Theaters in New York, shuttered for months because of the pandemic, are starting to open their doors again — not for ticket holders but for demonstrators against police brutality who need water or a bathroom break.
Following the death of George Floyd in police custody, mostly peaceful protests have filled the city’s streets for nearly a week, and arts institutions have searched for ways to show solidarity with the protesters.
For most, that meant posting black boxes on social media or releasing carefully worded statements. But by Wednesday, several theaters in Manhattan and Brooklyn had announced that they would allow demonstrators into their buildings to use the restroom, drink water or charge their phones.
The first institution to gain some attention online for the idea was New York Theater Workshop, an Off Broadway theater company. On the exterior brick wall of one of their East Village theaters, in between posters advertising the company, it began advertising earlier this week that the bathrooms were open and that it was offering supplies for protesters.
On Wednesday, the Public Theater in the East Village — with an expansive lobby built to hold audiences streaming into various shows or lining up for refreshments — announced that it would open its building to protesters at 2 p.m. and would close their doors at 6 p.m., well before the city’s weeklong curfew at 8 p.m.
The Public Theater, which had to cancel the free Shakespeare festival it runs in Central Park each summer because of the pandemic, offered water, restroom access and hand sanitizer; staff members were asked to make sure that everyone was practicing social distancing, said Shareeza Bhola, a spokeswoman.
A new Twitter account, called “Open Your Lobby,” has encouraged theaters to welcome protesters. A post from the account recommended that the theaters “not permit police inside of the building for the safety of your protesters,” adding that nonblack staffers should block officers from entering.
In a statement, the Twitter account identified itself as “a loose coalition of young theater artists, administrators, and organizers,” but said that the people involved wished to remain anonymous.
“We started the account because we were in the streets, we realized there was a need for this, and we wanted to call upon theaters that released statements expressing their values to actually live up to them,” the statement said.
As the idea spread on social media, the Off Broadway Atlantic Theater Company said it would open its main theater in Chelsea to protesters starting on Thursday (they promised snacks).
Playwrights Horizons in Times Square said it would open its foyer starting on Friday, offering air conditioning, Wi-Fi, P.P.E. and a place for rest and reflection. And the IRT Theater in the West Village said on Wednesday that it would let protesters into its lobby two at a time — with masks on.
In Brooklyn, the Alliance of Resident Theaters/New York also announced it was opening its building on Wednesday near the Barclays Center, where much of that borough’s protesting has been concentrated. In a tweet, the organization called the space a “comfort center” and said that staff would be there to distribute resources.
Another theater just down the street — the Irondale Center — also offered shelter and supplies.