Culture

More scarce than opening-night tickets: insurance to back Broadway shows

A sign is seen outside the shuttered Minskoff Theatre, home the popular show "The Lion King" after industry group the Broadway League said Broadway theaters will remain closed through January 3, 2021, in New York, U.S., July 2, 2020. (Reuters/Mike Segar)

NEW YORK: As they reel from canceled productions and shuttered theaters, the shows that give Broadway its bright lights and draw millions of tourists to New York are facing a new obstacle to reopening: lack of pandemic insurance.

Broadway producers, directors, general managers and insurance brokers told Reuters that shows face an extra hurdle because policies now exclude coverage for communicable diseases.

"Right now most insurers, if not all, have come out with a virus or communicable disease exclusion that they're putting on their policies," said Peter Shoemaker, managing director of the New York entertainment division at insurance broker DeWitt Stern.

Shoemaker said he recently spoke with insurers at Lloyd's of London to see if special coverage was available. "I still haven't seen anything for covering a pandemic," he said.

Insurers' caution also is halting films and television shows, which need insurance to get the financial bond necessary to start production.

But Broadway is particularly vulnerable because of the large numbers of people needed to mount a big production and to fill the theater night after night.

"We are truly at the mercy of science," Tony Award-winning director John Rando said in an interview, referring to a vaccine. "We need science to come through. We need people to feel safe."

Operating at 30 percent capacity to allow social distancing, or testing and tracing audiences as a Korean production of Phantom of the Opera is doing, are not feasible in New York.

"Broadway simply cannot operate on those economics," Rando said.

Broadway productions scheduled to open this fall have already been postponed to Jan. 3, 2021, at the earliest under New York's phased reopening rules.

The lack of insurance will impede shows and theaters seeking to reopen in 2021, even if other pandemic problems such as audience safety are solved, the brokers and producers said.

 

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