Three days after the Broadway League announced that every one 41 theaters would make masks optional starting July 1, one in every of those theaters has decided to persist with mandatory face coverings.
The producers of a starry revival of “American Buffalo,” which is a 1975 drama by David Mamet about three schemers in a junk shop, announced Friday that they’d proceed to require masks through the scheduled end of the show’s run at Circle within the Square Theater on July 10.
That’s only 10 days beyond when Broadway plans to drop its industrywide masking requirement, and it’s only one show, however it suggests that the unanimity amongst producers and theater owners will not be rock solid.
There are several aspects that make the “American Buffalo” situation unusual.
The play, starring Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne and Darren Criss, is being staged at Broadway’s only theater-in-the-round (it’s actually almost-in-the-round, since the seating doesn’t entirely encircle the stage), which suggests there are more patrons seated inside spitting distance of actors than at other theaters.
Also, Circle within the Square, with 751 seats because it is currently configured, is the one remaining Broadway theater that just isn’t operated by a big company or a nonprofit organization, so its decisions usually are not tied to those of an even bigger entity.
Rockwell expressed concerns in regards to the end of the masking policy in an interview this week with the Latest York Times columnist Ginia Bellafante.
The show announced the change in policy in a news release, saying that it was “as a consequence of the close proximity of the audience to the actors in consequence of the intimate size of the theater and the staging within the round.” The production and theater owner didn’t immediately reply to requests for further comment.
Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League, said of the “American Buffalo” decision, “Because the optional mask policy takes effect in July, there could also be unique situations which might require the audience, or among the audience, to be masked.”
It just isn’t clear whether the choice will affect other Broadway shows. The overwhelming majority happen in theaters operated by a handful of massive landlords who endorsed the mask-optional decision. Broadway’s 4 nonprofit theater operators, who’ve been more Covid-cautious, wouldn’t have any shows this summer. And summer fare on Broadway is dominated by big musicals, where the audience tends to skew toward tourists, a lot of whom come from places where masks are long gone; older Latest York playgoers are scarcer at the moment of yr (and the amount of shows is lower, too: there are only 27 shows now running on Broadway).
After “American Buffalo” closes next month, Circle within the Square is scheduled to be vacant until October, when a recent musical called “KPOP” begins previews.
Actors’ Equity, the union representing performers and stage managers, has declined to comment on the audience safety protocols, but this week sent an email to its members, previously reported by Deadline, saying, “This decision was made unilaterally, without input out of your union or some other, and the unions were only given advance notice a few hours before the announcement.”
Although the choice was announced by the Broadway League, it was made by theater owners and operators, they usually plan to reconsider the protocols monthly.