As New York Reopens, Seeks Culture to Lead


Broadway plans to begin performances of at least three dozen shows before the end of the year, but producers don’t know if there will be enough tourists, often two-thirds of the audience, to support them all.

The Metropolitan Opera is planning a comeback in September, but only if its musicians agree to pay the cuts.

And New York’s lauded nightlife scene – the dance clubs and lively venues that make the city famous for never sleeping – has been hampered by the slow and clunky delivery of a federal aid program that mistakenly proclaimed some of the city’s best-known nightclub impresarios. be dead

The return of arts and entertainment is crucial to New York’s economy, and not just because it was a major industry that employed approximately 93,500 people before the pandemic and paid them $7.4 billion in salaries. according to the state inspectorate. Culture is also part of New York City’s lifeblood – a magnet that will play an important role for visitors and residents alike if the city remains vital in an age when stores are struggling with e-commerce, the convenience of remote working is making businesses rethink the need to stay within. central business districts and exurbs explode.

“What is a city without social, cultural and creative synergies?” Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, earlier this year an address on the importance of art for the recovery of the city. “New York is not New York without Broadway. And with Zoom, many people have learned that they can do business from anywhere. Combine that with rising crime and homelessness and we have a national urban crisis.”

And Mayor Bill de Blasio — appearing indifferent to art early in his tenure – became a cultural cheerleader in the last days of his rule and became a $25 million program to get artists back to work, create Broadway vaccine site and a “planning for theater industry workers”homecoming concert” in Central Park next monthg Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Hudson and Paul Simon to herald the return of the city.

Eli Dvorkin, editor-in-chief and policy director Urban Future Center“In my view, there won’t be a strong recovery for New York City without the performing arts leading the way,” he said. People tend to come here because of the cultural life of the city,” he said.

There are signs of hope everywhere as vaccinated New Yorkers resurface this summer. Destinations like the Whitney and Brooklyn Museum are still crowded, although timed reservations are required. Bruce Springsteen He plays to sold-out crowds on Broadway and Foo Fighters bring the rock back to Madison Square Garden.

Shakespeare in the Park and Harlem Classical Theater they stage contemporary adaptations of classic plays in city parks. Park Avenue Armory, Brooklyn Academy of Musicc and an array commercial off Broadway theaters stage productions indoors and new open air amphitheater It draws crowds for the shows on Little Island, new Hudson River place.

Haley Gibbs, 25, an administrative assistant living in Brooklyn, said she felt the city’s pulse beating as she waited to attend.drunk Shakespeare”An Off Off Broadway Fixture Their performances in Midtown resumed.

“I feel like it’s our soul that’s been given back to us somehow,” Gibbs said, “which is super dramatic, but is is something like that.”

But some of the biggest tests for the city’s cultural scene lie ahead.

Squatting on the ground – hacking staff, hacking programming – turned out to be a brutal but effective survival strategy. art workers facing record unemploymentand some have not yet returned to business, but many businesses and organizations have been able to cut costs and wait until it is safe to reopen. Now that it’s time to rehire and spend, many cultural leaders are worried: Can they be successful with fewer tourists and commuters? How much will security protocols cost? Will donors mobilized during the emergency stay here for a less glamorous period of rebuilding?

“Next year may be our most financially challenging year,” said Bernie Telsey, one of the three artistic directors. MM Theater, an Off Broadway nonprofit. “In many ways, it’s like a start-up now – not just turning on the lights. Everything is a little unclear. It’s like starting all over again.”

The autumn season is shaping up to be a big test. “Springsteen on Broadway” started last month, but the rest of Broadway has yet to go: the first post-closure play, a drama about two existentially trapped Black menpass over” will begin performances on August 4, the first musicals target September, starting with “Hadestown” and “Waitress”, followed by war horses such as “The Lion King”, “Chicago”, “Wicked” and “Wicked”. Hamilton.”

The real question is whether there will be enough theater audiences to support all these performances. Tourism is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in the coming days, although there are signs that some visitors are returning to the city. four years. As such, some of the returning Broadway shows will initially start with reduced schedules – performing fewer than the traditional eight shows per week as producers measure ticket demand.

and “Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildIt will be a big-budget, Tony-winning play that was staged in two parts before the pandemic. download to one show When he returned to Broadway on November 12; Its producers spoke of the “business challenges faced by the theater and tourism industries resulting from the global shutdowns.”

“Tina – The Tina Turner Musical” executive producer Tali Pelman said, “What we got to do is go all Broadway in a single season that has never been done before.”

Safety protocols are changing rapidly as more people are vaccinated, but there is still concern about moving too fast. In Australia, reopening shows periodically stopped by deadlocksWhile in the UK, there were several shows had to cancel performances comply isolation protocols as some see overly restrictive.

“Basically, our health is at stake,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of “Hamilton,” who plans to resume their performance on Broadway on September 14. “You get this wrong and we open too early. , and then we go up again and close again – it’s almost unthinkable.”

Some hosts worry that with fewer tourists, arts establishments will fight each other for the attention of New Yorkers and locals.

“There’s going to be a lot of competition for a smaller audience in the beginning, and it’s scary,” said Todd Haimes, artistic director of the nonprofit Roundabout Theater Company, which operates three theaters on Broadway and two Off-Broadway theaters.

Another upcoming challenge: public safety concerns. During the shooting events in Times Square, bystanders were hit by stray bullets. May and JuneMayor de Blasio promise additional officers To protect and secure the public in the tourist and theater busy neighborhood.

The city’s tourism organization, NYC & Company, $30 million marketing campaign to attract visitors back to the city. The Broadway League, a trade organization representing producers and theater owners, is planning its own campaign. Tony Awards planning A special fall on CBS will focus on performances to increase ticket sales. And backlinks find their way into advertising: “We’ve been waiting for you,” “Wicked” declares in a direct mail piece.

The economic risks for the city are high. Broadway shows employ actors, singers, dancers, and attendants, as well as indirectly waiters, bartenders, hotel clerks, and taxi drivers, who then spend some of their salaries on goods and services. The Broadway League says that during the 2018-2019 season, Broadway generated $14.7 billion in economic activity and supported 96,900 jobs, taking into account direct and indirect spending by tourists, which cite as a major reason to visit the city.

“We’ve been through a really tough time and now you have this new variant, which is a bit scary, but I still hope we’re on the right track,” said company co-owner Shane Hathaway. Hang on, a Restaurant Row bar and website “Do you miss the Performing Arts? So are we doing it!!” Hathaway said, “We’re already seeing a lot more tourists than last year,” and “Hopefully we’ll continue.”

Attendance at the tourist-bound Met Museum has returned, but not quite: it is now open five days a week and attracts 10,000 people many days, while before the pandemic it was open seven days a week, averaging 14,000 daily visitors. . Plus: Now most visitors are local and don’t have to pay entrance fees; Met continues the project $150 million lost in revenue due to the pandemic.

If the Met, the nation’s largest museum, is in trouble, it means smaller arts institutions, especially those outside of Manhattan, which have less foot traffic and fewer large donors, suffer more. Brooklyn Academy of Musicfor example, it is trying to survive a pandemic where it has lost millions in revenue, its staff is dwindling and it has to raid its foundation to pay bills.

The city’s music scene has faced its own challenges, from the most exclusive bars to nightclubs to the posh Metropolitan Opera.

by study 2400 concert and entertainment venues in New York City, commissioned by the mayor, supported nearly 20,000 jobs in 2016. However, the industry has had a tough time.

Many are waiting to see if they can get help from a $16 billion federal grant fund to protect music clubs, theaters and other live events businesses devastated by the pandemic. However, the launch of the program Indoor Operators Grant The venture has been slow and bumpy. Some owners, including Michael Swier, founder of the Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge in New York City, were initially denied help because the program mistakenly believed they were helping them. was dead.

in another placeLocated in the heart of hipster Brooklyn, the 1,600-seat music and arts space reduced its staff from 120 to 5 when the pandemic hit. after the state lifted restrictions It reopened in June in smaller venues and began hiring some workers, but owners fear it may take a year or two for it to return to profitability.

The club has received help from the federal government in the form of a $4.9 million indoor grant it says will be used to pay off debts, including rent, utilities and loans, and to fix the space and pay staff. “Every dollar will be used to get ourselves out of Covid,” said Dhruv Chopra, one of the venue’s partners.

And the Met Opera is still unsure if it will be able to lift its gilded curtain in September as planned after the longest shutdown in its history. The company, which lost $150 million in revenue during the pandemic, recently made deals to cut the salaries of its choir, soloists and stage performers. The company is now in tense talks with the musicians in its orchestra. those who were put on unpaid leave for about a year. If they fail to reach an agreement, the Met, the largest performing arts organization in the country, risks being part of the first burst of reopening energy.

Some cultural leaders are already looking beyond the decline at the challenge of maintaining ticket demand even after initial enthusiasm for the reopening has faded.

“We have a lot of work to do to let people know we’re open,” said Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Productions, “to let people in comfortably, keep the shows intact, and be successful. get through the holidays and winter.”

Laura Zornosa contributed to the reporting.


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