Summer 2019 Blackout Left New York City Without Power, Causing Cancellations Of Broadway Productions. Show Actors Go On To Perform In The Streets.
The Blackout And The Great White Way
The night of July 13th 2019 was a tough night for Broadway, with almost all theatres losing electrical power. The now infamous Summer 2019 Power Blackout began at 6:45 PM, occurring exactly 42 years to the day after the 1977 blackout which lasted for 25 hours in the days when Instagram was still a telegram. The Summer 2019 blackout affected just the west side of Manhattan and led many theatre landlords to cancel their Saturday night performances.
24 Broadway shows were cancelled in total, but four theatres still had power and were able to go on. Many Broadway actors still believe that ‘The show must go on” and many of them entertained fans outside the various theatres with song medleys and show snippets, blocking traffic, but bringing happiness to the frustrated fans outside the theatres.
Which Broadway Shows Were Able To Go On
With the city-wide blackout affecting the production capabilities of nearly every single show on Broadway, all shows but four, ended up cancelling their July 13th, 2019 evening performances. Despite some minor setbacks and technical issues caused by the blackout, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Beetlejuice, Be More Chill and Burn This all continued their Saturday evening productions as scheduled, thanks to their fortunate theatre positioning on the east side of Broadway.
Impromptu Street Performances
The cast of Hadestown took to the sidewalks outside of the Walter Kerr and performed the play’s opening number, “A Road to Hell”. Fans quickly began to sing along with Andre De Shields as he serenaded the crowd with a few revised lyrics about the blackout. The cast of Come From Away, accompanied by members of the orchestra, performed their opening song “Welcome to the Rock” and the cast of Waitress kept up the energy with a medley of the show’s songs.
Even some off-Broadway performances struck by the blackout joined in on the theatrical street party. The cast of Rock of Ages performed an a capella rendition of their closing number, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”. Though the cancellations caused by the blackout were a major disappointment to eager fans, these impromptu performances lightened the mood and exemplified the old Broadway adage “The show must go on.”
How Much Money did Broadway Lose That Night?
Due to weekend tourism, Saturday night is the biggest for Broadway. Tickets are the priciest with the average cost-going up about 30%. Due to the blackout, productions were forced to refund the ticket sales. During the summer, Saturday nights make up 22% of the weekly gross revenue for each show, therefore Broadway lost over $7.5 million in potential sales. This figure does not include other theatre operating expenses that the shows may have lost that night.
In comparison, the last time Broadway was affected on a Saturday night was on Jan 23rd, 2016 when Winter Storm Jonas landed in NYC and the theatres saw a weekly gross sales loss of 30.1% ($10.3 million), but that snow storm affected both the evening performances as well as the matinees and had a knock-on effect on Friday and Sunday performances, where some people stayed away.
Who Else Was Affected In NYC?
It is estimated that over 73,000 residents of NYC lost power for the night. Fortunately no one was injured, but the situation did pose a serious threat to many small businesses. Some restaurants had to replace their inventory after hours of power outages affected refrigeration of perishable food items and movie theatres had to close their doors since projectors would not work. Losing the revenue of a busy Saturday night could prove deadly to a business’ bottom line.
Another victim was Jennifer Lopez and her MSG performance. The Garden lost power in the middle of one of her songs at the start of the show, causing security to calm the crowds and escort people while the emergency lights guided everyone to safety. This devastated the Bronx pop star but she has already rescheduled her show for Monday July 15, 2019 to make up for the interrupted concert. Ticket holders can either go to this show or get a refund.
What Lessons Broadway Landlords Have Failed To Learn
Broadway theatre landlords have been through over a hundred years of technical failures on stage and yet still have no plan when something bad happens. The Summer 2019 blackout demonstrates that the Broadway industry still lacks a business continuity program (BCP) that they still can not put on any show during or after any disaster.
Some ideas put forward by theatre pundits that would improve the reliability of the show performances have been to install electrical generators, water pumps, alternative LED lighting (low wattage) for special nights during a power outage, Tesla batteries to power the whole theatre, alternative theatre locations to house shows in case of a disaster, active-shooter safe rooms and additional fire safety equipment kept on location.
An aspect that landlords may not consider is that the orchestra requires power as well. While the wind powered parts of the orchestra do not need any power for most of their instruments, some power will be required for amplification and mic’s, making uninterrupted power a necessity.
Landlords' lack of motivation
The problem is that Broadway landlords often lack motivation to deliver a more robust operating environment as they do not actually care if Broadway shows go on or not, as they always get paid by the renter (the show producer), so they often have no skin in the game. The Shubert Organization is the biggest landlord on Broadway and they have failed to develop an effective plan to deal with anticipated problems.
Other theatre landlords have just followed their example. Hopefully the Summer 2019 blackout will serve as a reminder and a motivator for them to finally make the necessary upgrades the theatres have been lacking for decades.