Theater people are pretty great. Their love of the craft so outweighs everything else that it takes a major event to cancel a show. That Broadway was dark for three days after September 11 was notable, beyond the events of the day, because Broadway never goes dark. Barring a massive blackout (like the one in 2003), the show must go on.
Actors are, in some ways, like mailmen: nor rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail will prevent them from doing their jobs. So it came as no surprise that Broadway theaters continued their operations through this winter’s impossible snow, and should be similarly unsurprising that theater owners announced earlier today that performances would continue this weekend, despite Hurricane Irene. After all, the millions of people stranded in Manhattan—residents and visitors alike—will still be able to make it to the theater district—if they don’t need to take the subway there, at least.
But here’s the thing: Broadway is one of the biggest tourist draws in New York. I’m not just talking the family of four from Milwaukee with tickets to the Lion King. I’m also thinking of the people from all up and down the East Coast, who make day trips to New York for dinner and a show. You would think that the theater operators would appreciate that their continued existence relies at least in part from this out-of-town money, and that they’d do whatever was in their power to keep their patrons happy, in order to keep them coming back. And until late this afternoon, you would have thought wrong.
You see, I had tickets to Follies this weekend. Real tickets, bought at full price—not just plans to go stand in line in Times Square and hope that I beat the rest of the Bernadette Peters and/or Stephen Sondheim superfans to the window. These plans were made months ago, well before anyone had heard of Hurricane Irene. As it became increasingly clear that there was very little chance that we’d be able to get to New York tomorrow morning and absolutely no chance that we’d be able to leave it, I phoned the Marquis Theatre to inquire about their exchange policy. I had my calendar at the ready and knew what dates would and would not work for us. The entire transaction would have taken five minutes. But for one thing: the Marquis was, at least at the time of my call, absolutely firm in their stance that they would not be giving refunds or offering exchanges for this weekend’s performances. At all. The best they were willing to offer was the opportunity to maybe, maybe, exchange my tickets for last-minute seats on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday night—the fact that I do not live in New York and that such an exchange would be nigh-on impossible did not seem to phase the person with whom I spoke in the least. His response, in fact, was something akin to “well then I guess we’ll see you this weekend.” Basically, the Marquis Theater would rather endanger people’s lives, asking them to drive into the city (because let’s face it, what other option is there?) than offer an exchange.
Just as we were preparing to post this on KeyPulp, the Follies producers finally updated their Facebook page to reflect Broadway-wide cancellations this weekend. It shouldn’t have taken this long, nor does it excuse the rudeness I (and likely several other patrons) encountered. But it’s the right decision, and I applaud the Broadway community for making it.