New York City’s Broadway and London’s West End may not reopen until at least early next year because it will be highly difficult to enact social distancing procedures to keep theatergoers, performers and staff safe, legendary theater producer Cameron Mackintosh predicted Sunday.
“The truth is, until social distancing doesn’t exist anymore, we can’t even plan to reopen,” Mackintosh, who produced “Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats” and “Les Misérables,” said in a BBC radio interview. “We will be back, but we need time to get back. If we don’t hear [about lockdowns lifting] in a few weeks, I think the truth is we won’t be able to come back until early next year. I think that’s quite clear. And the longer it is until we can say social distancing is gone, the longer it’ll be for the theater to come back.”
In New York, theaters and stage productions will remain dark until at least June 7, and in London, until at least May 31. Theater officials will likely have to extend those closures, since lawmakers in both cities, hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, seem unlikely to allow large events to resume anytime soon.
But even if other businesses and cultural institutions return sooner, Mackintosh predicted that theaters “are going to be the last to go back,” he said, given that the theater’s close quarters are integral to creating the intimate nature of the theater experience.
On both sides of the Atlantic, scores of theater performers and staff are out of work and have launched crowdfunding and charity initiatives to raise money. In the U.S., theater workers and other artists, creators and arts and culture organizations have called for federal aid to be included in future economic stimulus legislation.
UPDATE: May 5 — On Tuesday, London’s West End extended its closures through June 28.