Plays, concerts and other performances can resume in New York starting next month — but with sharply reduced capacity limits — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday.
Mr. Cuomo, speaking at a news conference in Albany, said that arts, entertainment and events venues could reopen April 2 at 33 percent capacity, with a limit of up to 100 people indoors or 200 people outdoors, and a requirement that all attendees wear masks and be socially distanced. Those limits would increase — to 150 people indoors or 500 people outdoors — if the venues are able to test all attendees.
A handful of venues immediately said they would begin holding live performances, which, with a handful of limited exceptions, have not taken place in New York since Broadway shut down last March 12.
The producers Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal said they expected some of the earliest performances would take place with pop-up programs inside Broadway theaters, as well as with programming at nonprofit venues that have flexible spaces, including the Apollo Theater, the Park Avenue Armory, St. Ann’s Warehouse, the Shed, Harlem Stage, La MaMa and the National Black Theater.
“That communion of audience and performer, which we’ve craved for a year, we can finally realize,” said Alex Poots, the artistic director and chief executive of the Shed, which, he said, is planning to begin indoor performances for limited capacity audiences starting in early April.
The new rules will not affect commercial productions of Broadway plays and musicals, which are still most likely to open after Labor Day, according to Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League.
“For a traditional Broadway show, the financial model just doesn’t work,” she said. “How do we know that? Because shows that get that kind of attendance close.”
Mr. Cuomo announced his plan to ease restrictions as New York, along with New Jersey, has been adding new coronavirus cases at the highest rates in the country over the last week: both reported 38 new cases per 100,000 people. (The nation as a whole is averaging 20 per 100,000 people.) And New York City is currently adding cases at a per capita rate roughly three times higher than Los Angeles County.
Two prestigious New York nonprofits — Lincoln Center and the Glimmerglass Festival — have already said they hope to perform outdoors this year, and the new rules will allow them to do so before substantial audiences.
“We welcome the new guidelines and want to serve as many people on our campus as is safe,” said Isabel Sinistore, a spokeswoman for Lincoln Center, which is planning to open 10 outdoor performance and rehearsal spaces on April 7.
For many New York music venues, operating at 33 percent capacity still may not be enough to make reopening economically feasible, give the costs of running the venues and paying performers.
“It doesn’t make financial sense for the Blue Note to open with only 66 seats for shows,” said Steven Bensusan, the president of the Blue Note Entertainment Group, whose flagship jazz club is in Greenwich Village.
The Blue Note, along with some other jazz spots that serve food, had reopened last fall for dinner performances, allowing them to put on some shows without running afoul of state regulations that had banned anything but “incidental” music.
In August, a federal lawsuit filed by a musician in Buffalo had challenged the state’s rule, and in November a judge issued a preliminary injunction that prevented the state from enforcing its ban on advertised and ticketed shows. But that reprieve was brief: by December, the state shut down indoor dining once again. (It resumed again on Feb. 14.)
Several promoters and venue operators said they were holding out to reopen at 100 percent capacity, which many hope can happen this summer.
Michael Swier, the owner of the Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge, two of New York’s best-known rock clubs, said that the state’s order that venues require social distancing and mask-wearing means that the true capacity at many spaces may be much lower.
“Given that social distancing is still part of the metric, it brings us back down to an approximate 20 percent capacity, which is untenable,” Mr. Swier said.
“Even 50 percent would be rough for us,” he added.
But some small nonprofits immediately expressed interest. At the Tank, a Midtown Manhattan arts venue that presents theater, music, dance, puppetry and more, Meghan Finn, its artistic director, said that within hours of the governor’s announcement she started hearing from comedians eager to resume indoor performance. She said the Tank would continue streaming and still plans to present work outdoors this summer, but that it would now also seek to program indoors, where it has a 98-seat theater that could accommodate 32 patrons under the new rules.
“Having the ability to use our space is not something we will pass up,” Ms. Finn said.
Ben Sisario and Matt Stevens contributed reporting.