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Theaters Forced To Fight Covid Issues Again

By Bruce Chadwick

originally published: 01/06/2022

Theaters Forced To Fight Covid Issues Again

Covid-19 is once again spreading it monstrous tentacles into the New Jersey theater world, canceling and postponing numerous plays throughout the state.

Nearly two years ago, I was getting ready to see a play at the George Street Playhouse, in New Brunswick, when, all of a sudden, the theater shut down because of the COVID pandemic. George Street re-opened last fall but this week the theater announced that it was postponing its current play, Her Portmanteau, to the fall of 2022 because of the new COVID surge caused by the omicron variant, which has been racing throughout the nation. It is a horrible repeat performance. George Street still plans to stage its spring plays. 

Although plays are being re-scheduled, none of New Jersey’s theaters are closing.

“It seems like we took three steps forward and are now taking three steps back,”  said John McEwen, executive director of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, who had an emergency meeting (via phone) with all of his members last week.

Suspensions: The Two River Theater in Red Bank will shut down until at least March 31. The theater will cancel its winter production of Three Sisters. The Vanguard Theater Company has delayed its opening night for Into the Woods to January 14. The play will run through January 23. At the Passage Theater in Trenton, the readings of the musical Group! Has been moved back to February 22-25.

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The New Jersey theaters join a half dozen or so Broadway theaters that have suspended  performances for several weeks.

Most of the closing are because actors, crew or staffers at theaters have come down with COVID and the performances cannot go on while so many stage-connected people are sick.  

“If one person in a play or crew or theater staffer gets Covid, they give it to others because they interact with each other all day,” said McEwen. “It’s all so sad.”

McEwen stressed that no New Jersey theater suspensions were due to members of the audience who had Covid, just performers or crew.

The omicron wildfire is not limited to the entertainment world. On each of the last few days in New Jersey, an average of over 20,000 COVID cases have been recorded, nearly as high as May of 2020. Hospitalizations have been up 10%. In New York state there have been 66,000 cases per day and new hospitalizations are at 9,000, almost as high as May 2020. 

New York shows, big and small, are being suspended. As an examples, Hugh Jackman got the coronavirus and his production of The Music Man was forced to cancel several performances.

Theaters fear that even vaccinated actors might come down with Covid. Over the last few weeks, there have been hundreds of vaccinated people, including the U.S. Secretary of Defense and Governor Murphy’s wife, Tammy, who have come down with COVID. The toughest restrictions do not seem to help. Cruise ships that require all passengers to not only be vaccinated by the day of boarding but also pass Covid tests have still found dozens of positive cases on board.

Theatre Alliance’s McEwen said he was happy that so many theater executives are so worried about COVID. “It just shows that their concern for the safety of their actors, and their audiences, overrides any business concerns,” he said.

There are other suspensions and postponements.

Events scheduled at the Little Books Café in Hoboken including its literary weekend, are cancelled. The remaining productions of  5 Times in One Night at the Mile Square Theater, in Hoboken are cancelled.  The Lizzie Rose Music Room in Tuckerton hopes to return with outdoor shows May 1. The show Stomp, scheduled for the Mayo Arts Center in Morristown, was cancelled. The Barn Theater, in Montville, cancelled its show American Son.

The reason the New Jersey theaters are all planning to re-open in March is that the omicron variant might have disappeared or plateaued by then. The New Jersey Theatre Alliance has a medical consultant who told them they should be safe by then.

“He follows everything closely. Look, South Africa, where omicron started, is seeing a plateau of the variant now. The U.S. should see it by mid-March, our doctor says,” added McEwen.

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Some major theaters will remain open. I called the box office at the Mayor Arts Center, in Morristown and a woman there said “the theater will remain open and all scheduled performances will be held.” The play Dreaming Zenzile is still scheduled to open next week at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre. Representatives from the State Theatre, in New Brunswick, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), in Newark, the Algonquin Arts Center, in Manasquan, and the Grunin Center, in Toms River, all said their scheduled performances will be presented unless an artist cancels.

If you have tickets for a show or concert, check with your theater’s box office on its status.

You can also check the Theatre Alliance's “openingright.com’ website.      

Bruce Chadwick worked for 23 years as an entertainment writer/critic for the New York Daily News. Later, he served as the arts and entertainment critic for the History News Network, a national online weekly magazine. Chadwick holds a Ph. D in History and Cultural Studies from Rutgers University. He has written 31 books on U.S. history and has lectured on history and culture around the world. He is a history professor at New Jersey City University.



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