Broadway theaters will be allowed to give up their mask mandate from July 1, the Broadway League announced on Tuesday.
The league described the new policy as an “optional mask” and said it would be re-evaluated monthly.
“Our theater owners watched the protocols, watched the hospital admissions, saw that we had no problems across the country where the tours were mostly unmasked, and decided it was time to give it a try,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League. “This is not an easy decision – there are more people who want to take off their masks than to put them on, but many still want to – and we encourage people who have any concerns to wear their masks.”
St. Martin said that the owners of the theater will continue to meet every week to assess the health situation and that they are open to reintroducing the mandate if necessary. “We’ll see how it goes,” she said.
Broadway has maintained a rather restrictive policy towards the audience since the theaters reopened last summer. Theaters required visitors to show proof of vaccination by April 30, and continued to require visitors to wear masks except while eating and drinking.
Broadway’s public health protocols have taken on a huge role in the performing arts, as many other institutions have taken their signs from major theaters. Broadway theaters imposed a vaccine mandate before New York did the same for restaurants, gyms and other indoor shows, and then kept their rules long after the city stopped demanding them.
Wearing masks has become part of the theatrical experience this season: employees with signs walked the aisles reminding visitors of the request, and reminders to wear masks were added to the usual announcements before the show about turning off cell phones and banning photography. When the theaters first reopened, some did not sell food and drink to avoid interfering with wearing masks; Consumption of refreshing drinks is now a noticeable hole for those who do not like to wear masks.
Some other performing arts spaces, including many Broadway theaters, continue to seek evidence of vaccination and order masks, and public transportation in New York continues to require indoor masks, although compliance is declining. But many other sections of society, including domestic air traffic, have abolished camouflage mandates and the city’s conditions appear to be improving: Mayor Eric Adams said on Tuesday that the city’s Covid-19 warning level had shifted from high to medium.
There are currently 27 plays in 41 Broadway theaters.
Four non-profit organizations that run six houses on Broadway have held mandates for the vaccine longer than commercial owners who run most theaters. But no non-profit organization currently has a Broadway show, and no one plans to continue production on Broadway until after Labor Day.
The theater company Roundabout, which is scheduled to begin performances of reviving “1776” on Broadway in September, plans to evaluate its protocols on a monthly basis, according to spokeswoman Jessica Johnson, who said it was too early to set rules for this fall. The nonprofit continues to maintain a mandate mask for its current shows off Broadway.
Other nonprofits operating on Broadway, which they plan to present in the fall, said it was too early to know what their security protocols would be then.
The public reaction to the policy of option masks was, predictably, polarized, with some cheering for what they saw as a belated step, while others condemning a withdrawal they considered reckless.
Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, a frequent visitor to the Broadway theater as a Tony voter and professor of theater studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne, said he would continue to wear a mask while watching plays. “It’s important, when you have people so close together, to control the flow of germs in the air at a time when we don’t know what the long-term effect of Covid will be,” he said.
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