Industry Editor Exclusive: What's the Plan for Broadway's Return? The Broadway League, Producers & Insiders Speak Up

Why the mixed messages on the return of Broadway?

By: Apr. 08, 2021
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When the pandemic hit, not many industries knew what to do. It's no secret that the theater industry was one of those, given that it relies on crowds and in-person interaction. Just when to reopen, or attempt to reopen, has been equally as fraught, with a lot of competing forces simply not on the same page. This has resulted in different messaging regarding Broadway with some shows selling tickets and many shows waiting. As of the start of this month, tickets were even on sale starting in June for MRS. DOUBTFIRE (they have since been pulled from sale entirely).

In the beginning, the cancellations were quick and uniform. On March 12, 2020 Broadway performances were suspended immediately through April 12, 2020. Then things got a little murky. Refunds are generally not granted until performances are officially cancelled. And most performances after April 12, 2020 were not officially cancelled until April 8, 2020. That suspension lasted until June 7, 2020, then came the delay until September 6, 2020 (announced May 12, 2020), January 3, 2021 (announced June 29, 2020) and this current cancellation through May 30, 2021 (announced October 9, 2020). Before this last endless shutdown, most shows waited until the Broadway League announced the closure, cancelled performances through the relevant date and kept tickets on-sale thereafter. After this last one, likely because of the length, shows marched to their own drummers. And the Broadway League has still not officially announced that Broadway shows are closed beyond the end of May.

Industry Editor Exclusive: What's the Plan for Broadway's Return? The Broadway League, Producers & Insiders Speak Up

"During emergencies and times of crisis the League communicates messages on behalf of the industry overall however. . . the League is a trade organization and as such, we are not involved with when and how each show puts tickets on sale," Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin stated. "Individual producers coordinate independently with venues to determine sales dates and policies for each production."

In simpler terms, what St. Martin is saying is that the League needs consensus from its members to officially announce a new date, and, right now, we're stuck on May 30, 2021. That means individual producers are free to do what they want thereafter. Of course, no one thinks Broadway is reopening in June. The Mayor and St. Martin both said in interviews in March that our best hope was September. (It should be noted that most spoken to for this piece unfortunately do not find that feasible.) And no one likes unhappy customers, which there were many of in the April-May 2020 period, so one would hope tickets would not be on sale for a time when producers know there will be no performances. But that hasn't always been true.

Back in January, there were a handful of Broadway shows on sale for June. Some of those then went completely off sale. A few (AIN'T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS, CHICAGO and JAGGED LITTLE PILL) have gone off of sale a month at a time. Last week those three shows were still selling tickets for August, this week each is on sale starting September 7.

Industry Editor Exclusive: What's the Plan for Broadway's Return? The Broadway League, Producers & Insiders Speak Up Behind-the-scenes some in the industry fume about this lack of consistency. They worry about the lack of united and consistent messaging and also are concerned that this could tarnish the industry's reputation among ticket buyers, who likely become angry when they buy tickets and then have to go through the "bear with us" refund process.

So why are any tickets on sale for September 7? On the record folks say they hope to be back in September--that is what the Mayor said--so why not?

For example, the statement I received from the producers of CHICAGO read: "The producers of Chicago remain optimistic about Broadway re-opening and want theatregoers who are holding tickets to be able to see the show as soon as performances can safely resume. We will continue to give exchanges & refunds, with plenty of notice, should it be necessary if theatres remain closed due to the ongoing pandemic."

Industry Editor Exclusive: What's the Plan for Broadway's Return? The Broadway League, Producers & Insiders Speak Up

And off-the-record that is what some people say too--hope springs eternal and it is possible there will be performances then. Others say there is a more calculating purpose: to keep an advance and try to get those folks to reschedule rather than cancel. And still others note that the three shows that have been going off-sale month by month are all in Shubert Organization houses and a practical reason might be The Shubert Organization was overwhelmed with refunds and this helps manage its workload. That is far from a buyer-focused message, but one that sounds selfish and practical enough to make sense. A combination of all these things and more might also be the true answer.

Whatever the reason, as of April 8, 2021, a ticket buyer can currently purchase tickets starting on September 7, 2021 to AIN'T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS, CHICAGO and JAGGED LITTLE PILL. DIANA is on sale starting December 1, 2021. THE MUSIC MAN is currently on sale for performances beginning December 20, 2021. Every other commercial Broadway production seems to be off-sale. (ALADDIN, HADESTOWN, THE LION KING, TINA, SIX, THE BOOK OF MORMON and WICKED are only marked "cancelled" on Ticketmaster until June 1, and it seems like you can buy tickets then, but if you click on any performance then or later in the year it says: "On sale date and time are in the works - please check back!" It should be noted that some of those are in theaters operated by Jujamcyn, which announced it was leaving Ticketmaster mid-pandemic. These shows are not yet on sale on Jujamcyn's new ticketing platform, SeatGeek, either.)

Word about how easy it has been to get refunds has been mixed. In the beginning, the systems were overwhelmed, but anecdotal evidence reports an easier process now. When performances are cancelled, buyers who bought via online services receive an email with instructions. This does not happen until a performance is cancelled however. So an AIN'T TOO PROUD ticket holder can get money back for August, not end of September. A call to Ticketmaster indicates there are refunds being offered to Ticketmaster shows that are not marked on the site "cancelled" but are not on sale. However, I do not know anyone who has tested that theory.

Industry Editor Exclusive: What's the Plan for Broadway's Return? The Broadway League, Producers & Insiders Speak Up
Performers at 'We Will Be Back' in Times Square

When one buys tickets, there are no social distancing guidelines, consistent with the Broadway League's messaging that Broadway will not be back at a percentage of capacity. All tickets are on sale. There is also no mention of vaccine or testing requirements or a mask mandate. It is hard to believe that this will not be part of Broadway's return, so one can imagine a situation where that is the next hurdle. Refunds or exchanges for those who do not wish to be vaccinated or tested and/or wear masks.

For now though, we are where we are. Shows are doing their own things, preparing to reopen as best possible. Hopefully for all its fans, Broadway will reopen as soon as possible with as few bumps in the road as possible.

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