The Great White Way has been dark since mid-March, and is expected to remain that way thorugh at least the end of the year.
But one studio found a way to stay open while helping workers on the frontlines, and now may have found a way for shows to go on, at least for now.
Open Jar Studios, the largest rehearsal space in the city, never had to shut its doors permanently during the COVID-19 shutdown that forced all of Broadway to go dark. That’s because the place where those shows rehearse for the stage turned into an essential business overnight.
“We transformed this into our shipping department for all of our PPE,” said Jeff Whiting, the studios’ project manager. He said that the city came asking for a favor at the start of the pandemic.
“We need to make 10 million gowns for the NYC public hospitals – can Broadway help?” Whiting said the city wondered. “I said, of course.”
Producing the badly needed PPE meant hiring Broadway professionals like costume designers and stage managers, who otherwise may have been out of work.
“When that world collapsed, it was so fulfilling to come in and fight for the cause and know that we were helping and giving back,” said TKTK.
And now the studio is doing what it can to help bring Broadway back, at least in some degree. They will be setting the stage for live performances from Broadway stars starting in August, with the rehearsal space getting transformed into a socially distanced theater for solo performances.
The reimagining of the theater experience starts with the use of plexiglass, which will not only be placed between the audience’s chairs – which are also more spaced out – but will be used to protect the performers as well.
“The singer will be here, they won’t have a mask on because of the plexiglass shield,” Whiting said. “They have a microphone, so the sound will go out to everyone.”
Whiting said keeping workers safe in the makeshift factory uniquely positioned him to work out the details. He said they have wrapped pianos in plastic to prolong their life, because many are not meant to be wiped down as often as needed to keep people safe during pandemic times.
Audiences will be limited for the performances, and those in attendance will have to answer a questionnaire and have their temperatures taken after coming in from the socially distanced line. When asked if what they have done is potentially the future of live performance and Broadway, Whiting said “I think we are, for the time being.”
The studio has already drawn the interest of much of Broadway.
“Everyone is trying to find a way to get into the room. We’ve been setting the standard,” Whiting said.
The improvisation of Open Jar studios will be helping life for performers feel at least a little like normal once again, even as the pandemic continues. But Whiting believes after everything is allowed to come back, Broadway will be there to deliver.
“When Broadway comes back, it’s going to be stronger than ever,” he said.