Why is Lin-Manuel Miranda crying? A look at Broadway's next steps.

Peter D. Kramer
Rockland/Westchester Journal News

Lin-Manuel Miranda has said it himself: He has no chill.

That's why his emotions got the better of the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of "Hamilton" on Monday in the middle of Times Square, his eyes welling with tears as he watched the first live performance he had seen in more than a year.

Miranda was there, alongside New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, to trumpet a COVID vaccination site for theater, film and TV workers, just the latest shoot of growth this spring that could bring a theatrical harvest next fall.

With no stage-door Playbills to autograph, the megawatt-star signed a banner that will bear the signatures of those vaccinated, playfully resisting the impulse to embellish his name with "my shot," the title of one of his best-loved "Hamilton" songs.

Buoyed by federal money and state tax credits, the performing arts are charting their way back.

  • The Times Square vaccination site will focus on the entertainment industry, getting that community protected as they eye a return to theaters and in front of and behind film and TV cameras;
  • New York state's just-passed budget includes a two-year, $100-million musical and theatrical production tax credit, for production costs associated with bringing musicals and theatrical productions back;
  • $15 billion in Save Our Stages funding from last December's economic aid package — bolstered by another $1.25 billion from the American Rescue Plan this spring — are in the pipeline, although a website bottleneck has, for the moment, shuttered that help for shuttered venues. 

Albany tax credits

Actor, producer, and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda talks about the reopening of Broadway theaters as well as a just opened COVID-19 vaccination site for theater, film, TV workers in Times Square in Manhattan April 12, 2021. Miranda was joined by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as Broadway performers, who sang several songs during the event.

Kevin McCollum, the Tony-winning producer who has two musicals waiting in the wings — "Six," about the wives of Henry VIII, and "Mrs. Doubtfire," both of which were in previews when Broadway shut last March — hadn't read the Albany budget bill's just-approved language and didn't want to address it without doing so.

New York City productions will be eligible for $3 million credit if they open in the first year; up to $1.5 million if they wait till the second year, unless New York's rebound is sluggish, in which case, it could be higher.

Those eligible productions won't need to be brand-new. Reopening a long-running show qualifies a production for the credit.

The New York state tax credit, which expires Jan. 1, 2024, comes with strings. Recipients must participate in a diversity and arts job-training program, make their production accessible to low-income New Yorkers, and contribute to the newly established New York State Council on the Arts Cultural Program Fund from the proceeds of the production once it's making money.

The cultural program fund, the budget bill spells out, will supplement art and cultural programs for secondary and elementary children, including those for children in underserved communities.

The Brooks Atkinson Theatre, home of the Broadway musical "Six," which was hours from its opening night when Broadway theaters were shut by the coronavirus last March. Kevin McCollum, its producer, said federal funds will help to propel Broadway's return.

Shuttered venues

McCollum said Tuesday he has spent plenty of time laser-focused on the Save Our Stages money, which is now rebranded Shuttered Venues Operators Grant, or "SVOG."

The funds, being administered by the Small Business Administration, takes a broad view of the term "venues," with grants going to live venues, live performing arts groups, zoos, museums and movie theaters, all of which were among the first to be shuttered when COVID struck the U.S. in March 2020.

Eligible applicants may seek grants up to 45% of their gross earned revenue, up to $10 million for a single grant, but the SVOG money is designed to reach smaller venues, as well.

That touches Bardavon in Poughkeepsie, The Capitol in Port Chester, Tarrytown Music Hall and even the Irvington Town Hall Theater, where the Clocktower Players are the resident company.

Portal crashes  

"Mrs. Doubtfire" was in previews at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in Manhattan when Broadway shut down last March. The musical's producer, Kevin McCollum, said Broadway shows faced a "double whammy," losing tickets sold and advance sales. "We went below zero. It wasn't just you lost what you had. You lost what you were going to have," he said.

“Help is here,” said SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman before the portal launched last week. “The SBA is committed to moving as quickly as possible to deliver this vital funding effectively and equitably, ensuring relief goes to those venue operators whose revenues have been most impacted by the pandemic.” 

The SVOG portal opened at noon April 8 and was inundated, quickly overwhelmed and shut down within hours. The tsunami of requests was too much for the system to handle.

SBA spokeswoman Andrea Roebker said Tuesday there has been "tireless work done since the 8th, when we shut it down. And it continues and will continue until we reopen again."

She had no estimate as to when that might be, but the SBA is using this time to clarify instructions and make the process easier to navigate. The scale of the program, covering everything from small museums to Broadway theaters, created an intricate web of eligibility requirements. One size does not fit all. 

"We want to make sure that we're getting the money to those that Congress intended the money to go to," Roebker said. The grants can be used to recoup some of those losses, but also to pay for worker protections that will make it possible to reopen.

When the portal reopens, applications will be taken, then disbursed in descending order, starting from those that suffered 90% or greater loss in revenue from April to December 2020. Two weeks later, those suffering 70% losses will see disbursements, then 25% losses or more a fortnight later.

A Capitol loss

Port Chester's Capitol theater has lost more than 90% of its revenue to COVID, said Bruce Wheeler, its general manager.

His team was on the SVOG portal as soon as it opened, and saw the problems unfolding in real time. He said he looks at the grants as a way of recouping some of what was lost in the pandemic and preparing for a return, although what that return will look like depends largely on Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"The latest protocols would let us open with 100 people or 33%, whichever is less," Wheeler said. In a Capitol that seats 1,500 and can handle 2,000 standing patrons, the economics of a return under those restrictions is problematic, he said.

Still, he'll be ready to click "submit" when the SVOG portal reopens.

"We're looking to dip into that," he said.

Broadway below zero 

McCollum, the Tony-winning producer of Miranda's "In the Heights" and the upstart "Avenue Q,"  takes the long view and will forgive the SVOG rollout's bumpy start

"I think the SBA and the meaningfulness of the federal government getting behind the importance of live theater is the headline here," he said. "I would rather wait and have them get it right than to rush and make it more complicated."

The Broadway brand extends well beyond the 40 theaters in New York City, McCollum said, pointing to touring companies that bring musicals to Kentucky and Ohio, to Albuquerque and California.

Broadway didn't just lose what it had, McCollum said.

"We have 14 months of tremendous loss behind us and loss of economic opportunity and investment," he said. "It's almost a double whammy for shows. We also had to give back all our future orders, which are called advance sales. We went below zero. It wasn't just you lost what you had. You lost what you were going to have."

Actor, producer, and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda left, takes a photo with a fan in Times Square in Manhattan Monday, after taking part in an event at the opening of a COVID-19 vaccination site for theater, film, TV workers.

SVOG has provisions that will help promoters and producers to get their shows up on their feet, which takes time as creative teams and carpenters, marketers and costumers gear up and rehearsals begin.

"In theater, you have to rebuild it, which is a 16-week process before your first preview," McCollum said. "This is where the restart money within SVOG for the producer and promoter is important so that the venues — that they're also supporting — have something to actually put in them."

And that should bring tears to the eyes, not just of the man with no chill, but to theatergoers everywhere.

Peter D. Kramer is a 33-year staffer at The Journal News. He can be reached at pkramer@lohud.com or on Twitter at @PeterKramer. Read his latest stories. Please follow the link on the page below and become a backer of this kind of coverage. It only works with you as a subscriber.