Executive Director's Note - Sept. 9: Can We Get There From Here?
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Posted by: TBA Staff
It’s been almost six months since the COVID-19 shutdown orders were imposed on the Bay Area. That process, which impacted theatres gradually, with the closing of venues by seating capacity, one level at a time, appeared back then as quixotic and confusing. Compared to the process for reopening, the shutdown seems like it came in one fell swoop.
Half a year into the pandemic, theatre companies across the region are left with little official guidance on what must be done to reopen the doors to their spaces. Masks, social distancing, hand sanitizers, these are basic elements – that much is known. But what other protocols must be followed? Counties have been tasked with governing the reopening process in their jurisdictions – as they progress from one level to the next in the new color-coded stages set by the state. But counties must look to Sacramento for the basic guidelines appropriate to each business sector, and so far, for performing arts venues, none exist.
Given the vacuum, activists in the field are working to develop their own guidelines. The theatrical unions have crafted standards that must be followed for their members to work, with Actors Equity meeting with individual producers to set requirements within their venues.
But theatre producers must first be permitted by the state and local authorities in order to host even a rehearsal in-person (or digitally record a performance) much less open their doors to audiences.
As state and local officials allow restaurants to welcome patrons to outdoor patios and gyms to offer fitness classes outside, and with churches in San Francisco soon shepherding limited numbers of parishioners (up to 25) into their sanctuaries, performing arts leaders are wondering why cultural venues are not addressed in the official staged reopening timelines.
Leaders from Theatre Bay Area member companies are working alongside colleagues from other cultural disciplines to proactively craft safety templates that could be submitted to county health departments for review in order to speed the process. Lesley Currier from Marin Shakespeare Company and Jasson Minidakis from Marin Theatre Company, for instance, are working with Gabriella Calicchio at the Marin Arts Council to develop guidelines for outdoor and indoor venues in their county, but the efforts are being stymied by a lack of guidance from the state. In San Francisco, I am meeting with Jennifer Bielstein from A.C.T., Jon Moscone from Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Marni Cook from the San Francisco Symphony, and John Caldon from the War Memorial Performing Arts Center to generate a plan that could be embraced by the Department of Public Health. At the state level, California Arts Advocates is looking to draw the attention of Sacramento policy makers to the performing arts.
Across the region and the state, advocates are moving to arrange meetings with mayors, county health departments and the Governor’s office to press the point that cultural venues—from 49-seat black boxes to the Opera House—must be addressed in the state and local reopening plans.
Our field is longing for the day when actors can remount our stages and house managers can swing wide our doors to the public. We’re not there yet. And we must not rush the reopening process or cut corners with the protocols. Safety guidelines based on the best science must be our goal, and careful compliance our commitment to our communities. When state and local officials, guided by medical experts, finally give us the okay to bring back our artists and audiences, we must be ready.
We’ll need vetted protocols that meet state and local standards. We’ll need personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, signage, cleansers, and disinfectants. We’ll need to train our staffs and artists. We’ll need to educate our audiences. The first steps for reopening cannot wait for the green light to be given. If we are to get there from here, those first steps must be taken now.