NEW YORK (AP) – There is a woman who has seen the track “Pass Over” several times within a few days. She was sitting with the audience one evening, returned another day to stand in the back of the theater, and stayed backstage once for an entire performance.
She’s not exactly a super fan. Don’t get her wrong, Dr. Blythe Adamson loves the piece. But she was looking for something more than jerk live theater – ways to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission.
Adamson’s job is to make the August Wilson Theater safer on both sides of the stage. She climbed the roof to inspect the new HVAC ventilation system, which is bringing in fresh air and installing portable air filters in the building. She spoke to stage managers to understand people’s movements backstage and hung around the lobby during shows looking for bottlenecks. She once spent a performance lounging in the toilets to see how guests could spread the virus.
“As an epidemiologist bringing more than a thousand people together in one room during a pandemic, I wouldn’t advocate if I didn’t really believe that it could be done safely,” said Adamson, founder of Infectious Economics, has helped develop protocols for that Contributed to the NBA, the fashion industry and retail stores.
Adamson is part of a new group vital to Broadway’s reopening this season: professionals with a scientific background tasked with ensuring a COVID-19 free zone.
“It’s about reducing the risk,” said Mimi Intagliata, production director for the Disney Theatrical Group, which is responsible for the virus response. “We on Broadway will not get rid of COVID any more than anyone else. But it’s about reducing our risk so that we can protect our people as well as possible and keep the show going. “
Air is now constantly circulating in the August Wilson Theater thanks to the placement of portable air fans and air filters with MERV-13 or HEPA technology. Adamson reduced the number of people who could go behind the scenes and recommended a PCR test for COVID-19 to anyone, whether or not they are vaccinated. All workers are now wearing KN95 masks.
Adamson advocates a policy of multilayered solutions – multiple, overlapping efforts currently based on rigorous personal testing and air filters everywhere. It means listening to the latest scientific knowledge and changing protocols if necessary. It means preparing for the inevitable positive test result.
Disney Theatrical Group has committed itself to five pillars to keep people safe: mandatory vaccinations, frequent tests, lots of PPE, regular hand hygiene and surface cleaning, and upgrading HVAC systems.
Members of the company are tested for PCR on a daily basis, and additional antigen tests are planned that go well beyond union protocols. Since Disney has kids in their companies, they stick to masking mandates behind the scenes.
Examining every aspect of their productions has led to everything from touchless bathrooms to the abolition of the tradition of actors signing autographs after shows. Managers even found that two actors on a show who did not have stage time together shared a dressing room and unnecessarily risked greater disruption if one fell ill.
“Those are the things you have to look at and shake up the status quo to say, ‘The things that get out of hand without really thinking about them need to be secured and reevaluated,'” Intagliata said.
“Pass Over” – the first play to open on Broadway since the pandemic closed in March 2020 – was designed almost perfectly to show a way over COVID-19: it only has three actors, only takes 90 minutes without it Break and without a musician.
“This is the right show to be the first,” said Adamson. “If we don’t get it to work with this one, then we won’t understand what’s working. It gets more difficult with musicals. But we have the tools. “
Adamson suspects larger shows will need to run PCR tests for all employees four to six days a week. To keep costs down, she suggests bundling her tests. “Pass Over” combines up to 24 saliva samples for a PCR test and separates them so that the usher and ticket holder are in a different sample bag than the actors.
As for the audience, anyone who wants to see “Pass Over” and Bruce Springsteen’s musical – the only Broadway shows left for a few more weeks – is signaling what the new normal might be: Entry is complete with a vaccination card required and a mask is required as you move through the theater.
To infiltrate the August Wilson Theater, the virus will have to deal with Pam Remler, a former stage manager who is now COVID-19 security manager. Since she worked there as a stage manager during the long term of the “Jersey Boys”, she knows the nooks and crannies of the theater very well.
Remler collects saliva samples from actors and workers on a daily basis, schedules tests, and conducts contact tracing. She inspects the various filters in the theater and enforces the mask and distance regulations.
“That is absolutely feasible. We can have an industry. We can do it right. It takes us all for that, but it is absolutely feasible, ”said Remler.
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