Three days after the Broadway League announced that all 41 theaters would make masks optional from July 1, one of those theaters has decided to stick to mandatory face coverings.
The producers of a revival of “American Buffalo,” a 1975 drama by David Mamet about three dusks in a junk store, announced Friday that they would continue to need masks until the series’ scheduled end at Circle in the Square. Theater on July 10.
That’s just 10 days later than when Broadway plans to drop its industry-wide masking requirement, and it’s only one show, but it suggests the unanimity between producers and theater owners may not be rock solid.
There are several factors that make the situation of the “American Buffalo” unusual.
The play, starring Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne and Darren Criss, will be performed at the Circle in the Square Theater, Broadway’s only theater-in-the-round (it’s actually almost-in-the-round, because the seats not quite around the stage), leaving more patrons within spitting distance of actors than in other theatres.
Also, with 751 seats as it is currently configured, Circle in the Square is the only remaining Broadway theater not operated by a major corporation or nonprofit, so its decisions are not tied to those of any larger entity.
Rockwell expressed concern about the end of the masking policy in an interview this week with DailyExpertNews columnist Ginia Bellafante.
The show announced the change in policy in a press release, saying it was “because of the audience’s proximity to the actors due to the intimate size of the theater and the staging in the round.” The production and theater owner did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.
It’s not clear if the decision will affect other Broadway shows. The vast majority take place in theaters operated by a handful of major landlords who endorsed the mask-optional decision. Broadway’s four non-profit theater operators, who have been more Covid-cautious, will have no shows this summer. And the summer fare on Broadway is dominated by big musicals, where audiences tend to flock to tourists, many of whom hail from places where masks are long gone; older New York players are scarcer this time of year (and the number of shows is also lower: there are now only 27 shows on Broadway).
After “American Buffalo” closes next month, Circle in the Square is slated to be empty until October, when a new musical called “KPOP” begins previews.
Actors’ Equity, the union representing performers and stage managers, has declined to comment on the public’s safety protocols, but this week sent an email to its members, previously reported by Deadline, stating: “This decision is unilateral. taken without input from your union or anyone else, and the unions were only notified a few hours before the announcement.”
Although the decision was announced by the Broadway League, it was made by theater owners and operators, and they plan to reconsider protocols on a monthly basis.