Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and leaders of Broadway gathered in Times Square Friday to speak to Broadway’s reopening and the passage of the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.
Members of the Broadway community, including Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin and League Chair Lauren Reid, praised Schumer for spearheading the grant legislation, which is seen as a means to bring back the industry. However, funding for the grant program has been delayed, and as underlined in the press conference, there are still many other unresolved issues for Broadway’s return, including vaccination requirements, safety protocols and the date for the Tony Awards.
While the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program started accepting applications in late April, the program has yet to distribute any of its more $16 billion in grant funding. After initially stating grants would be distributed last week, the Small Business Administration said Friday that it “tentatively” expects to distribute the first round of grants the week of May 24.
“Broadway is back and so are our other stages,” Schumer said Friday to a crowd of theater union leaders, producers, members of the hospitality industry and politicians, including State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
Schumer did not address the delay in funding in his speech.
Many Broadway productions will likely fall in the second phase of distribution, based on their relative revenue loss, which is set to commence 14 days after the first round of grants are distributed.
Before it can reopen, the Broadway industry faces a question on whether theater owners and producers will require audience members to be vaccinated in order to attend performances and whether that will extend to cast and crew members. Requiring a vaccinated audience would allow theaters to reopen at full capacity, as desired, and could allow audience members to sit unmasked.
Speaking to Broadway News after the event, Shubert Organization President Robert Wankel said a decision on vaccinations has not yet been made. However, he said that having the vaccine as a tool to fight against COVID-19 means there will be far fewer protocols in theaters than initially expected.
“I’m thrilled that we’re reopening,” Wankel said. “It’s been a long time coming, and it’s going to be bigger and better than ever.”
James Claffey Jr., president of IATSE Local One, said after the event that the union as a whole had not made a decision on how it will handle vaccine requirements. However, he is personally open to the option of employer mandates.
“In my view, I’m going to allow the employer to establish their workplace rules,” Claffey said.
Theatrical unions and the Broadway League still need to set final terms for contracts and safety protocols for Broadway’s return. Thus far, Claffey said his union has had “informal” discussions with the League on fairly inconsequential items. He was confident the parties would reach an eventual agreement.
“It’s gonna work,” he said.
As reopening approaches, the Tony Awards ceremony for the 2019-2020 season remains another unresolved issue. Votes were received in March 2021, but winners have not yet been announced. Tony Awards administrators had previously said the ceremony would take place “in coordination with the re-opening of Broadway.” St. Martin was asked for an update Friday.
“We hope to have an announcement very soon,” she said.