DC theater industry prepares for uncertain future amid coronavirus crisis

When your job is to pack a bunch of people into a crowded theater, how will things look when coronavirus restrictions are lifted?

That is a question the theater community is grappling with, and there is no clear answer at the moment.

“There’s so much uncertainty and so many questions,” said Adam Immerwahr, artistic director with Theater J, a professional theater company in D.C. that focuses on Jewish culture.

Immerwahr said it’s possible that audience members will be required to wear masks.

Theaters are weighing other options, such as installing hand sanitizing stations and separating audience members by selling only every other row of seats.

Then there is the question of how theaters will keep the performers safe.

“This is the next question that the industry will have to ask,” Immerwahr said.

“Acting in a play so often requires actors to be in physical contact with each other.”

The one certain thing is that going to the theater will be a very difference experience once they are actually allowed to open again.

“We used to pride ourselves in saying ‘when you come to the theater, one of the extraordinary things is that you are breathing the same air with another audience member,’ which of course feels like a threat right now,” Immerwahr said.

While they remain shut down, theaters are having to rely on loyal subscribers and donors to help them stay afloat.

They are also pivoting and trying other things. For instance, Theater J is offering virtual acting classes using the video conferencing tool Zoom.

“Financially this is a very tricky moment for our industry,” Immerwahr said.

Theater J is among more than 90 professional theaters in the D.C. region.

More Coronavirus news

In New York City, Broadway producers have extended the suspension of all shows, saying musicals and plays will stay shuttered through June 7, in accordance with the latest medical guidance.

Broadway abruptly closed March 12 and announced plans to reopen the week of April 13. But that timetable was increasingly looking too optimistic as the city saw an alarming surge in deaths.

“Our top priority continues to be the health and well-being of Broadway theatergoers and the thousands of people who work in the theater industry every day, including actors, musicians, stagehands, ushers and many other dedicated professionals,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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