March 12, 2020 / 3:28 PM / 22 days ago

Broadway braces for worst as travel ban, coronavirus threatens theater

NEW YORK, March 12 (Reuters) - Broadway theater, one of New York’s biggest tourist attractions, could be the next victim of the coronavirus after an usher tested positive for the disease and President Donald Trump banned European travel to the United States.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday that he planned to issue guidance for Broadway in the next 24-48 hours amid a raft of other likely restrictions for New Yorkers. He said there were 62 cases of coronavirus in the city.

“I don’t want to see Broadway go dark if we can avoid it. I want to see if we can strike some kind of balance,” De Blasio told CNN, mentioning the possibility of putting more spaces between theater goers.

The industry was spooked on Wednesday when it was announced that an usher who had worked at two New York theaters had tested positive for coronavirus. Owners of the two venues said they had ordered deep cleanings and their shows went ahead.

However, television talk shows “The Late Show,”, “The Tonight Show” and “Last Week Tonight” said they would tape their broadcasts in New York venues without audiences going forward.

Several Broadway plays and musicals have already put a halt to cast members greeting fans and signing programs at stage doors.

De Blasio’s remarks followed bans by San Francisco and Washington state on gatherings of more than 250 people and the cancellation or postponement of dozens of U.S. entertainment industry events, including the Coachella and South by Southwest festivals, CinemaCon, and the E3 videogames convention.

Some 14.8 million tickets were sold for Broadway shows in the 2018-2019 season that ended in May, bringing $1.8 billion in box office receipts, according to the Broadway League. Some 63% of those going to shows were tourists, from outside the United States or outside New York.

Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin told Reuters that while there has so far been no recommendations to close theaters, “we clearly are telling our theater goers and our cast and crew, if you’re sick, don’t come. And obviously, if you’ve bought a ticket, go back to your ticket provider to get exchange or refund.”

March is generally a quiet time on Broadway. However influential producer Scott Rudin announced this week that all remaining tickets for his five shows would go on sale for just $50 through the end of March. Top seats on Broadway normally sell for about $200 each.

The shows, including “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “West Side Story,” are already among the most heavily sold on Broadway.

“My partners and I want the buildings full — even, and especially, during this crisis — and this is the way to ensure it,” Rudin told the Hollywood Reporter.

St. Martin said producers were cautious about sales picking up for the Easter and Spring break holidays “because people do tend to be more sensitive when it comes to their families.”

“We don’t truly know what’s going to happen, you know, with the news talking about it nonstop,” she said. (Additional reporting by Alicia Powell; editing by Diane Craft)

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