By: David Sheward
April 19, 2020: The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and its effect on the theater world will be felt for months and possibly years. Though parts of the country have begun making moves to “reopen” their economies and ease restrictions, large public gatherings such as concerts, sporting events, and live theater, will likely be the last elements to return to normal. All Broadway theaters are closed until at least June 7.
But in a recent interview with Deadline, Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin averred that the date was never a definite marker for reopening. “We just said we were exchanging and refunding tickets up to June 7,” she clarified. There is no certain date for reopening Broadway and St. Martin went on to say that September or later was a more realistic goal. First, it would be necessary to get permission from Governor Andrew Cuomo, then at least additional six weeks would be needed to prepare. Meanwhile, the mayor of Los Angeles and the governor of Ohio have stated there will probably not be live entertainment in their respective jurisdictions until at least 2021. The renewal of Broadway and other performing venues depends on testing and vaccines. Without preventive treatment for the highly contagious coronavirus, public events with more than 10 people would be dangerous. Even as the number of infections and hospital admissions decreases, there is still a risk there could be a resurgence of cases and deaths.
A vaccine is several months and possibly years away, so under what scenario would going to the theater with thousands of potential carriers be considered safe? Distance seating, temperature checks at the entrances, mandatory wearing of masks and gloves, issuing of badges with negative-virus status? And what about the actors? How would they be able to kiss, hug, fight, kick in a chorus line?
A handful of Broadway productions have announced their closings or postponements, but now Off-Broadway has felt the lockdown’s effects into the summer. The Public Theater has announced the cancellation of its annual summer Shakespeare season at the Delacorte and all programming at the Public Theater through Aug. 31. This will be the first time since 1962 NYC has not enjoyed free theater in Central Park. The Public joins a growing number of companies offering streamed stagings with a new Apple family play by Richard Nelson. The work–the title has not yet been revealed–will be shown online on April 29. The fictional Apple family from upstate New York who have been featured in four previous Nelson plays, will be sheltering in different locations and meeting on Zoom. The previous Apple plays–That Hopey Changey Thing, Sweet and Sad, Sorry, and Regular Singing–each take place on an actual night of political significance. Nelson’s subsequent set of three plays about the Gabriels, another family in the same town, are available for viewing on Channel 13’s website.
The British and Canadians are way ahead of Americans in terms of streaming theater online for free. The Stratford Festival of Ontario will begin offering videotaped editions are their previous productions starting April 23. Each play will be available for three weeks. First up is King Lear starring Colm Feore, followed by Coriolanus (April 30-May 21), one of the best Shakespearean renditions I have ever seen. Next is Macbeth (May 7-28), The Tempest (May 14-June 4), Timon of Athens (May 21-June 11), Love’s Labour’s Lost (May 28-June 18), Hamlet (June 4-25), King John (June 11-July 2), Pericles (June 18-July 9), Antony and Cleopatra (June 25-July 16), Romeo and Juliet (July 2-23), and The Taming of the Shrew (July 9-30).
Speaking of the Bard, Shakespeare’s Globe uploads a new show on YouTube every two weeks. The current feature is Romeo and Juliet. Also on YouTube, NT Live has its adaptation of Treasure Island, followed by a modern take on Twelfth Night. If you prefer contemporary fare, on its website, the Hampstead Theater offers Tiger Country (April 20-26), written and directed by Nina Raine, focusing on a team of doctors in a London hospital, and #AIWW: The Arrest of Ai Wei Wei (April 27-May 3), Howard Brenton’s play about the real-life Chinese artist’s ordeal with his government.
On an optimistic note, casting was announced for ART’s upcoming non-traditional, gender-inclusive revival of 1776 which is still committed to playing ART’s Boston home stage during its 2020-21 season and on Broadway in a Roundabout Theater in the spring of 2021. Directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus (Pippin), the cast is led by Crystal Lucas-Perry as John Adams, Tony nominee Elizabeth A. Davis (Once) as Thomas Jefferson, and Patrena Murray as Benjamin Franklin. The company has been workshopping on Zoom.