Updates: April/May 2020

April/May, 2020

BROADWAY IS IN AN INDUCED COMA DUE TO THE PANDEMIC. HERE ARE SOME PERSPECTIVES THAT MAY AFFECT HOW AND WHEN BROADWAY RETURNS.

CHAPTER 10 (Cancellation Insurance. Producing): Broadway

From an interview with Charlotte St. Martin, President of the Broadway League: 

The full impact – financial, job-wise, artistically, individually – won’t be known or maybe even felt completely for months. The League is compiling and studying data, with task forces assigned to all sectors of the industry, each assigned to stay abreast of a particular aspect of the theater industry.

League figures for last season indicate the enormous reach and impact of Broadway on New York City: With 14.8 million Broadway admissions during the 2018-2019 season (65% made up of tourists both domestic and international), the Broadway industry contributed $14.7 billion to the economy of New York City and supported 96,900 jobs.

The obstacles to a reopening are large and many: Broadway audiences sit in tightly packed venues built when audiences expected (and required) smaller, closer seats; Broadway casts perform together, literally – no distance shots, no remotes possible – and Broadway orchestras? They don’t call them “orchestra pits” for nothing.

And that’s just for starters. In this extended and candid conversation with Deadline, St. Martin elaborates on what exactly is being done on Broadway as theaters remain dark, what it will take, financially and otherwise, to get the shows going again, what producers know now and what they still need to learn, and why the League is not asking theatergoers – yet – about when they’d feel comfortable returning to the magnificent venues, leg room or not, that help make Broadway a theatrical beacon worldwide.

The best guesses are that unless there’s serious testing and information that we don’t have now, we’re probably looking at September or later. It really depends on the elected officials, and we know very well that Governor Cuomo will be the one to tell us when we can come back.

We have said that when we’re told that we can come back, it will probably be six weeks before we can actually get back. Sixteen shows were somewhere in rehearsals or somewhere in previews at the time of the shutdown, and there will be a lot of work for those shows. We don’t know how many of those will actually make it – that will depend on how long we’re out. Plus, depending on how long we’re out, will there be cast changes, and how much rehearsal and get-up-to-speed time will it take? So say we were told on June 1 that we can come back, we wouldn’t be back up until six weeks later, July 10 or something.

So that’s where we are. We’re trying to do everything we can to keep the casts together and shows together, and working to help our producers and members stay afloat through governmental efforts, where we can help, so that we have something to come back to.

I wouldn’t be surprised if before you enter a theater someone took your temperature. I wouldn’t be surprised that if we do have significant testing, that people will be given badges or some kind of certificate reflecting [antibody status] or that they’re coronavirus-free. We’re hearing of cleaning products that may actually clean a theater and make it safe for 70 days, but do we know that yet? We’re hearing about it, and theater owners and others are looking into it, but there are some who believe that it will take medicine or an [effective] treatment…or a vaccine, which is the scariest because you hear anywhere from a year to two on vaccines, depending on who’s talking and when.

Masks? Maybe. There are just all kinds of questions, and the details are significant in that you’ve got a lot of casts that have disbursed and gone home. You’ve got a lot of touring companies that don’t even have homes to go to because they’ve been on tour for a while and they’ve rented out their apartments. I saw the quote from [Actors’ Equity executive director] Mary McColl about will the actors want to come back until they’re sure they’re safe. What happens to their productions? Will they still kiss on stage? Think of the many shows where there is very, very close contact. What will we need to do for them? There are just so many unknowns, and until we know more – I mean, even the health community doesn’t know much, and as Cuomo clearly pointed out, we are not health professionals. We’re just listening and learning as we go along. We will do what we’re told we have to do.

Another reason why it will take those four to six weeks is the money to come back up. Even for the long running shows, they’re talking about $1 million to get back up. So can they afford to reopen and then be shut down three weeks later? Then they would be doomed.

One of the key things is that Broadway and the road cannot come back with social distancing. There’s no way the economic model works for a theater that has a 50% house due to social distancing. It won’t work. Broadway has the best theatrical employees in the world, but they’re also the most expensive. So we have to find ways to ensure that when we open, we have the ability to have audiences similar to what we’ve had in the past.

I do know that all shows have business interruption insurance, but what are the criteria, and how much? I know one of our producers had very low business interruption insurance, and I know others have pretty substantial business interruption insurance. I’m hearing that it’s possible that some of the companies that do cover these [policies] could go out of business because they could lose so much money in so many other areas. I’m hearing that the insurance industry is trying to get a bailout much like the airlines. I don’t know enough to know if they will get that. We actually are having a session for our members with a top insurance executive next week to help our members with talking about the insurance, because many people don’t understand it.

Most everybody has the force majeure clause, but then with the force majeure there will be exceptions – a lot of people who live in Florida can’t get hurricane insurance, right, or flood insurance? I’ve not heard yet of our producers being turned down, but it’s so new they just may not have answers.

Streaming? Aside from the creative discussion relating to it, the financial model doesn’t work. Even for my little organization that represents our industry, I can’t live stream anything without paying all the same fees that a [Broadway] show does. So when I have a concert in Times Square with 50,000 people coming to watch performers from 21 shows, I can’t live stream it. I can’t put it on my website because the financial implications are just too harsh…And I also have producers saying Broadway has to be felt with people in the room, it’s about the escape of being there. Broadway just doesn’t look the same on TV. It is not as magical. It is not as transformative.

CHAPTER 10 (Cancellation Insurance. Producing): Concert industry perspective

RE: Coachella cancellation and lessons from the concert world for Broadway…

(paraphrased in later March from an online report with no reporter credited)

You see it’s all about the money. A promoter (similar to theatre producers and/or theatre owner) has to pay the acts unless there’s force majeure, essentially an act of God, something completely out of the control of the promoter. As for insurance? Ever since SARS the promoters have none.

So, it would probably be wise to announce a cancellation immediately. That would save Goldenvoice some money and allow patrons to cancel/adjust their plans.

But who is going to take the hit? Of course everybody loses money if the event is canceled. But right now, the promoter and the acts are playing a game of chicken. The promoter is waiting for an edict from the government that the gig can’t happen, and the acts are not gonna cancel until that occurs.

So, we’re waiting. But we know what direction this is going in. Just look at Italy!

As for China, recent word is it’s much worse than portrayed and it’s not actually fading. The upside? The live business is burgeoning, because it’s an experience in a world of fungible goods. The downside? It requires an assembly of masses of people.

Punters believe we live in a world of strict liability, one in which every loss is covered. It’s kind of ridiculous if you think about it. Furthermore, corporations want to pay less, railing about the fees of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. But the truth is those fees, and the ultimate payments, are usually quite small, relatively, and they’re the only check against these companies, if they don’t make you go to arbitration to begin with, where the company almost always wins. If you’re waiting for the government to save you… Just look at Boeing, and many other industries, the corporations basically check themselves, or there are too few inspectors to do the work anyway, like in the meat business. So we need class actions and “shyster” attorneys to level the playing field. As for the McDonald’s hot coffee case…on the surface, it sounds ridiculous, but in trying to make sure the coffee was still hot when you drank it at the office, McDonald’s made it so hot that it burned a customer’s skin. You want to be protected against that, right? As for bogus claims, they rarely get paid. Although nuisance claims get paid all the time, it’s oftentimes cheaper to pay than to go through the process of litigation. It’s an imperfect system, but it’s the one we’ve got.

And, insurance companies are in the business of not paying. It’s kind of like Vegas, if the gamblers were winning, the whole city would not exist. Insurers have to make a profit. And insurers can go broke. An agent writes the policy and oftentimes it’s laid off on a bunch of reinsurance companies, to spread the risk, but when a catastrophe hits, there may not be enough money to make all the insureds whole, the insurance companies just declare bankruptcy.

So, if you paid for plane tickets and Coachella is canceled, you’re eating them. Although, many airlines are saying if you book now and then cancel it’s okay… But what about if you already booked?

Your hotel may or may not give you your money back.

All those businesses in Palm Springs… That money is lost. And this is bigger than Coachella. This affects the entire nation. The aforementioned airlines are screwed, they’re cutting back flights, but still costs are relatively static, whether people fly or not. As for the flight attendants and pilots, they’ll be laid off.

As for the government? So far, it’s only saying it’s going to help the corporations. As in socialism for the rich and democracy for the poor. The government has got enough money, it’s just more concerned with the auto industry and other big donors than the individual. And sure, the big corporations do employ many people, but individuals are at the end of the line, always.

After Coachella…there goes Jazz Fest and Bonnaroo and the rest of the festivals. You’ve got to keep your customers safe, if they’re dead they cannot buy tickets.

And this is a Tylenol situation. It’ll be interesting to see whether promoters bend over backwards like Johnson & Johnson or deny like Perrier. In a crisis, too many companies do the wrong thing, especially since the executives did not start the outfit and have little ownership interest.

The promoters need to tell the ticketholders they will be made whole. Maybe, similar to the airlines, you can cancel any ticket two weeks out. This will give the promoter time to resell the ducat, frequently for a higher price. The promoters have to say they won’t lay people off.

The promoters must give the illusion that it’s safety first. Which is why they should cancel these shows now instead of later, but it’s all about the contracts, the public comes last.

As for the public… You’re never gonna go to a show with tens of thousands of people from all over the world…no one will show up, they’re too scared, especially in a world where European nations are already limiting the size of public gatherings.

And instead of denying the problem, promoters have to get ahead of it, they can’t be like Trump telling everybody they’re safe and more people die from the flu. You’ve got to be overly cautious so people trust you.

As for the coronavirus being gone by the hot weather…there were three waves of the Spanish flu, so…

We don’t know what’s gonna happen folks, at least with the coronavirus.

We do know what’s gonna happen in the concert industry…shows will be canceled. But what you don’t know is many performers and managers live hand to mouth, I’ve heard from a number if their tours don’t go out they’ll be broke. There’s this image that everybody in the music business is rich, but that is not so.

It’s a good time to own Netflix stock.

CHAPTER 12: Good and Bad Surprises

RE: Broadway’s small businesses. In legislation, $377 billion dollars has been earmarked for small business loans. Those loans, meant to cover payroll and other expenses for businesses of 500 employees or fewer, may be temporary salvation to the many small businesses of Broadway who have been hurting due to the theater closures. Under the small business loan program, businesses can receive loans of up to two-and-a-half times their monthly payroll over a specified period of time (with each employee’s payroll capped at $100,000 as part of the calculation).

Actors’ Equity is asking the government to provide a 100% subsidy for coverage under COBRA, a federal program that allows employees to continue to receive their employer-given health insurance. The union is asking for the subsidy for all arts workers, the 14,480 new unemployment insurance claims filed by workers in the arts community in the week ending March 28.”

In support of and deep gratitude for the health care heroes, first responders, and essential workers who are on the front lines of the current COVID-19 crisis every day, Broadway theatres took part in the Light It Blue initiative in New York City. Those theatres with remote access to their marquees and digital billboards dimmed lights and activated digital marquees with messages of encouragement last night on April 9, 2020 from 8 PM to 8:15 PM.

CHAPTER 13 (Box Office)

Ticketmaster is being investigated for its refund practices. “I think there’s a lot of misperception about Ticketmaster,” Joe Berchtold, president of Live Nation, the company that owns Ticketmaster, said … “Ticketmaster doesn’t sell these tickets and sit on a mountain of cash. Ticketmaster sells tickets and gives the cash over to the venues where the events are held.” … Berchtold explained that in order for Ticketmaster to issue refunds it needs to work with the event venues, but those are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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APPENDIX (RESOURCES)

SAG-AFTRA Disaster Relief Fund
The SAG-AFTRA Foundation and the SAG-AFTRA Motion Picture Players Welfare Fund (MPPWF) have a COVID-19 Disaster Fund to provide urgent financial support to SAG-AFTRA members and families affected by this global pandemic.

And here’s a list that certainly has duplicates from the other list I sent ya, but sending anyway, just in case…

Actors Fund Emergency Assistance
The Entertainment Assistance Program functions as an entryway and guide through The Fund’s many programs when you’re facing personal or work-related problems.

Arts and Culture Leaders of Color Emergency Fund
The Arts Administrators of Color Network is currently raising funds for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists and arts administrators who have been directly impacted by the COVID-19 nationally. You can read more here and donate here.

 

The Bret Adams & Paul Reisch Foundation Emergency Grant
Playwrights, composers, librettists and lyricistss who have had a full professional show cancelled, closed, or indefinitely postponed due to COVID-19 are eligible for a $2,500 emergency grant.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund
This fund will help entertainment professionals meet coronavirus-related expenses and other challenges brought about by the evolving pandemic.

 

CERF+ Emergency Assistance
Artists who have suffered from a recent, career threatening emergency, such as an illness, accident, fire or natural disaster, can apply for funding.

 

Chronicle of Philanthropy: Stimulus Bill Provides Nonprofit Loans, Grants, and One-Year ‘Universal Deduction’
This article details how the new stimulus bill will affect nonprofit organizations.

 

DGF Emergency Grants for Writers
DGF is processing Emergency Grants based on severity of need, especially as it relates to COVID-19. DGF is sensitive to the inherent economic challenges that will arise in relation to CDC recommendations for social distancing.

 

Emergency Survival Fund for LGBTQ2S artists, performers & tip-based workers
Glad Day has set up an emergency fund to help LGBTQ2S artists, performers & tip-based workers. This fund is not meant to help people recover lost income.

 

Foundations for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grants
Created in 1993 to further FCA’s mission to encourage, sponsor, and promote work of a contemporary, experimental nature, Emergency Grants provide urgent funding for visual and performing artists

 

Fractured Atlas: Emergency Resources for Artists
This resource list includes information on both regional and national relief efforts.

 

Gottlieb Emergency Grants
The Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Emergency Grant program is intended to provide interim financial assistance to qualified painters, printmakers, and sculptors whose needs are the result of an unforeseen, catastrophic incident, and who lack the resources to meet that situation.

 

How to Apply for the Coronavirus Business Loan
Fundera offers this guide on how to apply for the Small Business Association’s loan program.

Indie Theater Fund COVID-19 Emergency Grant
The Indie Theater Fund is offering unrestricted rapid relief grants of up to $500 to indie theater companies and individual artists in need due to the financial strain of closings, etc. related to COVID-19.

 

The Indie Theater Fund Rapid Relief Emergency Fund
The Indie Theater Fund is launching this fundraising campaign to provide direct support and emergency relief to independent theaters and artists in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

League of Professional Theatre Women Emergency Loan Fund
The League of Professional Theatre Women is offering full members of the League, in good standing, access to an emergency loan fund.

 

Musicians Foundation
The Musicians Foundation provides grants to U.S. musicians in any genre in a time of acute need due to personal, medical, dental, or family crisis, natural disaster, or other emergency situation.

 

NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund
The NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund was created to aid nonprofit service providers struggling with the health and economic effects of the coronavirus. It will give grants and loans to NYC-based nonprofits that are trying to meet the new and urgent needs that are hitting the city. Priority will be given to nonprofits addressing essential healthcare and food insecurity as well as arts and culture.

 

NYC Employee Retention Grant Program
To help small businesses deal with the impact of COVID-19, the City has launched the Employee Retention Grant Program to help retain employees as businesses face decreased revenue.

 

NYFA Emergency Grants List
NYFA has compiled a list of emergency grants for artists in all disciplines.

 

NYC Small Business Continuity Fund
Businesses with fewer than 100 employees who have seen sales decreases of 25% or more will be eligible for zero interest loans of up to $75,000 to help mitigate losses in profit.

NYS Unemployment Application
NYS is waiving the 7-Day waiting period for Unemployment Insurance benefits for people who are out of work due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) closures or quarantines.

 

One Fair Wage — Emergency Coronavirus Tipped and Service Worker Support Fund

One Fair Wage is providing cash assistance to restaurant workers, car service drivers, delivery workers, personal service workers and more who need the money they aren’t getting to survive.

 

PAAL Emergency Fund for Artists with Families
All donations made to PAAL in March and April will go to artists with families in need of financial support.

 

Rauschenberg Emergency Grants
Expected to roll out in late May or early June, these will provide visual artists, media artists, and choreographers up to $5,000 worth of assistance for medical emergencies. Applicants must be US citizens or permanent residents.

 

SBA Disaster Loan Assistance
Federal disaster loans for businesses, private nonprofits, homeowners, and renters.

 

Wingspace Theater Designer Microgrants
Wingspace is currently collecting donations for a microgrant for NYC-based theater designers. The application for the microgrant will open on Wednesday, April 8, at 10:00am.