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Theaters Face Difficulties, As Businesses Open Up

FILE - A man in a protective mask walks past a closed theatre after it was announced that Broadway shows will cancel performances due to the coronavirus outbreak in New York, U.S., March 12, 2020. (REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo)
FILE - A man in a protective mask walks past a closed theatre after it was announced that Broadway shows will cancel performances due to the coronavirus outbreak in New York, U.S., March 12, 2020. (REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo)
Theaters Face Difficulties, As Businesses Open Up
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Theaters are expecting difficulties in coming back from coronavirus-related restrictions and closures.

As businesses begin to open around the world, the path forward for theater is unclear. This is especially true for large-scale musicals and dramas.

Live theater, with its high costs and large numbers of people, may not be the same for some time, producers and actors say.

Mary McColl is the executive director of the actors’ labor union Equity in the United States.

Speaking with the Reuters news agency, she described the health concerns of doing live theater.

“When we cry, there are tears, sometimes our noses run. Sometimes when we sing or are yelling, we spit and that lands on other actors, or it might land on the orchestra pit. And we are doing that eight times a week,” she said.

New York City’s Broadway theaters closed in the middle of March. London’s West End theaters followed a few days later. Almost no one expects them to reopen when the current closure period ends on June 7 and June 28, respectively.

Jessica Koravos is president of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group.

“We are very tied to social distancing measures,” she said. “As long as they are still in place, a mainstream return to theater and musical theater, in particular, looks pretty impossible.”

In April, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that only 27 percent of those questioned would go to a theater performance when theaters reopen. Some 51 percent said live theater should not return at all before a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is available.

However, the theater world wants to get going before then.

The U.S. office of Equity has asked a disease control expert to develop guidelines for actors and other people who work on plays.

In addition, people are thinking about what kinds of plays would work best for taking theatrical productions out of traditional spaces.

Brian Moreland is producer of the upcoming Broadway shows “American Buffalo” and “Blue.”

“I don’t think theater will go away. I just think it will be different when it comes back,” he said.

Theaters may be dark, but online rehearsals are continuing.

Broadway producer and investor Brisa Trinchero is hopeful.

She said writers are working on new kinds of theater productions and some companies are looking to do one-person shows.

“We are an industry of creative people,” she said.

Trinchero added that there would likely be an increase in “smaller performance pieces, cabaret” and what she called more intimate things.

Musicals are likely to be the last to come back. Musicals have large casts and crews. They are also more costly.

Shows with one or two actors might work for some. So might a plan to limit theaters to 50 percent capacity.

But for big musicals, “it wouldn’t be possible commercially to survive on those audience levels,” said Koravos.

Even with many issues to resolve, the theatre community is more hopeful than a month ago. It believes that the coronavirus-related restrictions have showed the value of human connection and live performances.

“People are now talking about what it looks like on the other side and three to four weeks ago we weren’t prepared to have this conversation,” Moreland said. “So that makes me very hopeful.”

I’m John Russell.

Jill Serjeant and Alicia Powell reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

spit – v. to expel liquid from your mouth

orchestra pit – n. the space in a theater where an orchestra plays

respectively – adv. separately or individually

mainstream – n. popular or commonplace

poll – n. a public opinion study; an activity in which several or many people are asked a question or a series of questions to get information about what most people think about something

rehearsal – n. an event at which a person or group performs an activity or exercise (such as singing, dancing, or acting) in order to prepare for a public performance

intimate – adj. private and pleasant in a way that let people feel free from tension or pressure

cast – n. the actors taking part in a play or film

capacity – n. the largest number or amount that something can hold

conversation – n. a talk between two or more people