A coalition of eight Off-Broadway theatres and comedy clubs have filed a lawsuit against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio for keeping their venues closed during the pandemic. The complaint was submitted to Manhattan’s Federal District Court October 23 and requests that the executive order restricting indoor performances be nulled.
Listed as plaintiffs are Theater Center, the Players Theater, Actors Temple Theater, SoHo Playhouse, the Gene Frankel Theater, the Triad, Broadway Comedy Club, and New York Comedy Club.
The suit says that while schools, gyms, and other recreational spaces have opened—including rehearsal studios and TV sets like Saturday Night Live—theatres have been forced to remain closed, which the plaintiffs view as infringing upon “the right to work, right to contract, and right to engage in commerce.”
Catherine Russell, the star of Perfect Crime and the general manager of the Theater Center, is spearheading the charge to reopen. “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,” 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.”
While regional venues across the United States have slowly started to resume performances indoors with Actors' Equity approval, the vibrant theatre scene in NYC—from Broadway to Off-Off-Broadway—remains dark. Off-Broadway's Daryl Roth Theatre intends to present the U.K.-born sound installation Blindness this fall, though the piece is performed sans live performers. Meanwhile, City Council members are calling for legislation that would ease restrictions and streamline the approval process for ticketed cultural events in open-air spaces.