On August 20, I attended a performance of Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu's urgent and timely Pass Over, the first Broadway play to open since the general shutdown in March of last year. It was my first time in a Broadway house in more than 17 months, as it was for many: You could feel the excitement and gratitude in the theater's briskly circulating air. If all goes according to plan, many other productions will follow in the months to come; you can already buy tickets to most of them, and I hope people will take the chance to reconnect with this classic wing of New York City culture. If you do, you can take comfort in the knowledge that the Broadway world is taking strong steps to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
I admit that I was worried when I heard about these steps. How much, I wondered, would they interfere with the experience of live theater? The answer, I'm glad to report, is: very little. Based on my experience at Pass Over, here are six simple tips for going to a show on Broadway these days.
1. Be vaccinated
Under rules set out by the Broadway League in July, proof of vaccination is required from audience members as well as for performers, crew and house staff through at least October 31. Given the recent uptick in COVID infections, that period seems likely to be extended. At Pass Over, there were three bouncers—one for the box office line, the other two for the line of ticket holders—checking IDs and proofs of vaccination for everyone entering the theater. On my visit they were polite and professional, and the whole process moved quickly. (For your convenience and theirs, consider getting an Excelsior Pass.)
2. Wear a comfortable mask, but feel free to snack
Under Broadway League guidelines, masks are currently required for all audiences inside the theater. To be honest, I thought this would be more annoying than it was, but once I was about 10 minutes in, I mostly forgot that I was even wearing one. Note that the general mask rule does have one exception: You can buy snacks and drinks in the lobby before the show and bring them to your seat, and you do not need to be wearing a mask while you consume them. When I saw Pass Over, however, I only noticed one person doing this; she finished her drink and M&Ms before the show began and put her mask back on.
3. Arrive a little early
Although the COVID safety procedures are being handled efficiently, they do add an extra step to the process of admitting the audience to the theater. At the 8pm performance of Pass Over, there was a line down the block at 7:40pm. So arrive at least an extra ten or fifteen minutes ahead of when you would usually plan to get to the theater—especially if you want to buy concessions or go to the bathroom. (Try to go to the bathroom before you go to the theater at all, if possible; Pass Over is 95 minutes long with no intermission, and several audience members had to leave and return for bathroom breaks, which is not ideal for anyone.)
4. Bring warm clothes
This one may seem counterintuitive during a very hot summer, but I found the air very chilly indeed inside at the August Wilson Theatre. This may reflect increased emphasis on ventilation in the pandemic era, or it may just be the venue or production’s choice. Either way, I wish I had brought a longer shirt. And because of the cold, consider wearing contact lenses instead of glasses (or treat your glasses with anti-fogging spray) to avoid visibility problems when your mask is in place.
5. Pack cough drops, just in case
“The art of acting consists of keeping people from coughing," Sir Ralph Richardson supposedly once said, and rarely have those words rung truer: What would ordinarily merely be an annoyance to other people now can sound like a threat. So if you are prone to (non-COVID-related) coughing, come prepared. Happily, Pass Over is one of the first Broadway shows I’ve seen at which I didn’t notice a single cough—a testament to how absorbing the play is, but perhaps also to how conscious we’ve necessarily become.
6. Give yourself over to the spirit of the moment
If you go to the theater often, it can be easy to get a little jaded about the Broadway experience. I’ve been to at least 50 Broadway shows every year for almost 20 years, so I know that feeling well. But returning after a year and a half—by far the longest dark period in Broadway history—is a special occasion. Live in that feeling, and celebrate it. When a voice-over at the start of Pass Over said, “Welcome to the August Wilson Theatre,” that benign sentiment was greeted by a round of applause that lasted for 30 straight seconds. Yes, there are new obstacles and nuisances, and yes, there is ongoing reason to be concerned. But in that lovely collective moment, everyone in that audience was sharing a feeling: We felt lucky to be there. And we were.