A number of large, open-plan performing arts venues in NYC, including The Shed, St. Ann’s Warehouse, and Park Avenue Armory, are pushing to be allowed to reopen for socially distant indoor performances. Among the reasons the companies believe they can mount productions safely are their ability to reconfigure seating plans and the lack of commercial necessity as non-profits, unlike the majoriity of Broadway houses that are closed until at least June 2021.
The New York Times reports that BRIC, Harlem Stage, National Black Theatre, and the Perelman Center have joined the three institutions in urging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to allow shows with limited capacity and masked audiences (the de rigueur of theatre operations in the COVID-era). In their request, the coalition pointed to the reopening of other indoor spaces like bowling alleys and museums, where multiple parties are currently permitted.
“We have pivoted to digital, and pivoted and pivoted and pivoted, but until we can safely get audiences into our spaces, we can’t do what it is that we actually do,” said Sade Lythcott, National Black Theatre’s chief executive.
Handling the request is NY Forward, the state’s official reopening advisory committee, which is open to the idea. Steven M. Cohen, the co-chair of the group, said it’s reasonable to assume spaces like the ones in the coalition will open sooner than traditional theatres like those on Broadway.
Already, the committee has approved some performing arts groups re-entering their homes in a very limited capacity without audiences. This fall, unannounced live concerts on the roof of St. Ann’s Warehouse surprised passers-by without welcoming them inside. In addition, rehearsals have started at Park Avenue Armory for Afterwardness by choreographer Bill T. Jones, which will be filmed and streamed, and the Shed reopens its doors October 16 with a new art exhibition.
If they get the go-ahead for indoor live performances, Claudia Rankine’s Help at The Shed is among the works that theatregoers could see. The play was originally created for 19 performers—one Black woman and 18 white men—but has been re-imagined as a monologue (Phillip Youmans has been tapped to record a performance for at-home audiences, as well).