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The Road To Reopening Broadway On Tour

Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

As Broadway shows in New York City continue to be shuttered until at least June 2021, a few venues have presented virtual town halls to provide some insight into the current state of touring Broadway shows and what patrons can expect when they return.

At the Orpheum Theatre (Omaha, NE), President Joan Squires discussed how the shutdowns have taken not only a toll at the theatre, but also to the businesses surrounding the performing arts center. “Omaha Performing Arts has a $48 million annual economic impact…we really generate lots of activity and lots of jobs. So, many, many people have been impacted by the closures due to the COVID pandemic.”

Squires also reassured patrons that, although scheduling changes would happen, Broadway will be back, and that safety protocols will be in place when that time comes, including enhanced cleaning and sanitization via electrostatic technology in the performance halls, and and an upgrade to air handling filters to improve air quality.

“It’s certainly hard to described the impact as anything less than devastating,” Broward Center (Fort Lauderdale, FL), President and CEO Kelley Shanley stated, revealing that over 500 performances have been either cancelled or postponed through the end of the year.

“The Broward Center generates over $130 million in economic impact annually for our community, and when our economic engine isn’t running, the impact is also felt by local vendors, restaurants, businesses and hotels. While we are eager to get back to business, we know that won’t happen until it’s safe for our community. Our business is likely to be one of the last to return, because in order for touring shows to come back, we’ll need to be able to operate at 100% of our capacity.”

To the south of Fort Lauderdale, the Adrienne Arsht Center (Miami, FL) has had to cancel or postpone over 200 performances since March including the final performances of Hamilton. “In a typical year…the Arsht Center generates over $55 million in economic impact,” President and CEO Johann Zietsman stated. “Thankfully, the health of our community is improving and there is now a light at the end of the tunnel.”

However, while the health situation in some areas may be improving and venues and implementing new safety protocols, there is still the possibility of a longer intermission. Sue Frost, a guest for the town halls and Tony-award winning producer of Come From Away, explained the situation further, saying, “One of the reasons why it’s going to take us a while to come back is we need to come back to full houses. The experience of sharing a Broadway show between the actor and the audience is unique and special. Socially-distanced audiences are not going to create anywhere near the same feeling that a house full of people laughing, crying, clapping does.”

Frost also stated that, besides the need to have a congregational experience, “It is not possible for us to make [social distancing] work financially. We need to know that we accommodate all of the subscribers in the week we’re in town. We need to know that we can meet our financial model, and what it takes for us to travel from town to town, what it takes from us to present a show, that financial model requires full houses.”

The timetable for when will shows return is still very much up in the air at this moment. At the time of publication, most venues across the US are pushing for a mid-2021 restart with modified seasons from their original announcements. This means that, if the current restart begins as scheduled, it will be well over a year since the last performances took place prior nationwide shutdown in March 2020.

While most venues are trying to maintain their ability to present their initial 20/21 season’s lineup of shows, scheduling conflicts from tour routes and venue availability can complicate those intentions. “The challenges of routing a tour,” Meredith Blair, president of the Booking Group stated, “are the availability of the venues. We are actively trying to put the pieces of the puzzle back together multiple times as the landscape keeps changing and as the timing keeps changing. […] We’re booking and we’re re-booking, and we will continue to re-book until we can get these shows back on the road and back to your cities.”

Many questions still remain unanswered, including: will a 20/21 season occur even occur at this point? For some venues, such as Hayes Hall (Naples, FL), whose season was scheduled to run from December 2020 to March 2021, there will be no Broadway season. Venues that already have shows rescheduled or booked into 2022 may look to the example of BroadwaySF (San Francisco, CA) and relabel their 20/21 season to the 21/22 season. As time progresses, this may prove to be the case as most seasons traditionally begin in late-summer–the nearly-current starting point for many venues’ 20/21 season.

Currently, here on Tours To You, we are categorizing shows that take place in 2022 as being part of the 21/22 season. Shows that are taking place in the late fall/early-winter will be classified on a case-by-case basis for the time being. However, for purposes related to a venue’s season subscriptions, shows occurring in late 2021 and into 2022 may still fall within the 20/21 season until the next season’s announcement. Consult your respective venue for further information.

Another question that remains unanswered is: how will the delays to the 20/21 season impact future season announcements? Announcement season for venues traditionally begins in mid-January and can extend until the end of summer. As venues continue to delay the opening of their 20/21 season, a delay to the 21/22 season announcements may follow. However, if venues convert their 20/21 season to the 21/22 season, this will reduce the need for the announcement. Venues that opt to not have a 20/21 season may continue to make their next season announcement at their traditional timeframe. Clarity to this question will most likely come in the new year.

Lastly: will Broadway shows currently in New York attempt to go on tour in the 21/22 season? This may partially be confirmed as A Christmas Carol, which was on Broadway this past winter, will be going on tour in 2021. And, as of publication, Beetlejuice the Musical is still on schedule to tour in 2021 as previously announced. However, other shows, including Jagged Little Pill and Tina – The Tina Turner Musical may wait to announce a national tour until after the Tony Awards–the traditional time for new shows to make those kinds of announcements under normal circumstances.

For performances that have either been postponed or rescheduled, venues are requesting that existing subscribers and individual ticket holders hold on to their tickets as they will be valid for the new dates. In addition, ticket holders can donate the value of their ticket back to their presenting venue to assist in the financial recovery during the closures. Consult your local venue for more information regarding refunding options, and be sure to continue to follow us for the latest information.

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