Actors’ Equity Association says if everyone in a theater company has been vaccinated, a show may go on without adhering to the union’s pricey pandemic protocols.
“Vaccination will be a game changer for all of us,” Actors’ Equity Executive Director Mary McColl wrote to the membership Friday afternoon, while announcing guidelines for theaters and rehearsal spaces in which actors and stage managers are fully vaccinated. “Vaccines will not only add a significant layer of protection for each individual stage manager and actor, but also allow us to loosen some of the safety restrictions required in a pre-vaccine world.”
On March 3, Equity forbade its members from taking mass transit to work and required producers to pay for cars and drivers for those who need transportation. It also insisted that singers onstage be separated by at least 12 feet and plexiglass.
Now, fully vaccinated theater workplaces can resume operating as they did pre-pandemic — with a few caveats: there must be six feet between actors and an audience; daily cleaning of workplaces and weekly Covid-19 testing are required; no buffets or communal coffee can be on offer; everyone must wear a mask, except actors when rehearsing and performing; and one trained Covid-19 safety officer must be onsite for every 20 company members, to monitor adherence to the rules.
Equity said the safety officer can’t be a stage manager or actor, but otherwise it didn’t explicitly prohibit the person from holding another job in the production.
Equity also mandated that if an actor in a show contracts Covid-19 and lacks health insurance — many performers lost coverage in the past year — the producer is responsible for medical expenses. Equity didn’t specify whether the new guidelines apply to developmental readings and workshops. An Equity spokesman and a spokeswoman for the Broadway League, which represents producers and theater owners, didn’t return emails seeking clarification.
The original March 3 protocols included detailed ventilation requirements for workplaces and employer-provided housing. The new guidelines require only “adequate ventilation” that’s inspected by a certified professional. In this case, Equity appears to be stepping aside as others step up.
On April 1, New York State issued ventilation and air filtering guidance for small and midsize arts and entertainment venues during the “Covid-19 public health emergency.” And ASHRAE, formerly known as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, is working on guidance specific to theater with the support of the Covid-19 Theatre Think Tank, according to Matt Ross, a founder of the think tank.
There haven’t been regular performances on or off-Broadway since much of the economy was shut down in March 2020 as Covid-19 exploded. An Equity town hall is scheduled for Thursday, April 8, in response to a petition signed by thousands of members deriding the union’s earlier protocols as slowing the return of live theater. Equity had previously dictated that at fully vaccinated workplaces, its protocols “can be modified per further discussion,” without details.
The new guidelines apply through June. “They may be revised after June 30th as appropriate based on the science,” Equity said.
Last week, vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc with BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. were found to be highly effective in reducing the risk of infection. And vaccine eligibility in New York state was expanded to adults 30 and over, as cases in New York City spiked.
Beginning April 2, Gov. Andrew Cuomo permitted performing arts venues in New York to host audiences at 33 percent capacity, which is generally too low for commercial and non-profit producers to sustain a show.