Remember the scene in the film La La Land, where Mia does her one woman show and only about 12 people show up? She was utterly disappointed to say the least. Well, imagine being on the West End or Broadway and your audience is at only 25% capacity.
This is of course a different circumstance in which the reason no one showed up is because of a global pandemic, and not because you aren’t famous, but you get the gist. Performers feed off the energy of the audience and when the audience is far and few between, it just doesn’t feel the same.
So it was no surprise that when Andrew Lloyd Webber opened the doors to the London Palladium at a quarter capacity, it was, by all accounts, weird at best and a little heartbreaking at worst. Webber stated, “It’s a rather sad sight – The Palladium is meant to be full. It is meant to love you.”
Webber hosted a special concert Thursday, July 23, to specifically test run precautions for a COVID-19 world. The procedures put in place were extensive, starting with only housing about 600 audience members with some 1,900 seats empty. Before arrival, audience members had specific times listed on their tickets for “entry times”. They all had to get their temperatures checked at the door, were asked to sanitize their hands before entering the theater, had to utilize in-seat and contactless service for snacks and drinks (though I guess they had drinks?!), and maintain the expected 6-feet social distancing and as well as wear a mask covering over their face.
Yes, I agree with all of these procedures — people should be doing most of these on their own anyway — but unfortunately 25% capacity at a theater doesn’t do it for me, or really anyone else. I know we all miss the pre-show buzz of the audience, the laughs and gasps and sighs we collectively experience together, but it’s not safe to have that experience right now.
As for affording to keep a theater open in general, it’s said a theater needs around 65% capacity for a play and even more for musicals. So, even if these procedures worked and the performers were okay performing to pathetically small crowds, the theaters still wouldn’t be able to afford to keep their lights on, let alone pay their actors.
Well, now what? We’re just going to have to wait a little bit longer. Broadway has made the decision to stay dark until Jan. 3 at the earliest. Realistically? Probably March. As for the West End, they seem to be getting on much better, but will have to wait until large crowds are allowed to convene once more before the theaters flip the light switches on and welcome back patrons.
All of that said, we have to raise our glasses to Andrew Lloyd Webber for orchestrating this massive experiment. While it doesn’t seem like this system is the answer we’re looking for, it’s nice to know we’re looking.