In the Wake of Manchester, Do Broadway Theatres Need to Beef Up Security?

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Founder & Editor-in-Chief 

An Updated Piece from Oct 5th, 2015. 

Over the past couple of years we've seen incidents where the metaphorical, and sometimes literal, barrier between Broadway actors and the audience is being broken. 

While some of the stories are comical, such as the cell phone charger incident at Hand to God, some are downright scary. 

For instance the incident that occurred at Thérèse Raquin with its star Keira Knightley last fall. Here is what happened, according to composer-lyricist Matthew Martin, who was in the audience that day,

"Suddenly we saw a young man enter, house left, the aisle between the front and rear mezzanine. He was carrying a bouquet of roses and began spouting off about both Jesus and Keira Knightley. He proposed marriage and kept saying things like, 'You have five seconds, Keira!' He seemed very fanatical and very disturbed.

"He went down the steps to the rail at the front of the mezzanine and kept shouting. Because of the timing of when it happened, we in the audience thought at first that it was part of the show. But then an usher tentatively came over and whispered to him. He didn't pay any attention at first, but eventually backed up and sat in a seat in the fourth row of the front mezzanine. He kept shouting, 'You have five seconds left, Keira! That's not a long time!'

"We were all very freaked out at that point. Security didn't come right away. I think the ushers didn't want to do anything because the man seemed very dangerous.

"Eventually two male security people and a male usher came and spoke to him. Then they tried to forcibly eject him. At first he seemed to go along with them, but then, in one fluid motion, he tossed the bouquet, which spiraled down to the stage. We all gasped. It looked like a bouquet, but who knew what was in there? It landed on the stage, stage right, with a thud.

What is most disturbing about this situation is incredibly slow response time by theatre security. What if he was carrying a weapon? What if he put the people near him in danger? What if there was an explosive device inside the rose bouquet that he was given enough time to throw on stage at the actors? 

And before you think that sounds ridiculous, just remember, people have tried to blow up planes with bombs in their shoes and underwear. 

So this begs the question, do Broadway theatres need to beef up their security? 

Take the Thérèse Raquin incident for example. If the security response had been immediate rather than "eventual" as Mr. Martin described, than this man would have been escorted out of the theatre right away. If there were bag checks and metal detectors at the entrance doors, had there been a device in the bouquet, it would have been discovered before being brought into the theatre. 

What's even more disturbing, in addition to the pure evil of it all, is that the attacks in Paris, Orlando and now Manchester, are further proof that these attacks can happen anywhere. 

I'm not calling for body scanners in the lobby. But what I am calling for is a consistent security policy at all Broadway and Off-Broadway theatres. I'm also calling for theatres to hire specific security personnel. In the event of an emergency, there needs to be house staff in the theatre trained to handle the situation. With all due respect to many of the ushers in these houses, but most of them couldn't stop a wily bunch of teenagers let alone someone intent on hurting others. 

It's also not a bad idea to have police presence either on the streets outside or inside these lobbies. Yes it would cost money but it would be money well spent. 

While I understand that some might be offended or upset about having their bags searched or walking through a metal detector before taking their seat to see a show. But if there is a way to greatly deter or entirely remove the possibility of an Aurora, CO happening on 42nd St, wouldn't adding security measures to protect the cast, crew and fellow audience members be worth it? 

Many times, added security measures are installed in response or reaction to specific incidents, why not be proactive when it comes to protecting the Broadway community?