive Covid-19.
Hence the resurgence of drive-in cinemas, where social distancing is a part of the deal. Online concerts tried to keep the music industry afloat and artists launched entire pandemic albums online, like Sam Smith and his 2020 album “Love Goes.” Plus the boom of streaming platforms, with Netflix reporting a 24 percent increase in revenue.
While Hollywood and musicians managed to push their way through the pandemic, two industries had it harder. Overlooked by the media, the world of performing arts and Broadway tried to find a way to survive Covid-19.
It's just life, so keep dancing through.
Broadway shut down in March 2020 and it reopened at the beginning of September 2021. Three iconic musicals welcomed back the audience with masks and safety protocols. “The Lion King," "Hamilton,” and "Wicked” inaugurated a new era in theaters and Broadway.
“It's such a big step forward," said Victoria Bailey, executive director of the nonprofit Theatre Development Fund to the AP, “to get it open is such a symbol to people that theater is coming back."
Theater is coming back, although not at full capacity and still with the threat of the Delta variant. While the numbers for 2020 aren’t available yet, during the 2018-2019 season, Broadway reported a gross revenue of $1,8 billion with over 14 million viewers. When Covid-19 hit, the entire industry felt the wave New York City felt the tsunami. Musicals don’t just keep venues afloat. They keep Times Square alive.
Broadway tourists spend $1.8 billion on food and drinks, plus $2.2 billion in accommodation. Musical goers stay for an average of six days and they spend over $1 million in shopping. Tourists who come from other countries or U.S states accounted for 65 percent of tickets’ sales, bringing $11.5 billion to the local economy. Not anymore.
Broadway’s workers (from artists to janitors) couldn’t work remotely. Many left the city altogether, like Don Darryl Rivera, who has been playing in the musical “Aladdin” since 2014. When the pandemic hit, Rivera went back to New Jersey to pursue his real estate license.
“Broadway was a way of life for a lot of us," said Rivera to CBS News, “some people just fight their entire career to get to Broadway. When they put the ghost light out, they lock the doors and nobody is allowed in the theater, we don't know what to do."
All Together Now
From the big stages of New York City to local venues; theaters suffered everywhere. Vaccinations are shaping a new reality. Plays and concerts have restarted in San Antonio, operas in Italy, and plays in London. Despite limited capacity and mandatory masks, people are once again allowed in theaters.
When the Teatro La Scala in Milan announced its 2021-2022 opera season, the tickets got sold out in hours. On December the 7th, people will finally see a live opera, the “Macbeth,” and some even paid up to $3200. At the Woodlawn Theatre in San Antonio, Texas, the first show after the pandemic, “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan” was also sold out.
Now, the rest of the world is ready to catch on and the global initiative “All Together Now” is the final push for the entertainment industry. Launched by the Music Theater International (MTI), this global event will involve over 2500 venues, 50 states, and 40 countries from November 12-15. Free-of-charge and 100 percent online. The association expects over 5000 performances and one million viewers.
“All Together Now! is about bringing people back to the theatre, whether as audience members or cast, crew and musicians,” said MTI’s Chief Operating Officer John Prignano.
Theater and Broadway beyond Covid-19
Can venues really bring back people back to their seats? To ensure safety, these venues are exploiting the latest technology, like improved ventilation with 100 percent fresh air output. Safety is a concern for many viewers, who are unsure about going back to theaters. So, one trend of the entertainment industry isn’t expected to go away.
While online shows aren’t feasible for musicals, they have been working for theater plays. In London, half of the stage venues are still offering online shows, despite the country’s loose Covid-19 rules. This way, the theaters secure income, in the event of a new virus peak. Thanks to virtual performances, London’s venues reached a broader (and global) audience.
Theaters are using 3D technology and they allow viewers to switch cameras and enjoy different perspectives. The innovation of visual performance is participation. People can be a part of the show. London’s Old Vic theater reported that more than 100,000 people from 90 countries have bought online tickets. Online, there are no waiting times and lines.
In the DC metro area, venues are still online, despite the reopenings. Why? Because videos can be saved and people from all over the world can enjoy the performances of the American Shakespeare Theater. Between online shows and new Broadway performances, the entertainment industry is ready to put Covid-19 in the rearview mirror. Survival isn’t enough anymore.
Or, as Stephen Schwartz wrote in the Wicked musical, “It's just life, so keep dancing through.”