Broadway theaters may drop their mask mandates beginning July 1, the Broadway League announced Tuesday.
The league described the new policy as “mask optional” and said it will be reassessed monthly.
“Our theater owners have looked at the logs, observed the hospital admissions and observed that across the country where tours are mostly unmasked we have no issues and they decided it was time to give it a try” , said Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway league. “This is not an easy decision – there are more people wanting masks off than on, but many still want them on – and we encourage people who are concerned about wearing their masks.”
St. Martin said theater owners would continue to meet weekly to assess the health situation and stand ready to reintroduce the mandate if necessary. “We’ll see how it goes,” she said.
Broadway had maintained a fairly restrictive audience policy since theaters reopened last summer. Theaters required visitors to provide proof of vaccination by April 30 and continued to urge visitors to wear masks except when eating and drinking.
Broadway’s public health protocols have taken on an outsized role in the performing arts as many other institutions have modeled themselves on the major theaters. Broadway theaters imposed a vaccination mandate before New York City did the same for restaurants, gyms and other indoor performances, and maintained their rules long after the city stopped requiring them.
Mask-wearing became part of the theater-going experience this season: staffers with signs walked the aisles reminding visitors of the requirement, and the usual pre-show announcements to turn off cell phones and take pictures were reminded to wear masks . When theaters first reopened, some did not sell food and drink so as not to interfere with mask wearing. Consumption of soft drinks now provides a noticeable gap for those who choose not to wear masks.
Some other performing arts venues, including many Off-Broadway theaters, continue to require vaccination records and masks, and New York’s public transit system continues to require masks indoors, although compliance is declining. But many other sectors of society, including domestic air travel, have dropped mask mandates and conditions in the city appear to be improving: Mayor Eric Adams said Tuesday that the city’s Covid-19 alert level had risen from high to medium .
There are currently 27 shows in Broadway’s 41 theaters.
The four nonprofits that run six of the Broadway houses have held on to vaccination mandates longer than the commercial landlords that run the majority of the theaters. But none of the nonprofits currently have a show on Broadway, and none plan to resume production on Broadway until after Labor Day.
The Roundabout Theater Company, which is slated to begin performances of a Broadway revival of “1776” in September, plans to conduct a monthly review of its protocols, according to a spokeswoman, Jessica Johnson, who said it’s too early to finalize the rules for this fall . The nonprofit continues to maintain a mask mandate for its current Off-Broadway shows.
The other nonprofits operating on Broadway that plan to launch shows in the fall said it’s too early to know what their safety protocols would be then.
The public response to the mask-requirement policy was predictably polarized, with some hailing what they felt was a move that was overdue and others deploring a retreat they saw as reckless.
Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, a frequent Broadway theatergoer as a Tony voter and professor of theater studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said he will continue to wear a mask when watching shows. “It’s important when people are packed so tightly together to control the flow of airborne germs at a time when we don’t know what the long-term effects of Covid will be,” he said.