Theaters During COVID-19
Updated: Sep 18, 2022
By Shira Dorff and Avital Eisenstadt Uram
During COVID-19, many of our beloved hangout spaces have been closed, including theaters. Both Broadway and movie theaters all across America are struggling to stay in business during the pandemic. New shows like MJ, a musical about Michael Jackson, and the Music Man starring Hugh Jackson and Sutton Foster probably won't make the stage until the fall of 2021.
All Broadway theaters shut down on March 12, 2020. Broadway didn’t shut down for the 1918 flu, nor did it shut down for 9/11, but it has closed for COVID-19. Broadway brings in a lot of New York’s tourism revenue, and not just because of the shows. It also helps the shops around Times Square make money. Without Broadway, the stores' sales are nowhere near where they would be if Broadway was open.
Broadway is hoping to reopen in the summer of 2021, but will most likely not open until the fall of 2021, depending on the status of the pandemic. Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, which represents producers and theater owners, said about the reopening of Broadway, “That’s the question of the hour and the day and the month and the year, because we truly don’t know. Certainly, a lot of shows are making their plans, and some think we will open in the summer, and I hope they are right. But I think people’s bets are the fall of next year.”
She also said, “There has to be a medical or scientific change. We’re hoping for complete reliability of rapid testing, combined with other medical or scientific enhancements for the audience and the cast and crew. Many productions are being tested which are promising, and a combination of those would bring us back. And yes, we’d love a vaccine.” Some Broadway actors are already being tested daily. However, the nature of Broadway theaters makes it hard for them to reopen; the closeness of the seats and the tightness of backstage makes it hard to observe social distancing.
Although Broadway is all the way in New York City, students still miss going to the theater. “If I don’t get to see a Broadway show again, I will literally cry,” says Ariella ‘26. There is something special about going to see a live show; you can’t get the connection that is made between the actors and audiences anywhere else.
Not only is Broadway struggling but movie theaters are having a hard time opening during the pandemic. On October 8, Regal, the second-largest film exhibitor in the U.S., closed 536 theaters, with no opening date in sight. Other big theaters, such as AMC and Cinemark, are also having issues, though they are not closing. AMC Theatres said that it may go bankrupt by 2021, unless more customers buy tickets or it finds new ways to borrow money. Most of the movie theaters are closing temporarily, but if people don’t want to go back to movie theaters after the pandemic then that might become permanent. We talked to a few Barrack Hebrew Academy students to see if people still wanted to go back.
Do you miss going to theaters?
A sixth grader said that she missed watching movies with her friends. A seventh grader said that he was excited to go to the movies, and watching a movie at home is different than being in a theater. A Barrack mom said, “There is something special about being at a movie theater: Eating the popcorn and candy, laughing along with the audience, and not feeling like you should fold laundry while watching a movie.” Five out of the five people we interviewed said that they missed eating snacks and watching movies with their friends at theaters.
Did you go to a drive-in movie theater or do anything creative over the summer to watch movies?
A sixth grader went to her cousin’s birthday party and watched a movie on a screen outside in the backyard. One person went to a drive-in concert. Ariella ‘26 went to a Harry Potter drive-in movie, which she said was really fun, but kind of uncomfortable.
At what stage of COVID-19 would you go back to movie theaters or Broadway?
A sixth grader said that she’d be more comfortable if there was a limit of people and marked-off seats. Most people said they would go back when COVID cases are low, under 20 or so cases a day, or when a vaccine gets out.
Movie theaters are not just good for watching movies, but are also important in our economy. There are so many different jobs that go into making the movie theaters function. For example, managing theaters is a career for some people, and teenagers and others work at concession stands. There is something for everyone at the movies: great entertainment for all ages, jobs for different people, and that magic in the air when you walk into the theater.
However, just because theaters are closed doesn’t mean that people should miss out on seeing their favorite actors perform. Broadway actors such as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Laura Benanti have released videos of themselves singing their favorite songs. Lin-Manuel Miranda released an unheard song from when he was first writing Hamilton. The Philadelphia Orchestra has performed online concerts. 2020 is a year where almost everything has been taken away from us, but it’s also a year of adaptation. We must learn that not everything we do right now will be perfect, but that we are all doing our best to deal with what we have. This is a time for learning and coming together. Whether it’s watching a movie with friends or seeing an online play, at least we’re not stuck in the 1960s where there was no Netflix or Zoom.