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Broadway show first to adopt facemask-only nights

BBC News logo BBC News 10/08/2022
New York's Broadway was much slower than London's West End to lift the mask mandate for audience members © Getty Images New York's Broadway was much slower than London's West End to lift the mask mandate for audience members

The Kite Runner has become the first show on Broadway to require audiences to wear masks at certain performances.

The decision by producers is particularly notable as their weekly mask-only night will be on Fridays - one of the most popular nights in New York's theatre district.

Fans who are disabled or have other health vulnerabilities have long called for theatres to host mask-only nights.

But the major theatres in London's West End have not introduced such a scheme.

'Audience demand'

In England and Wales, the mask mandate was lifted in January, in line with a significant fall in Covid cases and deaths following the rollout of the vaccine.

As a result, it has become increasingly rare in recent months to see audience members wearing facemasks at the vast majority of West End performances.

However, the US was much slower than the UK to do away with facemask rules.

Broadway theatres only lifted the industry-wide mask mandate on 1 July, and two plays - The Minutes and American Buffalo - kept their mask requirements in place until they closed later that month.

The decision to offer a mask-only performance of The Kite Runner is intended to allow a way for immunocompromised ticket buyers, or indeed anyone who is uncomfortable sitting in a mask-free environment, to see the show.

"There were a number of people, including friends, colleagues, even a doctor who had expressed some trepidation about attending our show, or any show, without a masked audience," The Kite Runner's lead producer Victoria Lang told The Hollywood Reporter.

Ushers at the Hayes Theatre, which is currently hosting The Kite Runner, will enforce the policy on Fridays © Getty Images Ushers at the Hayes Theatre, which is currently hosting The Kite Runner, will enforce the policy on Fridays

"We thought, why not dedicate at least one performance a week to make it a masked audience, so that anyone and everyone who wants to see the show has the opportunity to do that?"

"You always hope to boost sales, but it wasn't done specifically to boost sales," she added. "It was done really just to accommodate the requests from the people that were looking for a masked show."

The Kite Runner is an adaptation of the 2003 novel by Khaled Hosseini and opened on Broadway on 21 July, with a planned 17-week running.

The first mask-only performance of the show, which is directed by Giles Croft, will take place on 19 August.

Ushers inside the theatre will enforce the policy, Lang said, and signage outside the theatre and box office will make the policy clear to audiences.

Some venues in the UK have adopted occasional mask-only performances, including the Hampstead Theatre, the Nottingham Playhouse, the Birmingham Rep, the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Theatres and cinemas already offer showings and screenings for a variety of audiences - such as subtitled or signed performances for people who are hard of hearing, and parent-and-baby screenings for adults who don't want the sound of their infant crying to disrupt others.

As there would be very little public enthusiasm for bringing mask mandates back to entertainment venues in the UK, individual nights dedicated to masks could be a way for theatres to keep most ticket-buyers happy.

Liz Carr, pictured at the Olivier Awards in April, previously suggested UK theatres could host socially distanced performances with a facemask requirement © PA Media Liz Carr, pictured at the Olivier Awards in April, previously suggested UK theatres could host socially distanced performances with a facemask requirement

Earlier this year, Silent Witness star Liz Carr called for UK theatres to host "Covid-safer performances".

"Theatre should remain accessible even to those of us who have health conditions," she told BBC News at the Olivier Awards in April.

"I think they should have facemask performances that are more socially distanced. In the same way you might have a British sign language performance, I think you should have Covid-safer performances."

Carr recalled: "Some of my friends who weren't ready to come and see my show, they came to see the dress rehearsal, because they didn't feel safe enough to come.

"So I think performances with less capacity and mandatory facemasks, every show should be doing that to make sure theatre remains accessible even to those of us who have health conditions."

Even after the mask mandate lifted in the UK, some high-profile West End stars encouraged live audiences to wear masks.

Frozen star Stephanie McKeon tweeted in October: "A plea to amazing London audiences: Please please please wear your masks in the theatre. We are working so hard on our end to ensure everyone is safe and to keep our shows running.

'We would be so grateful if you could help us out and do your bit too. Thank you."

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