If Saturday Night Live can do it, why not Off Broadway? That’s one of the arguments in a lawsuit filed by six small New York theaters and two comedy clubs against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over the city’s ongoing pandemic shutdown of such venues.
The lawsuit filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by lead plaintiffs Catherine Russell, the owner of the The Theater Center in Times Square, and Michael Sgouros of Greenwich Village’s The Players Theater, challenges the COVID-19 shutdown, arguing that small venues could open safely at limited capactiy. The lead plaintiffs were joined in the suit by owners of The Actors Temple Theater, Soho Playhouse, Gene Frankel Theater and The Triad, as well as the Broadway Comedy Club and New York Comedy Club.
The lawsuit, which demands that the executive orders closing small venues be overturned, was filed by attorney James G. Mermigis, who writes, “Casinos, Malls, Movie Theaters, Restaurants, Gyms, Catering Halls for weddings, christenings and bar mitzvahs, Bowling Alleys, “Saturday Night Live”, schools and colleges have been allowed to re-open but the small venue theater industry remains shuttered despite its median capacity of only 144 seats.”
Mermigis notes that the 144-seat median is typically smaller than most of the venue types that have been allowed to reopen. The suit attends to distance the Off Broadway houses from the larger venues on Broadway, which will remain closed at least until next June.
“The median capacity of only 144 seats also distinguishes small venue theaters from Broadway Theaters which range in capacity from 539 seats to 1933 seats,” the suit states. “This important distinction makes small venue theaters eminently more capable of conforming to CDC health and safety guidelines.” The suit alleges that the shutdown orders violate the plaintiffs’ rights of due process.
“The small venue theater industry is an integral piece of the larger performing arts landscape,” Mermigis writes, “generating ripple effects into larger scale theater productions. They continue to be a stage for provocative, cutting edge work, and are an invaluable platform for both established and up-and-coming talent, playwrights and creative production teams.”
According to the suit, the small venue theater industry generates $1.3 billion in total economic output, over 8,400 full-time equivalent jobs and $512 million in wages. The plaintiff venues themselves have “millions of dollars in revenue,” and “may be forced to permanently shut their doors.”
New York’s theaters have been closed since March 16.
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