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‘It’s probably six to nine months before we open:’ Broadway League President

Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Charlotte St. Martin, Broadway League President, discuss outlook for Broadway shows as Gov. Cuomo pushes to reopen entertainment venues.

Video Transcript


ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Finally some good news for live venues in New York today. Governor Cuomo announcing Barclays Center and other large arenas in the state can begin reopening at reduced capacity February 23rd. And this good news comes just days after the governor ordered hundreds of COVID-safe pop-up concerts, featuring big names like Matthew Broderick and Hugh Jackman. Depending on how those go, it could be curtains up for Broadway.

Joining me now is president of the Broadway League, Charlotte St. Martin. Charlotte, good to have you here. It's certainly encouraging news. It's almost been a year since our Broadway theaters have gone dark. Just would love to get your take on the governor's plans for these pop-up concerts. What do you make of them?

CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN: Well, anything that gets the incredibly talented creatives of Broadway in the faces of their fans is great for us. Clearly, these are not going to be Broadway shows. But a lot of the entertainers are definitely people who are associated with Broadway. So I know the governor is trying to remind the world that New York City is the capital of arts and entertainment in our country. And I think these concerts will do just that.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And also, so many jobs dependent on Broadway, not just the actors and stage crew, but people front of house, restaurants. I mean, there's sort of a cascading effect when it comes to the Broadway industry, about 100,000 jobs surrounding that industry.

But when it comes to getting back into the theaters, the governor was talking about how COVID testing is going to be a part of that. Do you have any idea if the theaters are going to be doing that, if we're going to have to come with a negative test to the theater? Sort of, what will the logistics be of something like that? That's a huge undertaking.

CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN: Well, at this point, we're not looking at testing for the audience. We do believe that rapid testing will be done every day for the cast and crew of the theaters because they work in close confinement, can't wear masks. So it's important that they be tested daily. But it's probably six to nine months before we're actually open. And who knows what we'll be doing then?

I've been saying for months I would love to see the theatergoers come in, have a certificate or something that says I was tested and I'm COVID free. But I don't know that that will be the case. We know that we won't open until we're assured that it's safe for theatergoers, cast, and crew.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: What about-- I'm sure theater owners, producers are thinking about this now, even though, as you say, re-opening may not come for another six to nine months. But how do you envision that Broadway experience being when it does happen? What will be buying concessions and merchandise look like? There's going to be fewer people sitting in the audience for sure. But what might the experience be like?

CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN: Well, we know that we will be opening with masks, unless there's some miracle we haven't heard of yet. And there will probably be different ingress, regress, how you get into the theater. We're analyzing over 100 touchpoints from what the theatergoer experience is, whether it's getting a playbill or taking their ticket or getting a soft drink from the concession stand. So we're looking at all of those things. And I think you will see a lot of contactless services throughout the theater.

What else we see, we don't know just yet. I mean, there are new products and new findings virtually every other week, it seems. So we're working on it. We have five task forces working on just protocols alone, not to mention all of the other aspects of getting open.

We do think that we will have more than socially distanced audiences. We're not able to operate in the long-term with a socially distanced audience. So if the audience is socially distanced, it just means that we couldn't sell enough tickets. But we anticipate that with the incredible demand that's pent up, that theater will come back very soon.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Well, let's talk a little bit about that capacity and what theaters will be able to do. I mean, is it, in the long run, cheaper to have no show than to have a show that's half full when do you think about all the overhead costs that the theater has to accumulate?

CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN: Well, and that is mostly true. I mean, there will certainly be exceptions. A one-person show, a two-person show, small orchestra, no orchestra-- those could potentially be socially distanced. But the traditional Broadway show with the cast and crew that it takes to put that show on, it will not last in a socially distanced environment. The cost to produce and run a Broadway show are so high that it just is impossible. If we open to small audiences, you will probably see shows not stay open for very long.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, I saw-- we all saw the success "Hamilton" had going to streaming. We had "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" on Netflix do very well. I know that "Come From Away" and "Diana" are also going to be filmed shortly and released. Is this-- are the dynamics of the theater, of live theater, going to be changed forever? And might we see more shows do this, maybe a two-pronged approach? Yes, they're on the stage, but yes, we can also stream them from our favorite streaming service.

CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN: Well, we certainly have been talking a lot about live streaming. Unfortunately, with the financial model that we have now, live streaming just won't work. Shows like "Diana," like "Hamilton," are actually movies. They were made as a movie and hopefully will receive the income that would offset what it costs to make that movie.

But with the union contracts that we have, there's just really no way to live stream. Because in a theater, you have 1,000 to 2,000 people see a show at night. And the contracts that are there for live streaming aren't actually able to pay those expenses, at least unless you're a big giant hit like a "Hamilton."

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Mm-hmm. Charlotte, before we let you go, I mean, one way that theater owners could try to recoup and producers recoup the losses is to charge higher prices. Broadway prices are already pretty steep. Do you see that happening? I mean, could Broadway ticket prices go up? And will the pent-up demand say-- people say, OK, we'll pay it?

CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN: Well, I've never thought that they would go up more. The biggest change to Broadway in the last decade has been the increase in premium pricing. But 5% or less of the theater tickets are in the premium priced range.

So you may have $800 tickets for "Hamilton," but then you've got a lot of much lower priced tickets. And that's traditionally the way the model on Broadway is now. But there's no question that the world is changing. And we really don't know what we'll come back to. But I don't think people need to think about coming back to higher priced tickets.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: OK, well, that's good news. Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, thanks so much for being with us. We'll be watching when they get those theaters back open.