NEW YORK - The Kite Runner has become the first show on Broadway to require audiences to wear masks at certain performances. The move is particularly notable as the show’s weekly mask-only evening will be on Fridays - one of the most popular nights in New York’s theatre district. Fans who are disabled or have other health vulnerabilities have long called for theatres to host mask-only nights.

But the major theatres in London’s West End have yet to introduce such a scheme. Producers said they scheduled the performances after some ticket buyers “expressed trepidation” about coming to see the show. In England and Wales, the mask mandate was lifted in January, in line with a significant fall in Covid cases and deaths following the rollout of the vaccine. As a result, it has become increasingly rare in recent months to see audience members wearing facemasks at the vast majority of West End performances. However, the US was much slower than the UK to do away with facemask rules. Broadway theatres only lifted the industry-wide mask mandate on 1 July, and two plays - The Minutes and American Buffalo - kept their mask requirements in place until they closed later that month. The decision to offer mask-only performances of The Kite Runner means immune compromised ticket buyers, or indeed anyone who is uncomfortable sitting in a mask-free environment, will be able to see the show. “There were a number of people, including friends, colleagues, even a doctor who had expressed some trepidation about attending our show, or any show, without a masked audience,” The Kite Runner’s lead producer Victoria Lang told The Hollywood Reporter. “We thought, why not dedicate at least one performance a week to make it a masked audience, so that anyone and everyone who wants to see the show has the opportunity to do that?

“You always hope to boost sales, but it wasn’t done specifically to boost sales,” she added. “It was done really just to accommodate the requests from the people that were looking for a masked show.” The Kite Runner is an adaptation of the 2003 novel by Khaled Hosseini and opened on Broadway on 21 July, with a planned 17-week running. The first mask-only performance of the show, which is directed by Giles Croft, will take place on 19 August. Ushers inside the theatre will enforce the policy, Lang said, and signage outside the theatre and box office will make the policy clear to audiences. Some venues in the UK have scheduled occasional mask-only performances, including the Hampstead Theatre, the Nottingham Playhouse, the Birmingham Rep, the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Theatres and cinemas already offer showings and screenings for a variety of audiences, such as subtitled or signed performances for people who are hard of hearing, and parent-and-baby screenings for adults who don’t want the sound of their infant crying to disrupt others.

As there would be very little public enthusiasm for bringing mask mandates back to entertainment venues in the UK, individual nights dedicated to masks could be a way for theatres to keep most ticket-buyers happy.