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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Chase

Theaters to Reopen ASAP

Protocols are in place, it's full speed ahead, without delay!

If Tootsie opens at Shea’s December 1, 2020, as was recently announced, I will arrange to have a congratulatory Burnt Almond Torte delivered to Shea’s President, Michael Murphy, directly from Prantl's Bakery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (That torte is one of my quarantine home shopping discoveries. I am also very excited that Fulton Fish Market in New York City is offering free overnight delivery. Chilean Sea Bass is sublime right off the outdoor grill, with a little splash of lime juice).

My point is that nobody knows what this pandemic is going to do. Any theater that makes an announcement is engaging in wishful thinking and trying to placate an impatient audience base. Of course, sometimes the dreams that we wish do come true, and so, if Tootsie opens as scheduled, Mr. Murphy is getting a Burnt Almond Torte from Prantl’s.

To me, the more likely scenario is that every theater in town will continue to revise and re-revise their plans as the pandemic lingers. Then every theater in town will be obliged to kick the reopening can down the road a little further. It will be a prolonged dance of announcement and retraction.

Okay January.

No – March!

No. No. We’ll do one person shows for audiences of one.

I know – we’ll video record our shows – Oh hell, that’s called television!

No! Better wait until 2022!

Remember when Road Less Traveled's decision to postpone until next year seemed severe? That plan now looks naively optimistic.

For Shea’s the issue is very tricky. They have the pressure of over 10,000 subscribers breathing down their necks. But not only are big touring musicals expensive, they tour to places like Florida and Arizona where they have, to put it politely, not flattened the curve. Then, after hanging out in states where the citizenry seems to think we have a constitutional right to spread infectious diseases, those shows come to a theater near you. With no national leadership on suppressing the spread of the virus, the American theater is pretty well stranded in covid-19 oblivion.

This week, Actors Equity Association approved contracts for two shows to open in the Berkshires next month, and released guidelines for other theaters to resume performances. In August, Berkshire Theatre Group will stage Godspell outdoors, and Barrington Stage Company will present Harry Clarke.

The Godspell company will dorm together in a kind of quarantine bubble.

The AEA guidelines are simple but will be a challenge to follow in the current climate.

Those guidelines are:

  • The epidemic must be under control, with effective testing, few new cases in the area, and contact tracing.

  • Individuals who may be infectious can be readily identified and isolated, with frequent, regular, and accurate testing with speedy results.

  • Audition, rehearsals, performance spaces, and venues may need to undergo changes in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

  • Efforts to control COVID-19 exposure must be collaborative, involving Equity members, employers, the union, and all others involved in the production of theater. There must be collective buy-in and ongoing evaluation and improvement of health and safety practices.

It seems to me that to achieve these guidelines you either need to have a remote outdoor venue, maybe in the Berkshires or the Adirondacks, housing for your actors, and a readily available vaccine or a different President in the White House.

I am keeping my fingers crossed, because I really hope I will have to buy that burnt almond torte. In the meantime, the only real answer to "what do you plan to do about reopening" is, "We plan to kick around some ideas so we can be ready when the coast is clear, but for now we wait, and hope we'll still be in business when that day comes."

I look forward to seeing you whenever that day comes -- in 2021, or 2022. Whenever! I'll be glad to see you.


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