The Night New York’s Theaters, Museums and Concert Halls Shut Down

March began with a threatening drumbeat. A full cruise ship with a coronavirus outbreak swam off the California coast for days. South by Southwest has been canceled. The NBA has suspended its season. And then, on March 12th, Broadway closed, and every major gathering in New York City with it.

When the bars came down it wasn’t a big surprise. The city that never sleeps came to a standstill.

But it was impossible to imagine what would come. The staggering death toll. The enormous job losses. The isolation. The Infinity.

That evening, a group of Broadway bigwigs – mostly theater owners and producers – gathered to drown their worries at Sardi, the industry hangout known for its celebrity cartoons. They mumbled, they drank, they complained, and they hugged. Some of them got infected with the virus even though there were so many meetings and so few masks at the time, who knows how they got it.

They posted signs on their theaters saying they would be back four weeks later.

It has now been 52.

Do you remember your last few evenings? We were collecting scenes from all over the city as the curtains closed. MICHAEL PAULSON

The changing rooms at the Brooks Atkinson Theater were full of flowers. The ruby ​​chocolate fondue fountain was booked for the after party. Brittney Mack’s mother, brother, and best friends had all flown into town to catch the moment when the 30-year-old Chicago native made her long-awaited Broadway debut as the 16th century Queen of England.

But it shouldn’t be. Ninety minutes before the scheduled opening of “Six,” a highly anticipated new musical about the wives of King Henry VIII, Broadway has closed.

“I got to the theater early and there were presents from all over the place – buckets and buckets of plants and cookies and so much love and I said, ‘Hell, yeah,'” recalled Mack. “And then the assistant stage manager came in and said the show was canceled and I just said, ‘How dare you!'”

“It was very, very overwhelming and all of a sudden I felt incredibly alone. And then I said, ‘But my dress! And the earrings! ‘So many perspectives have hit me and I realized this has happened to our entire industry and I thought,’ What the hell are we all going to do? ‘“

What most of the “six” families did was gather together. Mack went out for drinks with her friends in Harlem Public near her apartment. Meanwhile, the show’s producer Kevin McCollum, who had just canceled an 800-person opening party in Tao Downtown, hosted about 100 members of the show’s inner circle at the Glass House Tavern, a few doors down from the theater.

“In retrospect, it was ridiculous that we did that, but we didn’t know what we didn’t, so we had a raw food buffet and a lot of droplets, I’m sure,” he said. “We were in shock. People were crying. We gave our best stiff upper lip for the British but we were emotionally devastated. “

George Stiles, an English composer, was among many of the show’s British friends who flew over for the opening. Stiles was once in a band with Toby Marlow’s father, who wrote Six with Lucy Moss and became a mentor and then co-producer.

“Never before has anything I dealt with felt so ready to crack,” Stiles said of Six – quite a statement since he wrote songs for the stage adaptation of Mary Poppins. “I expected the euphoria of the crowd and the fun of the nonsense on the red carpet and everyone who wanted to be the last to sit down.”

Instead, he and his husband and Marlow’s father licked their wounds in Marseille. What was on the menu? “The sheer horror of being so close to a wonderful Broadway run.” Stiles has since tucked his “appropriately regal” gold and black Dolce & Gabbana outfit “into very careful mothballs” in anticipation of another opening night to celebrate. “We’re very gung-ho,” he said, “and hopefully, cross our fingers that it won’t be too many months away.” PAULSON

Only about half of the people who bought tickets for the March 12th show at the Mercury Lounge had shown up, but there were still a lot of people drinking, talking and grooving with the band. Debbie Harry from the band Blondie was there, as was music producer Hal Willner. He would die of Covid-19 less than a month later.

On stage, Michael C. Hall, the star of “Dexter” and lead singer of the glam rock band Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, buckled up and moaned into the microphone.

The Mercury Lounge staff knew they were seeing their last live concert for a while. They had no idea what “a while” meant. Bands had been canceling their performances with increasing frequency, and on a call that day, the owners asked the staff if they could still work well, said Maggie Wrigley, a club manager. The line was silent for a moment before an employee said no, it was no longer comfortable.

Others agreed: They felt exposed to the virus and vulnerable at work. With the late show already canceled, the owners decided that the club would close that night after the early show.

At around 9:30 p.m. – painfully early for a Thursday night on the city’s club scene – the audience was asked to leave. “We love you, New York! Don’t touch your face! “Shouted Hall at the end of his set.

Alex Beaulieu, the club’s production manager, disinfected the microphones and repackaged the drums, amplifiers and cables for long-term storage.

“We locked the door and sat at the bar and had a drink,” said Wrigley of the club’s staff, “and we just kind of looked at each other with no idea what was going to happen.”


Spring 2020 was bittersweet for Sheena Wagstaff, Chair of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met Breuer, the museum’s experimental satellite room, was due to close three years earlier than planned. But her last show was one that she had been preparing for years: “Gerhard Richter: Painting yet”, a survey among the strict and skeptical German artist that filled two floors of the landmark building and contained items on loan from 30 different collections.

The exhibition, which the now 89-year-old artist was supposed to present as his last major exhibition, opened on March 4th. She had what it takes to be a blockbuster and should have presented four paintings to New York entitled “Birkenau” (2014). : striped, abraded abstractions that cover the images of the eponymous death camp. On March 12, the ninth day of the show, Wagstaff realized it needed to be closed.

At first, the severity of the crisis was not entirely clear. “I had every expectation that it would reopen in May at the latest,” Wagstaff said recently. But it soon became clear to her that “Birkenau” – a high point in Richter’s 60-year commitment to German history and the ethics of representation – would not find an audience. “Aside from some kind of great personal disappointment, the artist, so conscious of his own mortality, was denied the opportunity to actually make a mini-manifesto for the world. Next to it was the shortening of the Breuer. In the end we had this implosion. “

Richter never saw the show. A few days before the fall, Wagstaff was alone with “Birkenau”: paintings about the possibility of perceiving history that no one could perceive now. “It was kind of a haunting experience,” she said. “They became almost anthropomorphic. They sit there on the walls and there is nothing, there is no one to testify to them. The pictures are testimony to something and this testimony cannot be passed on. “

By autumn, the Met had ceded the Breuer to the Frick Collection. Most of Richter’s paintings had been boxed and returned to their lenders. Nevertheless, “Birkenau”, which belongs to the artist, stayed in New York. Wagstaff brought these most challenging works to the main Met building and introduced these four speechless acts of memory and horror into the lavish Lehman collection. “It was a trace of the show. The viewing conditions weren’t perfect, ”admitted Wagstaff. “We were really only present to a limited extent. we still do it. But people stayed in this room for a very long time. It was a revelation to those who came to see it. “JASON FARAGO

On March 15, Broadway theaters and concert halls were empty, but in the dim light of the comedy basement, spectators sat shoulder to shoulder drinking drinks and watching stand-up comedy. Masks were not required.

Comedian Carmen Lynch hesitated to show up that evening: her boyfriend was leaving town to stay with his Connecticut family and she was planning to join him – it seemed like it was time to settle down. But, Lynch said, she knew the days of playing multiple shows in a single night were drawing to a close, and she wanted to make as much money as possible before the inevitable shutdown. She exchanged texts with other comedians to find out who else was performing.

I thought, ‘I’m not doing anything illegal. I just do this one show and then go, ‘”Lynch recalled.

So her boyfriend took her suitcase to Connecticut while she stayed to perform – one set at 7:45 p.m. and another at 8:30 a.m. Before each comedian went on stage to tell jokes in front of the club’s famous exposed brick wall and stained glass, they reached into a bucket to grab a recently cleaned microphone.

Shortly before Lynch went on, comedian Lynne Koplitz took the stage, removed the hygienic microphone from the stand and wiped it with a white cloth another time and said: “I’ve wanted this for years!”

When Lynch finished her second sentence, she didn’t linger. She called an Uber and was relieved when the driver accepted her request for an hour and a half drive to Connecticut, not knowing how long she would be gone (by summer) or what the city would be like when she returned (eerily empty, Shop window boarded up).

She drove away and in retrospect remembers it like a scene in a disaster movie. “It’s like you’re in the car,” she said, “and you turn around and there’s an explosion behind you.” JACOBS

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