The Kimmel Center plans to bring Broadway shows back this fall

Performance of the play 'Hairspray' at the Kimmel Center

Performance of the play 'Hairspray' at the Kimmel Center. (Chris Bennion and Jeremy Daniel / Courtesy of the Kimmel Center)

The Kimmel Center will bring Broadway shows back to its stages this fall. By then, the performing arts campus in Philadelphia will have been closed for a year and a half because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2021-2022 Broadway season will start with “Hamilton,” which will run from Oct. 20 through Nov. 28 at the Academy of Music. That will be followed by 12 more touring Broadway shows through the end of next summer, 2022, at the Academy, the Merriam Theater, and the Forrest Theatre.

Typically, nationally touring Broadway shows plan their itineraries 18 months to two years in advance. Several of the shows booked through the Kimmel had been originally scheduled for the 2020-2021 season but were abruptly canceled due to the pandemic.

In the coming months, the Kimmel Center expects to make more programming announcements for the 2021-2022 season, along with performances by its roster of tenant organizations — including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philly Pops, the Pennsylvania Ballet, PHILADANCO, and more.

“You’ll start seeing a much more familiar array of programming at the Kimmel Center,” said Kimmel COO Ed Cambron. “It might be a little lighter, it might be different in some ways. We’re being open to flexibility. Our number one concern is the safety of our patrons and our audiences, staff, and people backstage. If we’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s that you got to be agile.”

Cambron said the Kimmel will follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as city and state policies, as it opens to the public. The Kimmel is also upgrading all of its HVAC systems to improve ventilation in its theaters.

The Kimmel Center took a huge financial hit over the course of the pandemic. The income of the cultural campus is based largely on earned income — 93% comes from ticket sales, space rentals, concessions, etc. Philanthropic funds are much less a part of its bottom line. A year ago, all events were canceled, including about 1,100 performances. Cambron said the Kimmel lost $51 million in earned income last year and is facing an operating deficit of about $6.2 million.

During the pandemic, all of the Kimmel’s staff were furloughed — some just partially, but 80% were fully out of work. The staff will be rebuilt over the summer, and Cambron hopes to be fully staffed again for the fall reopening.

“We’re in a COVID fundraising strategy right now. We’ve raised five million of ten million,” said Cambron, referring to the Kimmel’s Road to Reopening Relief Fund. The Kimmel has also benefited from federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds.

“We’re trying to take advantage of all the government programs. The Shuttered Venues Operators Grant — sounds like now April 8th is the date for submission,” he said, referring to the $16 billion program signed into law in December but has yet to be implemented. “We’ll do everything we can to try to get those funds as well.”

As COVID-19 infection rates, vaccination rollouts, and public policies all change constantly, it is impossible to predict what the state of the pandemic will be next fall. However, Cambron is certain of one thing: People want to come back.

The Kimmel is part of a cohort of 36 performing arts centers around the country that put into place a monthly survey to better understand audiences whom they have not seen in over a year. The survey, conducted by Wolf Brown and AMS Analytics, shows that very few of the roughly 1 million people within the Kimmel Center’s database were comfortable attending live events right now, but 71% said they would be interested by next fall, and 97% said they would want to attend events by this time next year. That same number — 97% of Kimmel patrons — said they intend to get vaccinated.

“At this point, I believe a lot of markets around America are really looking at the fall being the resurgence of performing arts centers,” said Cambron.

Audiences may have been away from the Kimmel’s stages for over a year, but the campus has not been entirely without activity. The Kimmel Center was used as an election polling place, as a site for blood drives, and during the protests for racial justice over the summer it was opened as a resting place for both demonstrators and police.

The Philadelphia Orchestra used the Kimmel’s Verizon Hall to record its season of online performances, and the Kimmel Center kept much of its education staff on the job creating thousands of hours of online content about jazz and musical theater for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders.

“Our kids in this community needed that desperately,” said Cambron. “I think the arts provide a special kind of outlet for kids who are stuck at home behind a computer screen most of the year.”

“If you ever need an uplifting moment, take a look at one of the videos and you can see the moms in the background helping with the singing and dancing,” he said. “It’s just inspiring.”

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