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When Nick Ferrao, the guy behind popular podcast and Instagram site Broadway Belters, took a flight last week, he watched what was going on around him and concluded “Broadway ushers are about to become COVID safety face mask enforcers.”
Nick spent the journey witnessing flight attendants constantly asking customers to wear or pull up their masks. “I thought that Broadway ushers are going to be like flight attendants, where they constantly have to remind people — except there’s going to be a performance happening at the same time. So that’s what triggered my thought that this could be awful.”
Ferrao, who now works in casting but has volunteered as an usher in the past, went on to appeal for theatergoers to “please be kind to your ushers and just wear your mask properly.”
At yesterday’s (Monday) press conference, Governor Andrew Cuomo encouraged New York City to enforce the mask restrictions put in place. “Let’s not make the mistake we made last year, where they set policies that they didn’t enforce,” he said.
The Broadway League is requiring audiences to show proof of vaccination — and masks will need to be worn inside the theatre, except while eating or drinking in defined locations. That’s a big job to take on for ushers, who are more used to a 15-second greeting and handing over a Playbill to clients.
Emily Szajnuk is a Broadway usher who hopes that the first wave of ticket holders will be kind. “We’re so excited as Broadway ushers to be welcoming back audiences to the theatres. We have all missed live theatre and our work so much. We’re always so happy to help everyone with questions and concerns,” she told us, and added: “Please be kind to your ushers as we return, as our jobs will require us to enforce the mask and vaccinate mandate. Let’s welcome back Broadway with a welcoming and safe environment for all!”
Chalk activist Karin Schall has been busy in the Theater District getting her message across about vaccinations and masking on Broadway. “Wearing a mask will protect me, and the person sitting next to me, much less the ushers, the crew and the actors,” she said. “Over the nose, people. And don’t give the ushers any shit.”
A Broadway usher’s biggest challenge used to be customers unwrapping boiled sweets — but in recent years that has progressed to the use of mobile phones, taking pictures and texting during performances. Many productions found innovative ways to try and encourage good behavior with fun and quirky pre-show announcements. Back in 2016, Max von Essen and Brandon Uranowitz and the cast at An American in Paris created a musical warning with a Turn It Off message referencing Madonna not being invited backstage at Hamilton due to bad theater etiquette and Patti LuPone grabbing a phone from a texter.
Timothy Tate, replying to Ferrao’s post, thought that a more serious tone was needed to keep the audience in check. “I hope that a general announcement about properly wearing a face mask is made before the show starts and after intermission. I also hope that it is a serious announcement and not some silly one with an actor voicing it in their character voice,” Tate said.
“More importantly — will ushers get a pay raise for the BS?” said Nyseli Vega, echoing the view of many. According to salary.com — “The average Usher/Ticket Taker salary in New York is $22,371 as of June 28, 2021, but the range typically falls between $18,645 and $27,725.”
Sue Frost, the co-producer of Come From Away, knows a thing or two about Broadway shows and the behavior of air passengers. She told us: “We are all are in this together. If this is what we need to do to keep our companies and audiences safe, mask up! You know it’s what they are doing in Newfoundland!”
Broadway Producer Ken Davenport says that “this is going to be a unique situation.” However, he said he has “tremendous faith in our theatergoers” and told us: “I actually still think it will be harder to get people to turn their phones off than to get them to keep their masks on!”