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Photograph: Courtesy New York Comedy Club/Dennis Cahlo/Cary Allen Productions

Eight NYC theaters and comedy clubs are suing Governor Cuomo to lift shutdown

The smaller venues are asking for permission to reopen.

Collier Sutter
Written by
Collier Sutter

Bowling alleys, restaurants, gyms, rehearsal studios and other recreational spaces (including TV studios like the one used for Saturday Night Live) have reopened in New York. So if the show can go on for live tapings of Saturday Night Live, why are NYC’s small theater venues and comedy clubs still shuttered?

A coalition of six off-Broadway theaters and two comedy clubs in New York City have sued Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Friday over just that argument. Their suit states that New York’s continued closure of small venue theaters “looks more arbitrary than ever” as other businesses and gatherings have been allowed to reopen, and infringes upon “the right to work, right to contract and right to engage in commerce.”

The small performance venues that have filed the lawsuit are Theater Center, the Players TheaterActors Temple TheaterSoHo Playhouse, the Gene Frankel Theater, the TriadBroadway Comedy Club and New York Comedy Club. Small theaters are those that have less than 199 seats, which the theaters argue is a low enough capacity to open doors safely with health restrictions in place.

The lawsuit was put together by Catherine Russell, an actor who is also the general manager of the Theater Center.

“Small theaters 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 theater because you keep your mask on.”

“We get sued virtually every day for virtually every action taken during this pandemic, and frankly I’ve lost track of all the frivolous suits filed against us,” senior adviser to Governor Cuomo, Richard Azzopardi, told the New York Times about the theater lawsuit. “We are moving heaven and earth to contain this virus and we know some people are unhappy, but New York continues to have one of the lowest infection rates in the nation, and better to be unhappy than sick or worse.”

The shutdown of all Broadway theaters, has been extended multiple times, and will continue well beyond the beginning of 2021 as The Broadway League announced Broadway will now stay dark through June 2021.

Similarly, in the nightlife industry, music venues and comedy clubs are among the most affected by the continued shutdown orders across the country.

Last month, New York comedy venues including Comedy Cellar, QED Astoria, Gotham Comedy Club, New York Comedy Club and more formed the New York Comedy Club Coalition pleading to Cuomo to allow NYC clubs to reopen with reduced capacity, again, similar to restaurants, bowling alleys and museums.

Cuomo did not seem in any hurry to reopen either comedy clubs or music venues in a recent interview with Long Island New Radio in September.

“How essential is a comedy club when you’re talking about the infection rate?" The governor said. "Not to offend people in the comedy club, Lord knows we need to laugh, but those are the calibrations we’re making.”

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