By Charles Passy
Could audiences for shows, concerts and other indoor events soon have the option to attend select performances where masks are required as a COVID-19 safety protocol?
That’s the question some in the entertainment world are asking in light of the announcement that producers of “The Kite Runner,” a Broadway play based on the novel of the same name, are instituting the mask requirement for all Friday-night performances, starting Aug. 19. During the rest of the week, attendees will have the choice to go mask-free.
In effect, the show, which was initially mask-optional for all performances when it opened last month, is now opting for a hybrid approach.
“We said, ‘Let’s give it a try,’” said producer Victoria Lang, adding that initial response from ticket buyers has been positive.
The Broadway League, the industry’s trade group, had a mask requirement in place for all shows through June, but adapted the policy starting in July to give productions the ability to go mask-optional. Most shows have since dropped the mask requirement.
Similarly, most other entertainment venues throughout the country no longer require masking.
Lang said the idea for the hybrid approach came to her when she heard from theatergoers who wanted to attend the show, but were hesitant to do so because of fear of catching COVID-19 in a room full of unmasked people. So, she decided to offer those people one performance a week where they could feel safe.
Lang said she believes other Broadway productions may follow her lead. Officials with the Broadway League declined to comment about the situation.
Mike Rafael, a veteran Broadway ticketing consultant, said the industry will be closely watching the results of Lang’s experiment.
Rafael added that if the idea is successful, he could also see it spreading to other arts and entertainment venues and productions. He said the one-size-fits-all approach to masking may no longer be an ideal one, especially as we head into the busy fall cultural season.
“We need to develop a broader toolbox that isn’t so blunt,” he said.
While COVID-19 case numbers have fallen since the peak periods of the pandemic, there is concern they could rise, particularly with the easily spreadable omicron BA.5 variant, which was what likely infected President Joe Biden recently.
Still, some Broadway professionals point out that plenty of productions are doing brisk business at the box office with a mask-optional policy. Among those shows are the perennial favorite “Hamilton” and the Tony award-winning newcomer “MJ,” about the life of pop great Michael Jackson. Both “Hamilton” and “MJ” played to capacity audiences in the past week, according to sales figures reported by the Broadway League.