U.S. Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Broadway leaders gathered in Times Square Friday to show support for the Save Our Stages Act.
The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Schumer, would provide grants of up to $12 million to live venue operators, producers, promoters or talent representatives whose businesses were impacted by COVID-19. Speaking at the foot of the TKTS stairs, Schumer said the likelihood of the bill passing is improving due to its planned inclusion in a larger pandemic relief package.
And, with an ask of $10 billion in total funding for the bill, Schumer said he foresees Broadway receiving the “Lion King’s” share of the money.
“The Great White Way has led the way, for so many generations, to make this city the envy of the world in the arts,” Schumer said. “And that’s why it’s so important to provide dedicated federal funding to Broadway, because it defines New York and it’s what we must fight for.”
Wearing Save Our Stages masks, Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin, Disney Theatrical President Thomas Schumacher and director Schele Williams took to the stage to voice support for the bill, with Schumacher calling Schumer “Broadway’s greatest champion.”
The Save Our Stages bill is intended to provide relief to live entertainment producers across the U.S. and venues ranging from small, independent concert halls to Broadway theaters. The grant amounts, which are determined by gross revenue, would cover six months of expenses, including payroll costs, rent, mortgage, utilities and personal protective equipment.
The bill was introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) in July, but has so far stalled in committee. Schumer said he is now more optimistic about the passage of the provision, because of its inclusion in the HEROES Act, the Democrats’ latest coronavirus relief package. While that act has faced Republican opposition, Schumer said he believes tides are turning due to public pressure and President Trump’s support of a larger relief package.
“If, God forbid, it doesn’t happen, and we have a new President and a new majority leader, who might be me, we will make sure it happens,” Schumer said.
This is the latest stop in Schumer’s press tour, which has included visits to concert venues and appearances with celebrities such as Jerry Seinfeld, to drum up support for the bill. Shubert Chairman Robert Wankel, Nederlander Organization President James L. Nederlander, actor Laura Benanti, producers Kevin McCollum, Eva Price, Tom Kirdahy and more were on hand at Friday’s event.
Broadway shows are currently closed through Jan. 3, but as Schumacher underlined, the return date is still uncertain.
“This is the longest shutdown by far in our hundred-plus year history on Broadway, and our return is still out of reach,” Schumacher said.
Because of the extended shutdown, Schumacher emphasized the need to support the industry’s workforce, which employs close to 100,000 people. In addition to relief from Save Our Stages, St. Martin said the League is also working with union leaders to get extended unemployment benefits and COBRA subsidies.
Federal funding is needed to help prepare for a Broadway return, St. Martin said, because of the additional costs of rehearsing, refurbishing and reinstalling sets and “preparing theaters” for audiences.
“The Broadway League is working to restart the industry, and we simply can’t do it by just flipping on a light switch,” St. Martin said.
Speaking after the event, amid elbow bumps and greetings from colleagues who had not seen each other in months, Wankel said this bill is “greatly needed” by the theater industry.
“We’re hoping that people will pay attention and pass it as a law because we need it and we want to come back bigger and better,” Wankel said.