A group of Off-Broadway theaters and comedy clubs are suing government officials in hopes of ending forced closures that have lasted over seven months thus far amid the coronavirus pandemic. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blaso are named in the lawsuits, which hope to nullify the state order restricting indoor performances and attendance.
The lawsuit, filed on October 23 in Manhattan, lists New York Comedy Club, Broadway Comedy Club, Theater Center, the Players Theater, Actors Temple Theater, SoHo Playhouse, the Gene Frankel Theater, and the Triad as plaintiffs. It argues that the fact that many recreational spaces including gyms, rehearsal spaces and TV sets such as Saturday Night Live’s have been allowed to reopen, while theaters have been forced to stay shut down for the foreseeable future. This impacts the “right to work, right to contract, and right to engage in commerce” of the plaintiffs.
“Small theatres are much more capable of doing this safely, and if people walk into our theaters and feel safe and protected, they’ll be more likely to see Hamilton or Six next summer,” Theater Center general manager Catherine Russell told The New York Times. “Also, people need to go back to work. We were closed with restaurants and bars, but they’ve been open for a while, and it’s actually safer to be in a theatre because you keep your mask on.”
The Broadway League announced that its performances wouldn’t resume until at least June of 2021, and is lobbying hard for aid from Congress by way of the Save Our Stages Act, which would pump $10 billion of support to struggling live entertainment and arts organizations. The Democractic-led House of Representatives already included Save Our Stages in the HEROES Act, and Senate Democrats included it in a smaller proposed stimulus bill, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned its session without taking up either aid package following the confirmation vote of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Any stimulus will wait until after next week’s election at minimum.
The challenge isn’t the first to the strict restrictions put in place by New York authorities. A judge issued a ruling against restrictions on live and ticketed events in a case brought by a Buffalo bar in late September. New York City, the early epicenter of COVID spread in the United States, has its own strict rules for live events and venues in addition to what the state has mandated.