It’s the question on all of Broadway’s mind right now: With the delta variant spreading just as shows are getting back up and running, how do we all — cast, crew and audiences — return to theaters safely?
Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:
According to the epidemiologist and economist Dr. Blythe Adamson, there isn’t one answer to that question; instead, there are many different answers that can be combined effectively for each individual production. “There’s not one way that everybody should be doing it,” said Adamson on the new episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety’s theater podcast. “It’s that we have a lot of different tools that we can layer together.”
A former member of the White House COVID-19 task force who has advised on all kinds of large-scale, in-person events (including sporting events), Adamson has become a leading voice on COVID protocols for Broadway. She’s currently serving as the dedicated COVID consultant for “Pass Over,” the first play to reopen after the shutdown (and the second show to return following “Springsteen on Broadway“).
Adamson has been instrumental in designing the safety protocols and protections in place for “Pass Over,” and on the new episode of “Stagecraft,” she detailed some of the insights she’d brought over from her research and from her work in sports. For instance, she’s a strong proponent of fast, frequent PCR testing, multiple times a week. And she stressed that everyone has to be prepared for change. “Your safety policies can’t be rigid,” she said. “You should have the ability and the expectation that they should be changing over time as you’re learning more, but also as the prevalence in the community is changing.”
The “Pass Over” protocols, overseen by the production’s dedicated COVID safety manager (a new position, created post-lockdown and separate from the state manager), go above and beyond the minimums required by local regulations and by industry labor agreements. But in Adamson’s view, that extra care (and the costs it incurs) are worth it.
“We could do the bare minimum and probably have an outbreak in the cast,” she explained. “What are the consequences of the bare minimum? All of the revenue lost from canceled shows, [and] that’s just the money side of it. … Really, at the end of the day, we care about peoples’ health. We want them to be well. We don’t want people to be at risk or feel sick or bring this home to their families. There’s this human side to it, too.”
“There’s a great return on investment in protecting people,” she added.
Also on the latest installment of “Stagecraft,” Adamson discussed the process of hammering out viable safety procedures in the often idiosyncratic venues of Broadway. “I’d say things like, ‘Well, just open the windows in the dressing room,’ and [a stage manager] would say, ‘There’s no windows in the dressing room! It’s a tiny, tiny space that they’re all crammed together in! There are no windows to open!'”
To hear the full conversation with Adamson, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.