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Live audiences return to their seats at local production studios

Gold Coast Studios Stage 3 in Bethpage.

Gold Coast Studios Stage 3 in Bethpage. Credit: Barry Sloan

The sun’ll come out a few days after tomorrow in Bethpage, where the production of "Annie Live!" is slated to be the first show shot before a live studio audience since the pandemic began, said Lyndsey Laverty, principal of Gold Coast Studios.

The pandemic shut down live studio audience productions last year, including the now-canceled Netflix sitcom "The Crew," which was taped at the studios.

"This is our first live show coming back," Laverty said of "Annie Live!" "It’s nice to see that people want to get back into some sort of normalcy and that there’s life coming back to these shows."

NBC plans to broadcast the Tony-award winning musical live on Dec. 2, according to its website.

Last year, the pandemic initially forced the shutdown of all but essential work. New York State later allowed live studio audiences to return, but with limits that included social distancing and a requirement that the audience members be employees of the production or company. In April, as more people got the COVID-19 vaccines, the rules were relaxed to allow live indoor performances for the general public at small- to medium-sized venues with no more than 2,500 seats. Audiences were limited to up to 150 people — with the exact tally depending on the number of seats and the vaccination status of the attendees.

New York State Department of Health spokeswoman Jill Montag wrote in an email Tuesday that the agency has no specific guidance on studio audiences since the state of emergency was lifted in June. Jason Gough, spokesman for economic development in the office of Gov. Kathy Hochul, wrote in an email that the state’s April guidelines for reopening New York are no longer mandatory.

Laverty said Gold Coast Studios has safety guidelines for its employees but that individual productions filming or taping at their soundstages are responsible for handling their own COVID-19 safety protocols.

Grumman Studios in Bethpage plans to offer live studio audience capacity at its sound stages in response to demand, said owner Parviz Farahzad.

"It’s new to us," Farahzad said. "Production companies are asking for it."

On Tuesday, the Oyster Bay Town Board approved a special-use permit allowing Grumman Studios to have live studio audiences in four of its six soundstages.

"In order to have audiences while they’re filming you need to have permission, public assembly permits, and that’s what we applied for," Farahzad said.

Farahzad noted that a live audience can change the feel of a televised musical or episodic television show.

"They [production companies] like to have an audience in there because it feels like there’s a little more energy in the shows," he said.

Flo Mitchell-Brown, chair of the industry group New York Production Alliance, said union safety COVID-19 safety protocols require testing of production crews several times a week.

"We’ve been very successful to getting back to work and getting back to normal; it’s our new normal," she said.


Oyster Bay Town’s requirements for live studio audiences at Bethpage Studios include:

  • Special-use permit for a live audience
  • Building permit for change of use
  • Public assembly license

SOURCE: Town of Oyster Bay

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