State releases guidelines for safely reopening art organizations

The Warner Theatre adapts to pandemic closures by hosting a drive-in musical.

The Warner Theatre adapts to pandemic closures by hosting a drive-in musical.

Metro Creative Connection

On May 6, the Department of Economic and Community Development, in partnership with the Connecticut Arts Alliance, presented “Considerations for Creative Organizations Operating During COVID-19.” It was preceded by a disclaimer, which pointed out to users of the plan being presented that it is essentially to assist reopening provided by the State of Connecticut’s guidelines, but “should not in any manner be considered a best practice for the arts and culture sector.” It also goes on to state that the plan should not be construed as legal. To this layperson this doesn’t come across as a confident plan, even though it notes that the plan is based on a number of models. The plan is also accompanied with a note that updates will be provided.

The document recognizes that Connecticut’s “creative sector is a substantial driver in our state representing 3.5 percent of our state’s GDP, generating $9.3 billion annually and supporting 58,932 jobs.” That’s pretty significant and explains why it is so important that creative sources including theaters reopen and that they do so mindful of the health of their staffs, casts, crews and audiences.

The plan also noted that arts and culture were reported as the second hardest hit and worst performing industry during the coronavirus pandemic. The four section list of guidelines include: Workplace Safety, Operations, Programming, and Resources. All of which were very thorough and seemed to keep health and safety a top priority.

In the Workplace Safety section, Social Distancing is the first item and includes everything from avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately six feet) from others, increasing physical space between staff and/or guests, installing screens or barriers and limiting access to tight spaces and high traffic areas.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) including face coverings, cleaning and disinfecting, sick leave and supportive policies; and human services guides are presented carefully and in detail.

The second section, Operations, includes emergency plan, financial stability, capacity, public spaces, signage, enforcement, communication, cleaning and sanitation and food and beverage service. Again, the detail presented is most thorough and includes striving for low-touch entrances, exits and visits. Signage also includes reminding people to “avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth.”

Enforcement includes a plan for organizations to consider “how they will enforce new protocols and know their legal rights (deny entrance, request to leave, reminders to the audience.)” This is certainly going to be important to theaters. Signs stating no entrance allowed without a face covering have already been posted by grocery stores and it will be interesting to find out what theaters will expect.

Communication involves use of social media as well as enhanced communication skills and cleaning and sanitation pretty much speaks for itself. However, knowing that theaters often provide refreshments the food and beverage service essentially points out that organizations should “limit or eliminate self-serve stages, buffets, and water fountains. All food and beverages should be served by staff that are wearing appropriate protective equipment to reduce any contamination.”

Overall, these guidelines seem above reproach and look most helpful as guidelines. The two other sections are also reassuring and inclusive. However, it will be very difficult for small theaters or any theater to survive by spacing audience members six feet away from each other. Families, of course, can sit together, but no theater is going to “pack a house” with a blockbuster hit that it has to pay a huge sum of money for in royalties, actors, costumes and props, not to mention designers and musicians, etc. What seems so logical and safe may be a whole other problem for theaters that are depending on audience attendance. The problems regarding getting people spread out as they wait to enter a theater, approach restrooms, wait at a box office, backstage workers and so much more has the potential of being a nightmare. Of course, a vaccine would help enormously. And theater people are very creative; it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Meanwhile, theaters are doing their best to keep their loyal patrons entertained with viral programming and podcasts. Enjoy them and let the theaters know you’re watching and waiting.