Broadway’s theater owners say the Times Square panic and its spillover into some theaters last night was handled by those venues in accordance with security procedures developed by the Broadway community and the New York Police Department, but at least some shaken audience members of To Kill a Mockingbird took to social media to express discontent.
“I was there, confused and terrified,” a Mockingbird audience member posted on cast member Celia Keenan-Bolger’s Twitter page. “1st, so glad everyone is safe. 2nd. [the Shubert Theatre] needs to immediately review their emergency protocols, they r severely lacking. 3. It was a wonderful performance, and I tweet applause for all on stage!”
Around 10 PM ET last night, a dirt bike backfired several times near the intersection of Times Square’s 46th Street and Seventh Avenue. Mistaking the sounds for gunshots, pedestrians began stampeding through Times Square, many attempting to take cover inside restaurants and in at least three locked-down Broadway theaters, banging on doors to get inside.
Also assuming the backfires to be gunshots, and hearing the loud disruptions at the lobby doors, To Kill a Mockingbird cast members left the stage and some audience members attempted to flee the locked Shubert Theater on 44th Street through emergency doors.
With security issues generally falling to theater owners rather than show producers, the Shubert Organization responded to Deadline’s inquiries with the following statement from Charlotte St. Martin, President of the Broadway League, the trade organization representing theater owners:
“Broadway is a community and we work together very closely on the safety and security of our theatregoers and employees. In all emergencies impacting security, we closely coordinate our efforts with the NYC Police Department and the security personnel of the Times Square Alliance. Individual theatre responses are activated as necessary based upon the direction given by the NYC police and the specifics of the situation. Broadway has extensive security procedures in our theatres and in the Theatre District with the primary purpose of protecting our theatregoers while they attend our productions.”
With official statements otherwise scarce today, sources say theater owners have been in contact with the League and are gathering and reviewing information about last night’s events.
Several theaters, including Mockingbird‘s Shubert, went under lockdown, with audience members instructed to stay in their seats.
But as the backfire sounds prompted frightened Times Square pedestrians into banging on theater doors in frantic attempts to enter lobbies, the commotion scared some audience members into fleeing in the opposite direction.
The incident came just days after last weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
While one Mockingbird cast member says the theater’s security and stage management “did an amazing job of keeping people safe and as calm as possible,” at least some audience members have taken to social media to suggest otherwise. “The announcement to ‘stay in your seats’ did not inspire confidence,” tweeted one.
Other audience members tweeted more positive responses: “We in the audience were very frightened,” wrote one on the Twitter page of cast member Gideon Glick. “I’m sure you must have been too and am so relieved we’re all safe. It’s true these are the times we live in. But we also have shows/art like yours to inspire. Thank you so much for a beautiful performance. I will keep its message with me.”
A spokesman for the Scott Rudin-produced show referred Deadline to the Shubert Organization and the League.
Broadway’s emergency evacuation protocols are typically not made public for security reasons, a policy generally in place at least since the attempted Times Square bombing in 2010.
At least two other nearby theaters — the Imperial, home of Ain’t Too Proud, and the Music Box, with Dear Evan Hansen – went into temporary lockdown Tuesday night. Apparently only Mockingbird, with its 2 hour and 35 minute running time (plus intermission), had to pull the plug early: With Tuesday curtain time typically an hour earlier than the usual 8 PM, most Broadway shows had ended before the incident.
Dear Evan Hansen star Andrew Barth Feldman described on Twitter the scene from inside the Music Box: “This is how screwed up our country is. We all had to stay in our dressing rooms, audience members had to stay in the theater. People were sobbing, calling their loved ones, hiding behind seats and in the dressing rooms, and were separated from their families and groups.”
Feldman posted the following brief video today:
A theatergoer at Hamilton, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on W. 46th Street, tweeted about “panicked civilians storming the theater for safety” and audience members “crawling and hiding behind railings.”
An audience member attending Ain’t Too Proud a block north of Mockingbird tweeted that the show had just ended and exiting audience members were “running and hiding” as they waited for information: “Thankfully no one was hurt and staff were quick to go into lockdown.”
Vivid descriptions of the scene inside the Mockingbird theater came from cast members Celia Keenan-Bolger, who plays Scout, and Glick, who plays Dill.
Bolger was delivering the play’s final speech when the event occurred. She later tweeted, “Tonight during my last speech in the play there was panic at our theater because a motorcycle backfired near Shubert Alley & people believed there was an active shooter & tried to get into the theater for safety. This was terrifying for the audience who heard screaming & banging on the doors, so they hid or ran & tried to flee. It was terrifying for us because we didn’t know what was happening or what to do. Our security and stage management did an amazing job of keeping people safe and as calm as possible. I’m still processing the whole experience but all I can think about are the young people who’ve had to go through the actual thing. The trauma and fear that they have had to endure and what something like that does to a young person’s brain. We cannot go on like this.”
Last night, Glick tweeted, “Stopped our show tonight due to a motorcycle backfire that was mistaken for a bomb or a shooting. Screaming civilians tried to storm our theater for safety. The audience started screaming and the cast fled the stage. This is the world we live in. This cannot be our world.”
“I was there, in the balcony,” tweeted one man in response to Glick’s tweet. “We had no idea what was happening, just saw the entire orchestra running for exits en masse in complete panic. The announcement to ‘stay in your seats’ did not inspire confidence, then later the info that it was a motorcycle. Wish a cast member had come out and said something, some type of closure to what was a wonderful evening of theater. At least we have a good story to tell…”
The Broadway League has a security committee, with reps from the theater owners, that would most likely review the event, though the League offered no confirmation of that.
Despite the NYPD’s quick tweets that there was no active shooter in the area and that the sounds came from a motorcycle, the loud sounds sent hundreds of terrified Times Square visitors rushing through the streets (see video below). Reports indicate at least 12 people have reported non-life-threatening injuries.
No word yet on refunds or new tickets for last night’s Mockingbird audience members. Deadline has reached out to producers, the theater owner and Ticket Master.
Here are various social media accounts of the incident:
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