Pedestrians walk past a Broadway theater in New York City, the United States, on Oct. 7, 2020. Broadway, one of New York City's name cards, continues to reel as live performance venues are expected to remain closed until January 2021 or later. The lockdown since March means the theater industry in New York City has lost over 800 million dollars of ticket sales revenues alone. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)
by Xinhua writer Liu Yanan
NEW YORK, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- Broadway, one of New York City's name cards, continues to reel as live performance venues are expected to remain closed until January 2021 or later.
The streets in Midtown Manhattan remain quiet even at noon of a sunny working day with no throngs of visitors but only locked doors of theaters.
New York City's Broadway is also seeing many restaurants and stores closed without tourists and office workers.
The theater industry in New York City contributed 14.7 billion U.S. dollars in economic activity in the 2018-2019 season benefiting restaurants, hotels and transportation systems and supported 96,900 local jobs, according to industry trade organization The Broadway League.
The lockdown since March means the theater industry in New York City has lost over 800 million dollars of ticket sales revenues alone.
As many as 335 storefronts along Broadway road of New York City were vacant in late August, surging 78 percent from the figure in 2017, according to a survey by a team led by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
In particular, nearly a third of vacancies were concentrated between 14th and 59th streets, where a lot of live performance venues are located.
Congress lawmakers and industry associations have put up SOS for more fiscal support so as to save the sector which generated billions of dollars of revenues each year ahead of the coronavirus outbreak.
As much as 10 billion dollars of small business grants could be allocated to live venue operators, producers, promoters or artists to deal with challenges resulting from COVID-19, according to the latest version of Save Our Stages Act (SOS) in the House of Representatives.
It would be better if the government could provide more support like the establishment of platforms for online teaching and learning, said Qianci Liu, a cellist and producer, who lives in the New York metropolitan area.
"I very much hope for more governmental support and direct fiscal appropriation in this regard would be a better thing," Liu told Xinhua on Tuesday.
Those who just graduated from colleges but have not got a job need the support the most, Liu said.
Still, the theater community may see their hopes dashed at least for now as U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced that the talks on a new round of fiscal stimulus package would be postponed until after the election on Nov. 3.
The Broadway League did not make a comment on the development when approached by Xinhua on Wednesday.
LONG WAY FOR RECOVERY
As the first to shut down and probably the last to reopen, New York theaters are expected to have a much longer way to go to recover.
If a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available gradually, the live performance industry may need two to three years to see its market come back, said Liu.
Once live performance venues are reopened, "artists would like to come back for sure, the question is would the audience come back after September 2021," said Liu.
The recovery of Broadway would depend on the overall performance of the tourism industry.
As one of the greatest tourist destinations in New York City, Broadway has 65 percent of its audience composed of tourists, according to The Broadway League.
Pedestrian traffic in the week ending Sept. 20 in Garment District of Midtown Manhattan was still 65.1 percent lower than that in the same period of 2019, according to data issued by the non-profit organization Garment District Alliance.
Now, some grocery stores, instrument shops and even bowling alleys are open around Broadway.
"We are open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. ... When the theaters come back, then we might open until midnight (like before)," said Luz, who works with the instrument chain store Guitar Center in Midtown, on Wednesday.
In August, the number of employment in the leisure and hospitality sector of New York state was 403,200 less than that in the same period of 2019, representing a 39.9 percent year-on-year drop, according to statistics from the New York State Department of Labor.
The leisure and hospitality sector includes the arts, entertainment and recreation subsector as well as accommodation and food service subsector. The latter has seen substantial recovery as restaurants were allowed to be reopened in multiple phases.
GO HOME, GO VIRTUAL
As the pandemic continues to haunt the city, performances, teaching and communication have gone virtual while many freelance artists have been forced to go back to their hometowns.
Many freelance artists have left New York City since the outbreak of the pandemic as the closure of performance venues cut the source of income for those people, according to Liu.
"Many freelance artists were forced to terminate rent of houses and returned to their hometowns along with their own instruments," said Liu.
In particular, almost all Chinese-speaking freelance artists in New York have gone back to China due to the impacts of COVID-19, said Liu, who started her career in China. Those who teach at school need to stay in New York so as to teach online, added Liu.
"If you have nothing to do amid the lockdowns, you would face psychological pressures. Once back to China, many such freelance artists could have opportunities to perform or teach as the pandemic has been well controlled in China," said Liu.
Liu said she receives her local friends' messages almost every day on their switch to YouTube or other online platforms, which could generate income for artists with high viewership.
Broadway On Demand, a theater-focused streaming platform, recently launched master classes and training program "Broadway Access Pro," which requires users to pay monthly subscription fees.
Liu herself has online classes for both domestic and overseas students and is planning to launch a non-profit online dialogue program in cooperation with her partners.
"The effort could create more value to myself and also serves as a try of transformation ... There is a need to explore a new way to survive and make money by leveraging new technologies," said Liu.