Will COVID safety protocols survive in local theaters?

Editor’s note: DCMTA’s recent op-ed urging continued COVID safety policies at local theaters – “Now is not the time for theaters to drop mask and vax requirements” – had an overwhelmingly positive response. We follow it up with this report on what DMV theaters are planning to do. And we invite readers who wish to express their opinion or share more information to do so in the comments below.

Now that Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has lifted the mask mandate, businesses are no longer required to have customers and staff wear masks starting March 1, 2022, and proof of vaccination is no longer required in entertainment venues, there is obviously a lot of concern about COVID in the area.

Virginia and Maryland both lifted their statewide mandates several months ago, but some local jurisdictions still require mask-wearing, although that is also expected to change soon.

Chart DCMTA

Still, just because masks aren’t legally required and vaccination statuses no longer need to be checked doesn’t mean DC-area theaters will simply abandon the safety protocols that have worked for them and keep the public and the artists. sure.

Edgar Dobie, the executive producer of Arena Stage, notes that there are no plans to change this theater’s masking or vaccination protocols, which have been in place since the start of the season and were instituted to protect all customers, staff, creatives and volunteers. .

“We will still need full proof of vaccination – a physical card or electronic representation – and masks in public areas of the Mead Center,” says Dobie. “Since the onset of the pandemic, we have worked closely with associate advisors from GW Hospital’s Faculty of Emergency Medicine, who guide our safety plan. We have been and continue to be diligent in adhering not only to local regulations and CDC guidelines, but also to all collective bargaining agreements for actors, directors, choreographers and musicians.

If GW advisors change their guidelines while remaining consistent with local and union requirements, then only Arena Stage will adjust their plan accordingly.

This also goes for the Studio Theater, as the DC venue continues to require all patrons, staff, and performers entering the building to wear masks and be vaccinated. Throughout the pandemic, Studio consulted with local, federal and union guidelines to help shape its internal safety measures.

“We are paying attention to local changes to these regulations and will make adjustments to our policies if we determine it is safe to do so,” Studio Executive Director Rebecca Ende Lichtenberg said. “We understand the desire to return to pre-pandemic theater and see things start to open up, and we want to think about how we do that so we don’t put anyone at undue risk.”

As the public health impacts of COVID-19 continue to move in a favorable direction and government and union officials update their guidelines, some theaters are considering following their lead, so things could change. late spring here.

Laura Giannarelli, president of the board of the Washington Stage Guild, was pleased with how her guidelines helped the theater navigate its first two shows of the season safely.

“Specifically, we will maintain our requirement that all guests of our theater wear masks and show proof of vaccination at the door,” she says. “We are following AEA guidelines, in addition to complying with our landlord’s health and safety requirements. Our owner – Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church – is strongly committed to maintaining vax and mask requirements and is unlikely to relax its requirements in the immediate future.

While Giannarelli plans to reassess monthly, she admits the rest of the season will likely maintain mask and vaccine mandates for public and corporate protection.

Alyssa Sanders, producing partner of Avant Bard Theater in Arlington, notes that the theater operates out of a county facility — Gunston Arts Center Theater Two at Gunston Middle School — so it must follow county mandates.

“If the county changes its policies, Avant Bard’s production partners will consider the new information and make decisions accordingly,” Sanders says. “At this time, all customers must present proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of the performance they plan to attend. All patrons must wear masks and no concessions will be sold during performances. »

Signature Theater is participating in the Unified COVID-19 Safety Requirements in partnership with Theater Washington and many area theaters and will evaluate policies going forward.

“As in the past, this coalition will consider the advice of local jurisdictions, the CDC and our partner unions (such as Actors Equity) when making decisions,” said Jennifer Buzzell, chief marketing officer at Signature. “We will also consider the needs of other live entertainment venues as well as the wishes of our audience. The research we conduct with our audiences shows that the vast majority of them want to pursue mask and vaccine mandates.

GALA Hispanic Theater is also maintaining its COVID-19 safety policy, which requires masks and proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test within 72 hours of the show. In the event of a change, GALA will notify customers on its website.

Some theaters have not committed to their plans and others admit they are hesitant about what to do in March and April, with a couple unwilling to comment on what their actions might be once the term of the finished mask. One even noted off the record that he would probably start allowing entry without a mask very soon.

We’re all hoping COVID rates continue to drop and no new variants take hold, but taking the leap to change what worked in theaters just doesn’t seem like the most logical decision right now.

Stay informed of the theaters latest security protocols on their websites, which are usually updated weekly or whenever there is a change.

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