naTimes Square wartime blackout on BroadwayDimout in September 1942 in Times Square Photo by Marjory Collins from Library of Congress

Last Thursday, Broadway, the heart of America’s theater industry, suspended all plays and musicals for 32 days until April 12. Since then, a lot more has gone dark in New York City but the closing of Broadway was the first major harbinger of things to come. With over 700 cases of coronavirus in New York State, Broadway temporarily ended all 31 plays and musicals currently in progress.

Yet, this isn’t the first time that Broadway has been shut down. Although Broadway theaters did not close for the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, Broadway went dark due to labor strikes, natural disasters, and tragedies like 9/11. Here is our list of times that Broadway shut its doors to the public.

1. August 7-September 7, 1919

actors parade in New York City in support of the Actor's Equity Association Strike of August 7 - Sept. 6, 1919Actors Parade during Actors’ Equity Strike in 1919. Photo by Bain News Service, from  George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).

Between August 7 and September 7 of 1919, Broadway theaters shut down in waves during the Actors’ Equity Strike. During this month-long period, 37 Broadway shows were darkened and 16 were prevented from opening. In 1913, many actors decided to unionize into the Actors’ Equity Association, which aimed to regulate contracts and fair treatment for actors, and after many failed attempts to reach these goals, the AEA declared a strike against the Producing Managers’ Association.

Actors held parades in the streets and walked out of theaters during the strike. Twelve famous theaters like Shubert Playhouse and Gaiety closed on August 7, and managers were forced to give an estimate of $25,000 in ticket refunds that night. The strike also grew to cities like Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia. Theaters fully opened again once the AEA signed a contract with producers that contained nearly all of the AEA’s initial demands.

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