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Broadway is Reopening, But Are Theatergoers Ready?

JACK TRUITT, HOST: Broadway tickets go back on sale today. After being shut down for more than a year, theaters will officially reopen at full capacity in September. Prior to the pandemic, almost a quarter-million people saw Broadway shows every week. Reporter Hayley Zhao went to Times Square to find out whether theatergoers are ready to return.

HAYLEY ZHAO, BYLINE: The front doors of the Phantom of the Opera theater are locked and dusty. A government notice in black letter says, 'Beginning March, 2020, the theater is closed.' No one is at the box office and the block looks deserted. But hopefully it won’t be like this for long. As tickets go on sale today, some are ready to make their first purchase.

SALVADOR MAGRI: I will buy one. Yes. I will buy whatever, whatever there is for me and my family. Yes.

ZHAO: Salvador Magri is taking a morning stroll through Time Square two blocks from the theater. He has lived in New York City for 60 years and before the pandemic hit, he went to Broadway shows often. But now he doesn’t even remember the last show he watched because it’s been that long. He is a little concerned about being in the same room with hundreds of people but having lived through the pandemic ...

MAGRI: I know how to survive. [laughs] Yes. The experience you have as ... Life as a survivor is all the time. So you take a chance to do whatever, you take a chance on your life and you keep doing it.

ZHAO: Just around the corner, Drasonallen Byrd is taking photos for a couple. As a freelance photographer here, his livelihood depends on tourists. He says he misses how crowded Times Square used to be.

DRASONALLEN BYRD: I moved here in 2017 and I did see the long lines, the, you know, the anticipation for the shows and stuff. And, uh, I see how dead it is right now.

ZHAO: According to the Broadway League, Before the pandemic, about 70 percent of ticket purchases were made by tourists. Byrd is excited for the crowds that the shows will bring back.

BYRD: A lot of people come to times square or New York in general, just for a Broadway show. So, I mean its Broadway, Broadway is Broadway.

ZHAO: But Steven Chaikelson, a theater management professor at Columbia University, wasn’t as optimistic.

STEVEN CHAIKELSON: Tourism is down considerably. Because Broadway relies on tourism, we're not a hundred percent sure that attendance is going to go back up to where it had been.

ZHAO: Governor Cuomo says theaters must operate in accordance with the State's health and safety guidance. But Chaikelson worries even if Broadway theaters reopen on time, there won’t be as many shows as before.

CHAIKELSON: Broadway shows need to be able to open at full capacity or close to full capacity in order to be able to make the economics work. And so there may need to be some concessions for some shows to reduce their operating costs at least initially.

ZHAO: ... Like reducing the number of performances to fewer than the traditional eight shows a week. But this might be good news for theater fans here in New York. If you want that ticket to see popular shows like Hamilton, Chailekson says now might be your chance to get it.

Hayley Zhao, Columbia Radio News.


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