This blog is part of On the Stage’s in-person performance safety series. Read about managing safety for your audience here.
The complete industry shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic has compelled theatre makers to innovate and adapt in ways they hadn’t previously been considered. The very purpose of theatre and other performing arts is to gather people together to share a common experience, and many companies have discovered how to gather a virtual audience because that was often the only option. Even though we are able to gather in person more often and in larger groups, there are now safety precautions to be made that did not exist pre-COVID. Here are some safety considerations to keep in mind for your cast and crew as you rehearse and perform in-person.
Season Selection & Social Distancing
Many theatres will be looking to restage the shows they had to cancel because of the pandemic, and that’s understandable. If you’re starting from scratch with your season selection, think about what a manageable cast size is for your theatre. Also keep in mind your city’s current limits and guidelines for live events: the larger your cast is, the less audience members you might be able to admit. New Play Exchange allows you to search for shows on any number of parameters including cast size, and this blog has a great starter list for small casts.
If you’re looking to maintain social distancing between the actors, the size of your stage will also help you decide the size of your casts. The size of your backstage area will help you determine how many crew members to hire for your next show. If you have Cecil B. DeMille tendencies toward casts of thousands, or even a cast of twenty, some scripts might be better to produce in another season.
Many theatres have discovered that virtual rehearsals, especially read-throughs and table work, are just as, if not more effective than having them in person. Consider a hybrid rehearsal schedule and hold in-person rehearsals for staging and other physical aspects that can't be done virtually. We also recommend a hybrid performance strategy outlined here.
Communication & Contingency Plans
Your cast and crew will be looking to theatre leadership and production management to keep them informed of what to do during these still unpredictable times, so you need a plan and clear communication. Be proactive and professional in both.
What will you do if one of the cast members or the director contracts COVID during rehearsal? Will you hire understudies? What will you do if a cast or crew member contracts COVID during the run of the show? When will you decide if you need to cancel a performance or part of a run? How will you notify your cast or audience of any changes? If rehearsals begin with masks, but the show doesn’t have them, when will rehearsals be mask-free? Will masks be required backstage? How often will props, light switches, doorknobs and other surfaces be sanitized?
Having answers to questions like these will save you a lot of time and stress. It’s also good to inform your cast and crew what your theatre is doing in terms of audience safety when performances start. See here for more on that. Outlining these items in your cast and crew contracts keeps your theatre transparent and offers them all the information upfront about the working conditions of the production.
Mask & Vaxx Policies
Mask and vaccine policies vary widely and are subject to change. Check with your local government and work with your theatre’s administration to determine what guidelines apply to you. If you're concerned about safety, look at states and areas where infection rates are lower to see what they're doing and if you can implement some of their protocols.
For Equity productions and non-Equity theatres who want to uphold Equity standards, refer to their website for updates and current regulations for performances in this COVID era. Broadway led the production closures at the onset of the pandemic, and now that Broadway’s back, see what their policies and guidelines are on this issue.
COVID-19 has forced theatre leaders to make some difficult decisions and reassess how to do business and, in some cases, how to produce theatre. On the Stage helps take the hassle out of production and keeps you organized with checklists, reports, and outlines in our Theatre Producers Planner. Download your free copy today!