“The Phantom of COVID has hit Broadway maybe the hardest of all the live event venues in America,” Schumer said, trotting out the first of many references to hit Broadway shows. “Revenues have been and still are totally Frozen. Thousands of hardworking Guys and Dolls from across this city have been out of work. Today we’re here to fight hard to keep the stages alive, the stories told and the show going on.”
As part of an effort to, in Schumer’s words, deliver “a Lion King’s share of federal relief” to Broadway, the Senate minority leader has thrown his support behind legislation to provide $10 billion in financial support for an industry that has essentially collapsed. The money, intended to last into the spring, would give concert venues, stages and other live event institutions up to $12 million of backing, and could serve as a lifeline to the ticket takers, stage hands, costume designers and performers who are out of work during the pandemic. The support is part of the Heroes Act, which would also expand unemployment benefits and give funding to cities and states hit hard by the financial crisis brought on by coronavirus.
Save Our Stages, as the live events assistance has been dubbed, has bipartisan support and was authored by senators Amy Klobuchar (a Democrat) and John Cornyn (a Republican). However, the Heroes Act is being held up in the Senate by conservative Republicans, who cite concerns about the federal deficit to explain their opposition.
Schumer expressed optimism that the legislation will pass, noting that President Donald Trump has hit Senate Republicans for being “too stingy” and noting that Congress is feeling “huge pressure from every part of America” to extend benefits.
“The likelihood [of a deal] is getting better,” he said.
Schumer was joined at the event by Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin, Disney Theatrical Group president Thomas Schumacher, Tony Award-winning actress Laura Benanti and “Aida” director Schele Williams. The speakers noted that the Great White Way is a financial powerhouse, an industry that is responsible for employing nearly 100,000 people and contributing roughly $15 billion in economic activity to the city.
“We’re essential to the heartbeat of New York,” Schumacher said. “New York needs us.”
As if to punctuate that point, one of the giant screens flanking Father Duffy Square, where the conference was held, projected an image of a beating heart. The outdoor event was held at the foot of the bright red TKTS stairs, which is usually a Mecca for tourists. With New York still shaking off the months it spent at the epicenter of the pandemic, Times Square had only a smattering of people and the stairs themselves were chained off. There were still a few signs that the event was unfolding in the heart of Gotham — a jackhammer rattled in the background, horns and sirens blared, and someone dressed as Batman snapped pictures of the assembled journalists and dignitaries. At one point, a man strode by the event, shouting, “Schumer you suck” in a thick New York accent. But it was a very different Broadway than the one that existed seven months ago. The theaters that flank Times Square were dark and it’s unclear when they will be able to welcome back guests.
“This has been devastating financially and spiritually,” Williams said. “We are used to gathering to celebrate, to share and to heal.”
Schumer was asked at the end of the event if he would feel safe returning to Broadway before there’s a vaccine. The senator said he will wait until medical professionals give their approval.
“Once they say we can, I’m not hesitating,” Schumer said. “I’m buying tickets and showing up on Broadway.”