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This blog is part of On the Stage’s in-person performance safety series. Click here to read about managing performance safety for your cast and crew.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to reevaluate public health and safety. As theatres reopen, there are so many considerations to take into account when it comes to your audience. The first thing regarding event safety is to check with your local and state laws and guidelines regarding large groups. Once you’ve established that, here are some additional protocols to plan for when your audience returns.
Your audience is looking to you to tell them what to expect when they return to your theatre. Your communications via your regular newsletter, the fine print during the ticket sale, website and social media announcements, and even your building signage should have the most up-to-date notices and rules you’re implementing in your theatre. What about cancellations, refunds, or rescheduling? They’ll need to know about those too. Keep it clear and professional, and your audience will appreciate it.
Depending on your current local regulations for gathering groups of people, there may be a cap on your capacity that’s far under your building’s fire code. This will leave room for any physical distancing in your seating arrangements. Depending on the size of your lobby, you may want to open your doors earlier or later than usual to manage the flow of traffic. Consider enabling and encouraging touchless experiences for ticketing and Box Office pickup, opening/closing doors, sinks and soap dispensers, and any other areas where reducing person-to-person contact is possible.
Mask and vaccine policies vary widely and are subject to change. Additionally, they are not always enforceable. Check with your local government and work with your theatre’s administration to determine what guidelines apply to you and what the best practices are. If you’re concerned about safety, look at states and areas where infection rates are lower to see what they’re doing and if you can implement some of their protocols. Also, now that Broadway’s back, see what their policies and guidlines are for their audiences.
Eliminating your concessions stand may be a difficult decision financially. For audience safety measures, there is a lot to consider in keeping it open. If your lobby is on the small side, and the concessions booth usually gets crowded, reducing your offerings to keep the line moving is a great start. Selling pre-packaged snacks and bottled beverages over poured drinks and open items will also reduce your food safety risks. Staff wearing both masks and gloves reduces contact with your guests and the items they’re purchasing. Organize a more touchless experience and wipe down surfaces frequently. And of course, keep plenty of napkins and hand sanitizer (with 60% alcohol) nearby.
Considering the full timeline of theatre history, indoor theatre is a very modern convention. Staging your performances outdoors is one way to reduce city mandates upon your audiences, especially if you’re in an area where they frequently change. Your location’s climate may dictate the times of year when outdoor performances are possible, but if you live in a warmer area, scheduling a longer outdoor theatre season may be the key to reaching your budget goals. There are plenty of ways to make it work and make it fun for both your theatre and your audience.
If you’ve already done virtual programming at your theatre, keep it up! On the Stage is a fan of hybrid performances for a number of reasons. For one, it allows you to expand your audience in ways that in-person alone cannot achieve, especially if you have a small house. It also allows patrons who may be hesitant to return to live programming – for any reason – to still attend your productions. Consider adding a digital offering if you haven’t done so before. There are plenty of ways to successfully implement this at your theatre.
As theatre emerges from its unintended intermission, your audience may benefit from a reintroduction to your organization. For strategies on reconnecting with your audience, bringing them back to your theatre, and promoting your events, watch our on-demand webinar for Rebuilding & Re-Engaging Your Audience.