Most of the U.S. has finally come to its senses on the inefficacy of masking, but in some niche markets, the political theater persists.
Last Tuesday, Broadway mainstay Patti LuPone once again proved herself a diva after LuPone-ing an unmasked audience member. She was applauded by the theater industry, but her audience, and science, are no longer on her side.
In a public Q&A session following a performance of Company, the Broadway veteran spotted two theatergoers with their masks under their noses. LuPone implored them to observe the rules, but the audience members refused, adding that LuPone and other cast members weren’t masked themselves. This prompted what Deadline’s Greg Evans deemed the “Full LuPone.”
“Your mask protects me so that I can perform. Put your mask on over your nose!” she said, at full volume. “That’s why you’re in the theater! That is the rule. If you don’t want to follow the rule, get the f[***] out!”
Her outburst was applauded by Company cast and lead producer Chris Harper, who doubled down on the message.
Of the 15 renowned smaller venues, galleries, and rehearsal spaces I’ve been to in the past 30 days, each has required masking.
Naturally, social media had a field day. According to some Twitter users chiming in, LuPone was just following protocol. “Patty LuPone putting an anti-masker in their place at a talkback after the show,” one captioned a video clip of the incident. “Just follow the f[***]ing rules and keep the performers safe.”
And it’s true — at nearly every New York City theater, those are the rules. Though the requirement for proof of COVID vaccination has been curbed, the Broadway League announced Friday that masking will be mandated through at least June 30. A further extension through July and beyond will be considered in the near future. This impacts all 41 Broadway theaters, including Second Stage, Manhattan Theatre Club, and Lincoln Center Theater.
“As always, the safety and security of our cast, crew, and audience has been our top priority,” said League President Charlotte St. Martin. “By maintaining our audience masking requirement through at least the month of June, we intend to continue that track record of safety for all, despite the Omicron subvariants.”
It’s not just Broadway. Of the 15 renowned smaller venues, galleries, and rehearsal spaces I’ve been to in the past 30 days, each has required masking, with the Riverdale Children’s Theatre the only exception. I’ve witnessed many a mask freakout — people turned away at the door, an usher disturbing a performance to correct an audience member’s masking technique, a patron hyperventilating under the fabric.
These rules are followed by actors and theater companies with ritualistic seriousness. But LuPone’s claims are unfounded — and falling out of favor with her audiences.
Research since the outbreak of COVID-19 has drawn the true effectiveness of mask policies into question. Mask efficacy, and mask policy downsides, are well-documented by doctors, immunologists, and scientists at Infection Control Today, the New England Journal of Medicine, and CATO, among many others.
Masking policies similar to Broadway’s have been lifted on airplanes and in the restaurants, gyms, bars, and clubs that actors and patrons frequent. All performers are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and any audience member who wants to be vaccinated has had ample opportunity. Given these facts, more and more people (like the unruly audience members subject to LuPone’s rage) are asking why the rules remain in place.
They’re right to question.
But we shouldn’t be surprised by responses from people like LuPone. Over the past two years, masks have been a sort of political theater — less about the science of keeping people healthy and more about the appearance of those in power remaining diligent and proactive. Given the undeniable leftist bent of the theater industry, it’s only natural that they’d follow suit.
We don’t do it on an airplane. We don’t do it at dinner with our grandparents. Most of us don’t even do it on public transportation. But at the theater, we’re all called upon to play a role. It’s less about the efficacy of maskers’ actions — or the scientific basis for them — than what they signal to their audience: I voted Democrat. I am a good person. I am on the moral high ground. If these theatrics make the industry look virtuous, why give up the act?
Now, you might say, “Well, it’s a good thing I don’t go to the theater, and even better that I don’t live in New York!” But in a world where politics are shaped by culture, arbitrary legalism anywhere, even in the Big Apple’s theater scene, is a threat to freedom everywhere.
So long as New York theater’s masking policy remains in place, all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
Grace Bydalek is a writer, performer, and administrator based on the Upper West Side of New York City. She is a contributor for Young Voices, a graduate of the Gotham Fellowship, and winner of the Cultural Renewal Grant, with which she co-founded It Is Good: A Festival of Arts + Faith.