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How Safe is Broadway? What Theaters Do to Keep Audiences Secure

No one on Broadway wants to talk about security concerns and safety precautions — a silence that’s only amplified by the fact that high ticket prices and a largely affluent clientele make Broadway easy to overlook as a perfect storm of worry: A cluster of small, high-profile targets, right in the middle of tourist-magnet Times Square, where big-name celebrities onstage are increasingly common.

But in the wake of terror attacks in cities including Brussels and Paris, executives in the theater industry find themselves torn between reassuring the public that they’re doing all they can to ensure their safety, and keeping quiet about specific measures in place so as not to tip their hand.

There are no metal detectors or security wands on Broadway. Instead, the most visible signs of safety come in the security guards who check all theatergoers’ bags manually. In recent months, bomb-sniffing dogs have occasionally joined them. But compared to the kind of measures in place at stadium music events (think Madison Square Garden) or even some Manhattan multiplexes on a crowded Saturday night, these measures can come off as relaxed. 

Theater owners and producers push back on that notion, telling Variety there are less visible precautions in place too. Ticketbuyers are now warned in advance that coat checks at Broadway theaters will not accept oversized bags or other parcels, and over the last few years, it’s become standard practice for theater personnel to re-verify tickets upon reentry after intermission. Although usually unseen, security guards are present in theaters before, during and after every performance, and in even greater numbers at shows with a major celebrity in the cast.

A Broadway League committee, made up of all the theater owners, meets frequently and regularly, ensuring swift communication among all the constituents. New regulations have been enacted in recent months to increase security at all the entry points of Broadway theaters, although theater execs don’t want to discuss specifics. And since the fall, the New York Police Department has doubled its presence in Times Square to more than 100 officers, now permanently assigned to the area to give them familiarity with the beat.

“Broadway has extensive security procedures in our theaters and in the theater district with the primary purpose of protecting our theatergoers while attending our productions,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League.

That’s about all anyone will say on the topic. For one thing, raising the specter of an attack at a theater gives audiences one more reason to want to stay home with Netflix. And more practically, the industry wants to keep quiet on its security measures so as not to alert potential attackers to the precautions in place – and thereby afford an opportunity to devise ways around them.

Despite that public reticence, however, executives and theater owners say security remains a major, ongoing concern, with procedures regularly evaluated and updated. The goal is to ensure that Broadway has the equipment and training in place that, according to risk consultant Jeffrey A. Slotnick, are required to cut down threat levels. “When there’s awareness at all levels — individuals, businesses and law enforcement — it really diminishes the likelihood of a successful attack,” Slotnick said.

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