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It's outside, but Shakespeare in the Park still plans social distancing
The Delacorte Theater, home to Shakespeare in the Park, in New York, March 14, 2021. When Shakespeare in the Park returns to the Delacorte Theater this summer after losing a year to the pandemic, it plans to sharply limit capacity in order to follow state guidelines, officials announced on Thursday, June 3. George Etheredge/The New York Times.

by Matt Stevens

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- One of New York City’s hottest tickets is about to get even harder to get: When Shakespeare in the Park returns to the Delacorte Theater this summer after losing a year to the pandemic, it plans to sharply limit capacity in order to follow state guidelines, officials announced Thursday.

The 1,800-seat theater plans to allow only 428 attendees for each performance of “Merry Wives,” the intermission-free adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” being put on by the Public Theater; it says it must do so under the state’s current, but rapidly shifting, rules. But there will be more performances: The show will run three weeks longer than originally scheduled, through Sept. 18 rather than Aug. 28.

In a news release, officials said the capacity limit was put in place because of the need for social distancing. They said all theatergoers over age 2 would be required to wear a mask and either provide proof of full vaccination or a recent negative COVID test to attend.

The decision to significantly limit the size of the audience stands in contrast to some other New York venues that have gotten permission to reopen to bigger crowds. Radio City Music Hall, for instance, plans to reopen this month to a full indoor house of maskless, vaccinated ticket holders. Broadway shows have started ticket sales for what will be full-capacity performances, some of which will begin in mid-September. And on the other side of the country, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles has decided to start selling all 18,000 of its seats.

It is possible that the limits could be eased before opening night. A spokeswoman for the Public said Thursday that New York health and safety protocols for small and medium-size performing arts spaces still require 6 feet of social distance between patrons. She said the theater would await updated guidance from the state and would adapt its policies as needed.

“Merry Wives,” adapted by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Saheem Ali, will be set in Harlem, will feature an all-Black cast, and will tell the story of Falstaff, a trickster seeking to woo married women, who outwit him.

The cast of “Merry Wives,” announced Thursday, includes Jacob Ming-Trent as Falstaff; Susan Kelechi Watson, a star of the television series “This Is Us”; Pascale Armand, who earned a Tony nomination for “Eclipsed”; and Kyle Scatliffe, who has been on Broadway in “The Color Purple” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” among other shows.

Tickets to Shakespeare in the Park, as usual, will be free and limited to two per person. But this summer, officials said there will be no winding in-person lines to wake up early for; instead, tickets will be distributed entirely through what they called “an advanced digital lottery” hosted on a platform called Goldstar. The lottery will accept entries online and through an app Tuesday and Fridays for the performances scheduled for the following week. Entries will be accepted starting June 29, officials said.

“The New York theater is opening again at long last, and it belongs to everyone,” Oskar Eustis, the Public’s artistic director, said in a statement. “We are back. New York is back.”

In past summers, the Public Theater has run a two-play season starting in May. But this year it is planning just one Shakespeare in the Park production. Officials also said Thursday that “Merry Wives” will begin July 6 rather than July 5, as had been previously announced.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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