Reopening the performing arts
6 August, 2020
Many of our favorite summer traditions have pressed pause on their performing arts offerings. Visual arts organizations like the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Sheldon Art Galleries and the Contemporary Art Museum – St. Louis (CAM) are reopening, with careful rules and regulations put in place to keep everyone safe. But, for the performing arts organizations there are many more considerations that need to be made before reopening.
As arts lovers who might be willing to don a mask and sit six feet apart, we might be wondering what challenges these performing arts organizations are facing? While keeping the audience safe is certainly a top priority, that is just the beginning of a long list performing arts venues must consider. Our local performing arts leaders are diligently working to develop conscientious plans to protect the safety of audience members, performers and all other staff that help bring art to the stages.
Chris Hansen, executive director of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation (KAF), created the Reopening the Arts workgroup, a cohort of performing arts organizations, to ensure all venues in our region and across the state are unified in a approach to safely reopening. They’ve been meeting weekly since late March sharing best practices and research while creating safe reopening procedures.
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO), a member of the workgroup, has also been working with a group of infectious diseases and prevention specialists led by Dr. Abigail Carlson, an expert in epidemiology at Washington University in St Louis’ Division of Infectious Diseases.
SLSO Director of Hospitality & Audience Experience Kelsey Templeton shared, “Dr. Carlson and the team are thoroughly reviewing Powell Hall’s reopening procedures, from guest experience protocols to musician and stagehand safety. She has the added expertise of being a musician and patron of the arts herself, which is a unique and valuable perspective for which we are incredibly grateful.”
There are many nuances specific to performing arts venues that need to be addressed in reopening procedures. Templeton shared that one change that might be surprising to patrons is how arranging brass and wind musicians differently on stage will mitigate risk.
The Missouri Arts Council recently launched Missouri ArtSafe which includes training in COVID-19 safe practices. Arts organizations across the state will be able to receive a certification from the ArtSafe program ensuring they will follow recommended guidelines to create safely, present safely and attend safely. Learn more at MissouriArtSafe.org.
For organizations that work with unions to bring plays to the stage like The Repertory Theater of St. Louis, The Muny, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and STAGES St. Louis there are even further considerations. While adhering to regional and local guidance, it’s also imperative that they collaborate closely with the unions whose members are essential to the performing arts such as Actor’s Equity, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society among others.
The comfort of audience members is also being considered as venues reopen. Kranzberg Arts Foundation has been surveying audience members to understand what they would need to feel safe returning to spaces operated by the foundation*. They learned that 74% of guests anticipate returning to in-person arts events within the next three months or later, compared to 26% who plan to return within the next month. While masks have become a polarizing issue for some, 72% of their respondents said they would feel more comfortable returning to their venues if everyone was required to wear a mask. 86% of their guests say they always wear a mask while in public with an additional 11.3% saying they wear one if required.
Once guidelines have been finalized organizations will need to train all staff on safety precautions. Rest assured that when the curtain rises again procedures will be in place that will keep audience and artists safe. Until then, check out the Arts and Education Council’s Arts Calendar for virtual and social-distance friendly, in-person arts events.