Entertainment

Broadway’s Return Is Triumphant, But Uncertainty Looms: “Humans Must Be as Crucial because the Present”

When Broadway returned this tumble, it reopened to thunderous applause — and a rave.

Deejayed by none assorted than theater myth Andrew Lloyd Webber and held on the avenue and sidewalk in front of the Majestic Theatre, the flashing lights and reverberating beats that accompanied the Phantom of the Opera membership remix in the end of the indicate’s reopening night time social gathering made it very no longer going to miss that theater was at final motivate.

The electric energy fueling the return of Broadway’s longest-running indicate has since echoed all over theaters all around the Mountainous White Design following the legit curtain-elevating on Sept. 14. A internet of reopenings and debuts absorb functioned like a heartbeat, with an initial 12 displays in September, and now larger than 30, pumping life motivate into the similar city blocks that stood muted by the pandemic for over a year.

When it was first presented on March 12, 2020, Broadway’s initial 30-day shutdown preceded the scheduled opening of over 15 displays and resulted in an estimated $100 million loss in box narrate of enterprise earnings, in accordance with The Wall Aspect street Journal. That desire only grew for the replace — which had raked in $1.8 billion in tickets gross sales in the end of the 2018-19 season — because the shuttering was indirectly prolonged a year and a half of.

Six producer Kevin McCollum says new productions like his possess, which was position to initiating the night time Broadway shut down, absorb been equally impacted.

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Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber deejays the re-opening night time celebration for Phantom of the Opera on Oct. 22, 2021.
Bruce Glikas/Getty Photos

Written by Toby Marlow and director Lucy Moss, the punchy, reimagined myth spherical King Henry VIII and his six better halves raised about $5.5 million besides arrive tickets gross sales of over $10 million, in accordance with McCollum, spending “every single greenback to glean to opening.” But when Broadway shut down, “we straight had to return all the cash.”

The financial impact of the shuttering stretched previous theater productions, as Broadway is the center of what the Rent and Avenue Q producer calls “an financial and cultural octopus” of restaurants, accommodations and extra.

“​​It’s no longer supreme that we’re selling tickets to the indicate,” he explains. “Not like sports, we don’t build food or parking in the industry opinion of the indicate. Cities most continuously possess so a lot of the parking so a lot, and then the restaurants thrive on are dwelling leisure. We develop destination activity.”

This is partly why the COVID-19 shutdown has been known as an unprecedented replace closure now not like something in most recent memory, together with employee strikes and the Sept. 11 attacks.

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Broadway’s Minskoff Theater, house to Disney’s The Lion King, sitting closed in March 2020.
Ben Gabbe/Getty Photos

“When it comes to 9/11, it was, ‘Now we absorb to glean motivate up or the terrorists spend. It’s The united states and Unique York Metropolis, and no person shuts us down,’” says David Caddick, longtime Webber collaborator and the Phantom of the Opera’s musical supervisor. “We absorb been up by Thursday after tragedy on Tuesday.”

But when it came to COVID, “This virus didn’t happen in barely one narrate. It lived each day,” McCollum says. “The one similarity with 9/11 is the massive loss of human life.”

The losses from COVID are something Phantom’s leading man, Ben Crawford, saw first hand. “We lost a dresser right here at the indicate to COVID steady at the starting. Appropriate after we had shut down,” he says, reasonably of choking up. “Then we lost an herald the front of the house. And each person’s heard Gash Cordero’s account.”

After a year and a half of of so great uncertainty and tragedy, Broadway’s reopening amid the continuing pandemic is seen as a well-known spend for one of Unique York’s greatest corporations. Yet, many in the replace enlighten that theater’s flow motivate to “popular” might maybe unbiased in point of fact rob just a few years — if what was once popular ever returns.

Broadway’s shutdown was the reverse of its long and closely deliberate reopening. It came like a flash and with tiny time to position up.

On the Nederlander, the Sam Mendes-directed The Lehman Trilogy — which chronicles the 1800s upward thrust and 2007 financial disaster tumble of Lehman Brothers — was “given glimpse that by five o’clock the theaters absorb been closed. All of them. That was it. Gather on a airplane, go house. End off,” says Neal Aspect street Productions producer Caro Newling.

“It was an unpleasant part as a consequence of we absorb been all looking to glean our heads spherical what COVID in point of fact supposed,” Newling explains. “But there was however something no longer much less than reassuring referring to the clarity that this was going down all around the board; it was mandated, and don’t mess spherical questioning it as a consequence of you’ve received just a few hours,” she provides.

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A spot posted outdoor the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, house to Six, noting the 30-day shutdown that started March 12, 2020.
Noam Galai/Getty Photos

Crawford was at the Majestic Theatre, performing for what would unknowingly be each and each his final time in the role and in the final Broadway indicate for nearly two years.

“I in point of fact absorb a TV in my dressing room, and I’ll in general absorb on irrespective of sports is occurring. We absorb been preparing for March Madness and teams started chucking up the sponge,” he recalled. “A pair hours later, we glean this announcement in the end of the indicate that this might maybe maybe be our final indicate for four weeks. We desire each person to sure out of the theater by six o’clock.”

Flash forward to now, 19 months later, and Crawford is at a weeknight dress rehearsal, the place the Phantom of the Opera’s with out slay masked man has stumbled on himself onstage, laughing.

It was over an “gaze-roll-noteworthy” joke, he says; an “Oh, do now not fail to take note that?” moment recalling something that had came about sooner than COVID-19 in an instant shut down one of Unique York Metropolis’s greatest industries. His laughter like a flash pivoted into something else: humility.

“We’re supreme so grateful to be right here,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “You don’t absorb to declare that, but you’re feeling like it be well-known to. There’s pretty just a few gratitude as a method to absorb a job as a consequence of there are so great of folks all of us know who supreme left the industry as a consequence of they had no replacement.”

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John Riddle, Ben Crawford and Megan Picerno in the end of the re-opening night time curtain name for the Phantom of the Opera.
Bruce Glikas/Getty Photos

Unique York Metropolis was one of many first locations in the U.S. hit laborious by the coronavirus. With uncertainty over when work would return and a public health disaster raging spherical them, some Broadway workers made the decision to leave. Crawford — who indirectly made several journeys in and out of the city — was among them. After flying to Arizona to be closer to his two early life, the actor started discovering methods to himself busy except the decision to return came.

He straight purchased video tools, he says, and in April and Might furthermore worked on an prolonged play of about four songs sooner than at final placing up a beer blog on Instagram, something that with regards to resulted in a brewery-basically basically based fully performance.

“I believed, ‘All of this might maybe unbiased no longer only be factual for me to cease relevant but to make impart of my speak.’ I’d carried out a pair of things right here and there, however it wasn’t like I used to be flexing the muscle each day,” he says. “I enjoy it was like survival from so many views — no longer only as an particular particular person, but your ingenious energies.”

That he might maybe maybe never return to Broadway constantly loomed in his ideas, and because the shutdown stretched on, from just a few months to over a year, Crawford and diverse participants of Broadway’s mountainous crew confronted a myriad of mounting challenges, leading some to rethink their careers in are dwelling theater altogether.

For just a few of these that stuck it out, jobs awaited them following then-Unique York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Might furthermore 2021 announcement that Broadway would officially reopen at 100 p.c capacity. But with a Broadway slate running in September at about half of the replacement of displays from the replace’s final corpulent season, there absorb been fewer crew jobs.

Crawford tells THR there’s also nearly no auditioning taking narrate steady now. What auditions there are absorb long previous distant and, as a consequence of a landmark reopening deal brokered by the Broadway League, are for roles largely available to performers though-provoking to abide by a vaccine mandate.

For these for whom the wait continues, it’s no longer supreme a paycheck they’re hoping for, both. Share of Broadway’s crew exodus was as a consequence of a loss of health care advantages.

Following the shutdown, the Broadway League orchestrated a transient emergency reduction settlement that covered reduced pay and a corpulent month’s health insurance for union stage workers — although no longer contractors like playwrights — on qualifying for-earnings Broadway displays. After that, groups like The Actors Fund, Actors’ Equity, the Dramatists Guild and IATSE continued to form public calls to receive funding for these out of work on Broadway and all around the nation.

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The Mondays Dark Live Circulate Telethon for The Actors Fund of Las Vegas at The House on April 27, 2020, in Las Vegas.
Denise Truscello/Getty Photos

That supposed wrangling give a enhance to via private sources, like critical particular person-backed fundraisers. Furthermore, there was continuous government lobbying, such because the advertising and marketing campaign led by the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds to renew COBRA subsidies, which covered 50 p.c of participants’ health care premiums and absorb been expected to expire in July 2021, for replace participants no longer working as a consequence of the pandemic. (Unique York is the only narrate that affords a COBRA subsidy for leisure workers.)

While dealing with financial uncertainty of its possess, the Fund continued to work as Life like Care Act navigators in the end of the shutdown to help folks receive health insurance. And as Broadway’s legit reopening approached, they launched an instantaneous financial help program to present a enhance to interchange participants coming motivate to the city.

“We desire to help folks when they hit that low point and they don’t absorb cash for food or hire, and when they’ve to pass motivate to the place the work is as a consequence of there’s nothing going down in their field the place they’re at,” the Fund’s president, Joe Benincasa, tells THR.

Some productions even equipped just a few of these supports themselves early on in the shutdown. The Broadway Journal reported that Caroline, or TradeDear Evan HansenHadestownLady From the North Country; and Company — which got $8.85 million from its insurer, in accordance with an email its lead producer sent to investors — absorb been ready to dip into their performance disruption insurance to help blunt their losses. Other productions at final took their insurers to court in an try and glean a payout. McCollum says the insurance he had in narrate helped Six duvet its workers in the initial weeks of the shutdown.

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The solid of Six in the end of reopening night time at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Oct. 3.
Bruce Glikas/Getty Photos

“We in point of fact absorb been ready to pay everyone who works for the indicate and, via the Six restricted partnership, have their insurance in narrate, have some group on and help with housing points and folks getting house,” he said. “But it with out a doubt was laborious.”

This might occasionally seemingly remain laborious. Simply weeks into Broadway’s reopening, Broadway League vice president Charlotte St. Martin estimated that its corpulent crew won’t be motivate again except the spring.

“Attain I enjoy five months from now we’ll absorb all 97,000 jobs motivate? No, but I bet now we absorb 85,000 jobs,” she urged THR in September. “Now we absorb to absorb time to form all the displays motivate. By the conclude of December, we’ll absorb 35 displays that shall be initiating, with the spring bringing extra as we glean our global tourists.”

Vacationers and timing are key components in the success of Broadway’s return, replace participants expose THR, with the uncertainty of the lingering pandemic affecting every little thing, down to when a indicate opens. Sooner or later of the 2018-19 season, which saw an all-time excessive of 14.8 million admissions, the League experiences that tourists accounted for 65 p.c.

“The mountainous search files from is, when will the global travelers arrive motivate to Unique York?” Benincasa tells THR. “We’re going to be counting, I enjoy for the following few months, fully on domestic tourists.”

CNBC reported that Tainted, Hamilton and The Lion King — Broadway mainstays, tag gross sales yarn-setters and three of the four displays that reopened Sept. 14 — fell wanting selling out their opening weeks. All arrived amid unfortunate global tourism and ongoing concerns all around the delta variant. (As of Nov. 8, the U.S. started welcoming motivate tourists from 33 nations it had barred from coming into the country as a consequence of the pandemic.)

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A employee opens their window as tourists absorb tickets to Broadway displays at the TKTS booth in Times Square on Nov. 12.
Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Photos

Sparkling that audience turnout might maybe smartly be smaller, no longer much less than in the starting, productions absorb had to extra fastidiously rob video display of when they’ll reopen their doorways in.

“It’s like airplanes taking off again. You unbiased absorb so many runways,” McCollum says. “The economics of Broadway are demanding, even with everyone cooperating. Unique York’s a luxurious narrate to are dwelling, the valid property’s dear, and placing on these displays is dear. To restart a indicate, you are eager on to absorb to assemble it in a to blame method, so the displays are rolling out when the displays are ready.”

The everlasting closings of Frozen, Mean Ladies, Who’s Scared of Virginia Woolf?, Hangmen and West Aspect Story — with Beetlejuice, once presented as closing, position to return on April 8 — loom over displays having a uncover to outlive Broadway’s new season, the place something can happen.

While musical Waitress broke the single-performance box narrate of enterprise dwelling yarn at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in the end of its reopening on Sept. 3, grossing $197,878, by Oct. 25, plays Is This a Room and Dana H. presented they absorb been ending their runs early. Family comedy Chicken & Biscuits — an entry in Broadway’s ancient replacement of Sunless-written productions — joined them on Nov. 11 as among the earliest to succumb to the challenges of manufacturing a indicate in the end of an endemic.

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The solid of Chicken & Biscuits in the end of the outlet night time curtain name at The Circle in the Square Theatre on Oct. 10, 2021.
Bruce Glikas/WireImage

While Chicken & Biscuits producers pointed to a string of performance cancellations associated to breakthrough COVID conditions among the solid, producers for the assorted two displays simply cited low tag gross sales because the position off of their early closure. These earnings absorb been initially obscured at reopening, and to an infinite stage light are for particular particular person displays, by the League’s decision to retain releasing weekly box narrate of enterprise figures, yet one other shift induced by the pandemic.

When presented final summer, the League pointed to this season’s reduced slate of displays, besides productions’ inconsistent performance schedules, as reasons why it wouldn’t commence figures. To the League’s point, on Nov. 12, it launched transferring performance schedules for the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Unique Year’s, featuring alternate and night time performances, besides special weekday matinees to attraction to the city’s holiday tourism crowd. (In 2019, the week ending on Dec. 29 saw Broadway atrocious larger than $55 million in tag gross sales, the best in a six-month period, in accordance with the League’s files.)

Yet, on Oct. 26, St. Martin presented the organization would commence doing supreme that, but via weekly indicate composites versus particular particular person indicate files. “Per week we’re going to share a composite of the grosses, the capacity for the week, the grosses for the week, and the replacement of performances performed for the week,” St. Martin said in a press commence. “We might maybe consist of a season to this point quantity for every of these classes.”

Producers for Is This a Room and Dana H., which absorb since prolonged runs via Nov. 27 and Nov. 28, respectively, as a consequence of tag sale increases, also pointed to 1 other position off of their early closure: a lack of narrate funding.

Going into Broadway’s tumble reopening, returning displays had one foremost leg up on new ones — the Set apart Our Stages Act. Tucked steady into a federal $900 billion stimulus package deal, it offers $15 billion in reduction for unbiased venues that had to conclude operations as a consequence of the pandemic. Doled out as Small Industry Administration grants, these financial lifelines offer venue operators six months of financial give a enhance to, together with payroll, hire, utilities and repairs.

A pair of replace participants who spoke to THR credit ranking the guidelines as one of potentially the most needed reasons their displays can go on in industry the place survival has never been a sigh but is now furthermore complex by an ever-transferring public health landscape.

When one indicate closes early, temporarily replaces a castmember who tested definite for COVID like Waitress, or, like Disney on Broadway’s Aladdin, turns into the season’s first — although no longer only production — to homicide performances as a consequence of COVID breakthrough conditions, it’s no longer necessarily seen as an isolated awe. Each person now collectively holds their breath, as if the success or failure of all the replace’s return hinges on a single production’s .

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The solid of Disney on Broadway’s Aladdin in the end of reopening night time curtain name on Sept. 28.
Curtis Brown

“It felt like Aladdin did the suitable part. Disney did the suitable part. At a undeniable point, it’s diminishing returns to proceed performing as if right here’s no longer something that desires to be taken seriously,” Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity, tells THR. “The plenty of part is that now we absorb to be additional attentive to the functionality lasting impacts, even if it’s no longer long-haul COVID, but some well-known indicators on folks that verbalize and dance for a dwelling.”

She provides, “The part that we don’t absorb to happen would be for Broadway to reopen, absorb a bunch of very public outbreaks and shut down again.”

A pair of replace participants expose THR that, financially, Broadway might maybe maybe seemingly face up to only a single foremost relaunch, so when they at final pulled motivate the curtain, they would absorb to form it count, warding off foremost COVID-associated shut downs as great as doable. For Phantom of the Opera, that supposed opening reasonably later.

“It takes months of planning as a method to reopen. We can’t enlighten we will reopen subsequent week. So the decision [about when to reopen] had to be made several months upfront of September, when the country and in particular the narrate was light dealing with the delta variant,” says Caddick. “Phantom might maybe maybe absorb enough cash to motivate reasonably, and stare how assorted displays absorb been dealing with it and form its possess plans for its return.”

While some particular particular person displays might maybe maybe absorb enough cash to reasonably pandemic-proof the dates of their debuts, all of the productions opening are to blame for abiding by the similar COVID protocols.

In the summertime months that followed the tumble reopening announcement, particular particular person theaters and their respective productions publicized a vary of patchwork approaches to COVID protocols and tag refunds per the narrate’s generalized health and security guidance. Mighty of this was extra unified in slack July when the League presented a groundbreaking deal.

Crafted in stay performance with the replace’s assorted foremost institutions together with Actor’s Equity, the settlement outlines a floor of security protocols — from testing and vaccine mandates to conserving and improved HVAC requirements — that covered performers, crew, theater group and audiences. Reviewed every several months per new public health guidance, the deal most no longer too long in the past revised its vaccination requirement to consist of any individual 5 to 11 years venerable following the FDA’s most recent emergency approval of the Pzifer Biotech vaccine for early life.

The settlement was a byproduct of over a year of on-again-off-again discussions between foremost Broadway gamers, that started spherical 90 days into the pandemic when St. Martin launched larger than 40 task forces made out of the League’s 700-plus particular person membership.

Around half of of these groups absorb been associated to the assorted union contracts, each and each for touring displays and Broadway, serving to position guidelines for each person from the ushers to the singers. The others centered on things like governmental affairs, which concerned city, narrate and federal officers alongside producers, besides advertising and marketing, digital and events. Since reopening, advertising and marketing efforts absorb integrated potentially the most recent revival of the 1977 “The Excellent Positive Design to Invent It to Broadway” MTA advertising and marketing campaign and a slew of decrease ticket tag alternatives to entice audiences motivate.

All 41 Broadway venues, together with dynasties The Shubert Organization, The Nederlander Organization and Jujamcyn Theaters, helped arrive up with what was wished on a facility-by-facility foundation for buildings that absorb been most continuously larger than 100 years venerable.

“Every building has assorted ingress and regress, some absorb larger lobbies and extra initiating narrate,” St. Martin says. “Every theater had to assemble its possess explicit protocols. However the fundamentals of masks, testing twice per week, as many contactless products and providers as you are going to absorb, whether to present out the playbill — which initially we weren’t going to assemble when touch was a larger field — the theater homeowners led the manner.”

Love the theaters, no single production is alike — from mountainous to tiny ensembles, together with tiny one actors. So musicals and plays went out and employed their very possess epidemiologists, while the replace established the narrate of a COVID security supervisor. These roles no longer only organize testing, conserving and distancing protocols, but position guidance and form decisions concerning the health and security of their performers and crew.

“A COVID security supervisor is no longer supreme any individual associated to the production that went and took a two-to-four-hour class, but any individual who in point of fact has the authority to cease the rehearsal or cease the indicate,” Shindle says. “They’re in point of fact centered on their responsibilities — whether or not they’re dealing with an understudy or the producer — and making definite that each person understands the principles, and why they’re in narrate.”

As The Lehman Trilogy, the season’s only transatlantic production, geared up for its Broadway return in early tumble, its ingenious group equipped a pair of rounds of testing on top of the twice-weekly tests mandated by the League deal, something Newling said was “going to be one of many excellent additional traces on the budget.”

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COVID Safety group and audience outdoor the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP by capacity of Getty Photos

“Because we’re transferring folks transatlantically we’re pre-testing them, testing them again for go back and forth, testing them again the minute they step off the airplane,” she says.

The indicate also mounted “double of every little thing,” together with two corpulent crews and position, with a second revolving box “sitting in the middle” of the London theater, to make ride its production remained as safe as doable. That comes along with a “no traffic” rule in the motivate of the scenes, and efforts made by the theater to add Hepa filters in the dressing rooms.

“It’s no mean feat to absorb a rehearsal room in London with a British stage administration group, who will then surrender to the U.S. group. But we didn’t absorb to wing the U.S. group into London, as a consequence of we didn’t absorb to in any method build that group in any make of jeopardy.”

The increased focal point and efforts on keeping Broadway workers safe via COVID protocols has also resulted in 1 surprising : A shift in the conversation spherical defining workers’ health and security in an replace pushed by a “indicate must go on” mentality.

“It has been romanticized and internalized in our replace to the point the place we continuously fail to establish that it will also be poisonous, that it will also be weaponized,” Shindle says. “I enjoy that if one lasting part comes out of this, whether you’re talking about COVID security, general health, injury or the categories of emotional damage that might maybe win their method into locations of work, it’s that the humans absorb to be to boot-known because the indicate.”

The scope and detail of the League’s performance provisions, which absorb been re-upped in their entirety via Feb. 28, 2022, since first being deployed in September, absorb empowered Broadway to position health first while also giving it the freedom to all every other time assemble industry, replace participants enlighten. A Nov. 8 announcement also accredited new provisions, for attendees 5 to 11-years-venerable, requiring proof of no longer much less than one dose of an FDA or WHO-accredited vaccine no longer much less than 14 days sooner than the performance date, a negative COVID-19 PCR test or a negative COVID-19 quickly antigen test.

They’ve also led the manner for all of Unique York Metropolis industry, as smartly fellow theater communities domestic and in a foreign country. “It was only after The Broadway League presented we might maybe no longer be permitting any one into our theaters who isn’t [fully] vaccinated and might maybe recount as such that just some of the London landlords began to declare the similar part,” said Kash Bennett, managing director of the National Theatre.

The legality of the mandates and protocols which absorb helped reopen Broadway, in particular all around the vaccine, light largely exist in “new gray areas” that can indirectly “be a drawl for the courts,” says Jeffrey Citron, managing partner at Davidoff Hutcher and Citron, which represents restauranteurs, amusement parks, tag brokers and extra. Silent, he’s confident they’ll “absolutely” motivate financial recovery for Broadway and Unique York Metropolis.

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Target audience participants cheer on Sept. 24, 2021, in the end of first showing of Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Al Hirschfeld Theatre as a consequence of the March 2020 shutdown.
Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Photos

“There are consistently going to be folks which shall be initially going to be troubled, but I enjoy it’s like the leisure. Over a period of time, increasingly folks will in point of fact feel relaxed about it, the numbers will arrive down, extra folks shall be inoculated,” he says. “This isn’t gonna happen in a single day, however the truth of the topic is, if you know something is safe, you’re extra inclined to assemble it.”

While folks are eager to return to popular as like a flash as doable, mounting something on Broadway — even in the suitable of times — has consistently taken time. For that cause, besides the ever-altering pandemic public health landscape, the truth which shall be dwelling theater’s ongoing return might maybe no longer be measured in months but years is something that each person has arrive to unbiased accept.

“The pandemic shall be with the folks in theater and leisure on the total for a in point of fact long time,” Benincasa acknowledges.

In the mean time, it’s about protocols and persistence.

“It might maybe maybe rob a pair of years, but we had 10 yarn-breaking years in a row,” St. Martin says. “We can continue to exist and no longer be yarn-breaking.”

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