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The show finally goes on: New York’s pandemic-shut theaters reopen, slowly

Caroline Baron is wearing shoes she has not worn in a year and a big smile as she walks into The Shed, one of the few major venues in America’s cultural capital New York to begin hosting live performances again for the first time since March 2020.

“I forgot how to get dressed… it is exciting,” the film-maker says as she, along with her partner and teenage son, reach the arts center on Manhattan’s West Side for a concert by singer and cellist Kelsey Lu.

Some had hoped that Friday would mark the grand reopening of New York’s iconic theaters, a hugely symbolic moment for a metropolis seeking to recapture the effervescence — and millions of tourists — that characterized it before the pandemic.

But The Shed is one of the few to take advantage of the New York state governor’s permission to reopen as of April 2 with capacity limited to one third, or 150 people maximum.

All 150 of those attending the concert had either proof of vaccination against Covid-19 or a negative PCR test less than six hours old.

The venue in the newly-redeveloped Hudson Yards opened in 2019, and thus has advantages that many of New York’s older theaters do not: it is not-for-profit, giving it an edge over Broadway venues for whom 33 percent capacity is not profitable; it has a modern ventilation system, and its space is modular, which has allowed it to develop a program adapted to the pandemic, artistic director Alex Poots told AFP.

“The most important thing is to keep this precious thing alive called live performance, even if we have to reduce our capacity,” he said.

“There is this communion between artists and audiences that we’ve all missed terribly.”

The city’s myriad stand-up comedy clubs are also throwing open their doors.

With one person on stage and spectators seated at tables, spending an evening at a comedy club is “really no different from a restaurant,” says Emilio Savone, owner of the New York Comedy Club.

He is delighted to have sold all the available seats for this first night.

– ‘Reawakening’ –

“This is one of the moments that really signals to people our comeback,” New York mayor Bill de Blasio said after attending a performance at another venue: an off-Broadway theater which was hosting “Blindness,” a sound and light installation based on the dystopian novel by Jose Saramago.

“The theater community means so much to our identity as New Yorkers … And it also happens to be a part of our economy that accounts for more than $100 billion a year in economic activity, so it has to come back for so many reasons,” he said.

But with Covid infection rates holding steady — even as New York ramps up its vaccination program — the opening almost certainly will remain gradual.

Between now and the fall, theater will see a “reawakening,” says Poots.

“That said… it’d be very naive not to think that that is a risk, and I think we’re very mindful that if at some point, things increase by a big enough degree, the pandemic, then we’ll have to pause,” he said.

And yet, after more than a year of closure, Savone is philosophical.

“How much worse can it get?” he says.

All those attending the concert had to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19 or a negative PCR test less than six hours old
The Shed is a not-for-profit venue in the newly redeveloped Hudson Yards on the West Side
The Shed is so far one of the few New York venues to take advantage of the governor’s permission to reopen from April 2

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