The Westchester Broadway Theatre (WBT) will close its doors after 45 years of business due to COVID-19, according to a statement released Oct. 26.
“The work WBT has done over the years has been truly historic and will go down in history, not only in Westchester, but in the theatre industry as New York’s longest running Equity theatre,” the statement said.
Over the years, WBT produced 217 musicals, hosted numerous concerts, benefits and fundraisers, employed 5,000 theater professionals, many who have gone on to Broadway and beyond, and served more than 6 million customers.
“As the world has been plugged into an intense emergency, we have determined there is no way we can reopen when the ban is lifted on live theatre. Dinner-theatre, because of social distancing requirements, will be the last entertainment category to be given permission. Our landlord does not want to continue supporting our lease,” the press release said.
The interior is to be destroyed and the building, located at 75 Clearbrook Road in Elmsford, will be turned into a warehouse.
“It is with a great sadness that we say goodbye. We wish you much good will in the future. We will miss you,” said Bob Funking, Bill and Von Ann Stutler, founders of the Westchester Broadway Theatre, in a letter to employees.
The art of presenting live theater, one of New York State’s largest industries, has been greatly affected by the pandemic, which has left many shows on hold, 12 million people out of work, and numerous patrons with outstanding tickets to shows.
However, Westchester residents will still have a professional Equity theater in their backyard to attend when restrictions are lifted. The White Plains Performing Arts Center (WPPAC), located in downtown White Plains, has used the pandemic-induced downtime to make renovations that accommodate the “new world of theatre,” anticipating the time when Gov. Andrew Cuomo will authorize theaters to reopen. Everything from air purification systems to advanced cleaning solutions and social distancing has been put in place, according to the WBT statement.
“As someone who grew up seeing and working on shows at WBT, it’s with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to our colleague,” said Stephen Ferri, WPPAC’s executive producer in the press release. “The work they have done over the years was remarkable. When we heard of this news, we knew we had to do something to not only honor their legacy but also make sure we keep professional theatre alive in Westchester. We are honored to have the torch passed to us at White Plains PAC to take on that task!”
White Plains PAC plans to assist affected WBT ticket holders by honoring outstanding tickets and gift cards for a future WPPAC show; the aim is to give back to the community and keep the industry alive as well as fulfill the outstanding obligations to patrons, the statement said.
Eligible patrons will be contacted in the coming weeks with details about the exchange program.