Broadway takes one step closer to annihilation while politicians and industry bigwigs demonstrate their lack of leadership in Coronavirus times

Broadway is in big trouble. The theatres are all closed and so many Broadway reopening dates have come and gone that The Broadway League has given up trying to sugar coat the bad news. Previous reopening dates of early January 2021 are no longer viable and Broadway theatre now pins its hopes on Trump’s promised November COVID-19 vaccine, that might start to make a difference sometime in early 2021, if it even comes at all. Confidence in NYC is at an all time low and related NYC businesses are fast approaching catastrophic failure, with Midtown Manhattan now looking less like the jewel of the metropolis and more like a film set from an end-of-the-world movie, sans the zombies. NYC government itself faces potential bankruptcy, with Governor Cuomo losing patience with the inept management of the City by the beleaguered NYC Mayor, Bill de Blasio. The Broadway League is hopelessly out of its depth and continues to flounder despite its protestations that there are some glimmers of hope. Broadway itself has failed to rise to the occasion and has shown that however progressive that theatre content may be, the reality is that without it’s traditional medium of a stage, theatre and an audience, it is either clueless on how to adapt itself to the new normal or is so tied up in knots with petulant theatre owners, difficult unions and cry-baby actors that it cannot fight its way out of a wet paper bag, let alone circumnavigate the troubled waters of the COVID-19 pandemic.

'Save Our Stages' Demonstrates Just How Bad Things Really Are in NYC

There is an adage that nothing ever gets done when politicians get involved, and that may be very true of recent events. With a new campaign, aptly named ‘Save Our Stages’, the Broadway League and various politicians have decided to team up and demand that the Federal government step in and save Broadway theatre from financial ruin. This means that theater owners, actors and support staff will get cash to help stave off bankruptcy.

There is nothing worse than seeing Senator Chuck Schumer making a media-friendly soundbite pitch to President Trump for help, when he knows all too well that his myriad of past attacks at Trump will mean that any political capital he gained from the masses with his pointed diatribes, will almost certainly guarantee that Trump will not even return his phone call, let alone provide some federal money. For the Broadway League to even think that something is going to happen from this announcement with the current administration is extremely naïve.

What is now becoming clear is that both the Broadway League and Senator Schumer are hoping for a Biden presidential win at the polls in November, but they may be watching far too much CNN opinion/editorial to be objective enough to take that gamble. CNN is one of many cable channels that is practically guaranteeing a Joe Biden win, which is a dangerous assumption to make, especially given their track record from 2016. It is believed that Joe Biden will be more sympathetic to the Broadway plight during the COVID-19 economic downturn, but politician's promises can quickly be forgotten and the industry could end up with a worse net position if a Biden win leads to a full blown recession amid the pesky remnants of the COVID pandemic.

Broadway Actors Union Gets Political, Much to the Chagrin of its Members

As any good businessman knows, you never know which way political winds may blow when November comes around, so you need to play both sides to get the best result. In a shocking turnaround, The Broadway Actors Union has broken with their neutral tradition and have endorsed the Democratic Presidential Candidate, Joe Biden. This means that if Trump were to actually win the 2020 election, Broadway may have sunk its own ship by betting on the wrong horse. If the election were to go to Trump, expect to see the leaders of the Broadway League and the Actors union eat humble pie and resign post haste, as their positions will quickly become untenable with Trump in control of the Federal dollars. The situation is further complicated by President Trump's recent attempt to defund New York City, where he claims officials allowed “lawless” protests and cut police budgets amid rising violent crime and that they should lose federal funding. This move would essentially bankrupt NYC in a heartbeat, but would undoubtedly be fought out in the courts.

The political move by the Broadway Actors Union is a rare and dangerous sidestep from neutrality and may be one they could live to regret. This is not the first time that Broadway has identified as anti-Trump. One big incident occurred when the Hamilton actors embarrassed the Vice President, Mike Pence, when he visited the show way back in the heady days of November 2016. This occurrence has not been forgotten by President Trump, who often demonstrates a shocking level of vindictiveness, long after others may have already forgotten the original infraction.

Bway Guard at Save the Stages
Security guards the Father Duffy statue in Times Square

Schumacher, and Schumer Forgot To Invite Bill de Blasio

Sorry, not sorry. What was missing from the Times Square announcement on September 18th is the name of the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, who was not mentioned once in the meandering speeches given by Thomas Schumacher, Chairman of the Board of The Broadway League and Senator Schumer. Bill de Blasio is clearly in trouble and he knows it, but Governor Cuomo does not seem to have the cajones to actually boot him out of office, which is his prerogative as Governor and may be the only action needed to turn NYC around, post Covid. If Cuomo does plan to run for President in 2024, the firing of de Blasio will have been a feather in his cap.

Another factor that plays into the whole debacle is that Broadway theatre does not actually bring the state and city any money in sales tax revenue (as theatre tickets sales do not pay sales tax) but Broadway does drive people to NYC and has remained the beating heart of the city for over 100 years, with hotels, restaurants and attractions all sending huge amounts of tax money to the city and state. If anything is going to get Trump to send federal money to Broadway, it has to be about jobs, and this grant would not actually create any new opportunities that would lower the unemployment rate.

Broadway Bail Outs

Without a financial bail out Broadway may never recover. Senator Chuck Schumer sponsored the $10 Billion ‘Save Our Stages’ Act to assist concert and theatre venues during this pandemic, with $25 Million of the cash earmarked for Broadway theatre. Some people believe that no public money should be used to help the Broadway landlords like the financial fat cats at the Shubert organization, who are the biggest, and the most arrogant, landlord on the Broadway block. Broadway actors are in bad shape and would normally take other jobs to fill in between shows, but currently those ‘other jobs’ do not exist. Everyone else in between is stuck between a rock and a hard place with government benefits drying up and nothing opening up on the horizon. Popular sentiment is that people should be helped as much as possible and rich corporations should be last in line for the handouts, which is an idea that is not that radical. Many people believe that giving public money to organizations that have been selling theatre tickets for over $1000 a pop is just plain crazy, while economists point to the fact that any recovery will be much longer if these organizations are no longer around.

The Forgotten Employees of Broadway

Broadway is also made up of so many forgotten employees including costomers, musicians, stagehands, performers and theatre staff. Even ad agencies, marketing companies, production companies and ticket brokers have all suffered at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone puts on a brave face and powers on, with the hope that the industry may return to its former glory, but those bright Broadway lights get dimmer every day and may just ultimately switch off when the electric bill has not paid in a year and the last one to leave says a prayer.