socially distANCED THEATRE
Broadway, General Theatre

Socially Distanced Theatre? Berkshire Theatre Group’s Godspell

Live theatre is back? Well, sort of. Berkshire Theatre Group in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has recently begun performances of “Godspell Under the Tent” in what is one of the first returns to live theatre in America, and one of the first Equity-approved performances as well. (The other approved performance, FYI, is also in MA – it’s Barrington Stage Company’s production of David Cale’s one-man show Harry Clark.)

The show follows strict safety guidelines from the audience to the performers. From BTG’s website:

Temperature scans will be done for patrons at their point of entry. No-contact scanning stations for tickets will be placed at point of entry, spaced at least 6 feet from the temperature scan. Free-standing hand sanitizer stations will be placed at various locations throughout the space. Patrons will be required to wear masks. One way traffic patterns will be enforced with arrows and 6 foot markers on the floor, as well as lines down the center of hallways, to and from the tent, restrooms and concessions. The restrooms will have entrance and exits that are separate and one way. Every other stall, urinal and sink will be marked not usable. A doctor/nurse will be on duty for all performances. Additional safeguards will also be in place.

Not only do they have those safeguards, the cast is distanced from each other as well on stage. Ben Brantley outlined these choices in his New York Times review.

The golden rule here takes the form of their nearly always keeping at least six feet from one another. Whenever they have to cross one another’s paths they make sure their masks (bunched around their necks) are pulled into place. When a chorus sings Schwartz’s tuneful earwig pop gospel — an activity known to let spittle fly — it does so behind the transparent panels of Randall Parsons’s beautifully utilitarian set. (Matthew E. Adelson’s patterned lighting helps keep it from looking like a doctor’s waiting room.)

Now, I love theatre, and yes, I do love Godspell – I think it was a great metaphorical choice to be one of the first returns to theatre. But I have to say…is it worth it? The audience and the performers both have to wear masks. Everyone has to be socially distanced. And though I understand they are all taking massive precautions, it still feels risky to me. The NYT review features a picture of the socially distanced audience and you can clearly see two theatre-goers wearing their masks incorrectly. Despite the safeguards, there are certainly still risks. I worry especially about the crew, who absolutely find it harder to socially distance and be safe while setting up things like the set and microphones.

Though, I have to say, in regards to it being worth it – it does appear that all performances are sold out (this may be because the distanced audience can only seat 75, however).

Overall, I guess I would have to attend the production and see how everything works myself to make an absolute judgment on this show. I do wonder if we will be seeing more Equity-approved productions similar to this. I know that the Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, NJ has been doing theatre under a tent as well. I only know this because it is local to me, so I am sure there are other theatres around the country doing the same thing.

To me, however, it just doesn’t seem worth it. There are just too many risks involved for cast, crew and audiences alike. I empathize with those out of work, but this doesn’t feel right to me. Though, with the government resisting funding the arts during this time, I can understand why artists feel the need to put on socially distanced theatre. I wish that unemployment would be extended, and that the arts would receive grants and funding to ensure that when it is time, it can return fully. But I would much rather everyone stay home and wait until we can perform theatre safely.

If you liked this post, check out:

No More Stage Dooring? Live Performance Safety Guidelines Revealed

And make sure to follow us on Twitter!

live performance safety guidelines
Broadway, General Theatre

No More Stage Dooring? Live Performance Safety Guidelines Revealed

Could stage dooring be a thing of the past? According to the 27-page guidelines for COVID-19 reopening released Tuesday by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Stagecraft Safety Committee (IATSE), it is at least for now. These guidelines are intended to be for IATSE members, employers and local unions, but they are interesting to read for anyone interested in how theatre is going to come back. And, despite being 27 pages, it is only supposed to provide general information, according to the IATSE website. Still, 27 pages is a lot, so I’ll go through some of the more important (and interesting) points of the guidelines.

No More Stage Dooring

“Eliminate and discourage the audience and public from congregating outside of the stage
door post performance.”

Like I said above, it’s true! Fans won’t be able to line up outside the theatre for autographs and photos. And honestly, this one is just common sense. While I personally love going to the stage door, as I’m sure many of you reading do as well, it’s way more important to keep the performers safe. Plus, with some of the entitled fans I have been seeing, maybe it’s for the best to keep stage dooring away for a bit.

There will also be no backstage tours given. You’ll even have to grab a Playbill yourself from a rack or table – no more being handed to you.

PPE for Everyone

“All required PPE will be provided and maintained by the employer”

The guidelines require that Personal Protective Equipment is provided to all cast and crew, as well as proper training for how to use it. PPE should be worn everywhere that it can be worn. Everyone also has to practice good hygiene standards and physical distancing when they can.

Special COVID-19 Officers

“One or more autonomous COVID-19 Compliance Officer(s) [CCO] with specialized
training, responsibility and authority for COVID-19 safety compliance and enforcement will
be in the workplace to implement the Covid-19 safety plan and address issues as they arise.”

The CCO will be in charge of a slew of things, including overseeing adherence to things like social distancing, disinfecting, testing, symptom monitoring and anything else the employer decides. The CCO (and whatever assistants they need) should always be available during work hours and should be accessible to all personnel. They also are the ultimate authority in this regard.

General COVID-19 Plans

“Venues must have a written COVID-19 safety plan in place that specifies necessary policies,
practices and procedures. In multi-employer venues there must be a process for coordinating activities related to prevention and control of Covid-19.”

So, everyone needs a plan. Makes enough sense. There are also some more specific plans for how to prepare. Diagnostic testing is good, but as the document notes, it can be imperfect. So it is a good start to reduction rather than a perfect answer. This will depend on how often the employee in question is exposed to the public, and the testing protocols will change as testing does too.

Daily screening will be necessary for workers to ensure that they are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms. If they are, they should not come to work (obviously) and if they develop symptoms on-site, they should be sent home. Those who do test positive should alert the CCO, who will alert those who were close to the sick person so that they can immediately quarantine.

If you want to read this for yourself, I’ll link the document again here. What do you guys think? How different do you think theatre will be when it opens up? Let me know!

If you liked this post, check out:

How to Enjoy Theatre in Lockdown

Follow us on Twitter!