Artists find creative ways to protect against Covid-19 as states ban vaccine or mask requirements – Community News
Covid-19

Artists find creative ways to protect against Covid-19 as states ban vaccine or mask requirements

All the actors wore clear face masks. That way, audiences could better see the actors’ expressions, which “is a pretty big deal in live theater,” said Jess Heuermann, who played Sister Mary Wilhelm on the show.

Theater companies and music ensembles looking to resume live performances are coming up with creative ways to ensure the show continues safely, especially in states that ban venues from imposing vaccine or mask requirements.

In states without such a ban, productions may require proof of vaccines for cast, crew, administrative staff and audiences to protect against transmission of the virus that causes Covid-19. That’s what all 41 Broadway theaters in New York City have done.

Other artists and stages are taking additional measures. The Chicago Symphony, for example, limits performances to 90 minutes or less, with no intermission, for the time being. A Rock Hall, Maryland venue left the front row of seats empty, in addition to requiring masks and a vaccination certificate, for a recent music performance.

But drawing the curtain has been more of a struggle in states like Montana, Florida and Texas, where the politicization of public health measures has made its way into theaters.

Florida and Montana prohibit state and local governments from requiring masks, but private companies and entities are allowed to do so. Montana prohibits both private employers and government agencies from “discrimination based on vaccine status.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis banned companies from requiring customers to prove they had been vaccinated against Covid. In October, Texas Governor Greg Abbott banned private employers from issuing Covid vaccine mandates.

Nine states — Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah — also have varying restrictions on requiring proof of vaccines.

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Some big name performers are canceling shows due to vaccine or mask bans. Singer Michael Bublé, for example, canceled a September show in Austin in September because the University of Texas arena said the public couldn’t impose a vaccination requirement. University officials said they were confident in their health and safety protocols.

Country singer Travis Tritt took the opposite view. He canceled a series of shows at venues with mask and vaccine mandates or “forcing testing protocols on my fans”.

Local companies and artists that had been through a pandemic hiatus don’t have that luxury. They have to work with — or around — their state’s rules if they want to work at all.

A survey by the advocacy group Americans for the Arts found that 99% of nonprofit arts groups canceled events during the pandemic, amounting to 557 million lost tickets in July.

While some losses have been offset by federal aid, most art groups and artists report significant financial losses.

In Montana, the Missoula Community Theater reduced capacity and eliminated assigned seating, allowing customers to be separated while still sitting next to their “bubble” of friends and family for performances. Some people who had lowered their masks after sitting down lifted the masks again after announcing that it was mandatory just before the start of the performance.

“People came to the theater tonight because they know the theater is trying to protect everyone,” said Paula Jones, a retired nurse.

But some theater operators seem afraid to scare off potential clients with such rules. The newly renovated Alberta Bair Theater in Billings, Montana, with a regular seating capacity of 1,376, recommends that customers wear masks, but does not require it.

In Florida, nine theaters in Sarasota, along with others in Miami and Tampa, joined forces to create a unified set of theater-goers’ requirements designed to circumvent that state’s ban on vaccine mandates. Audience members must show proof of vaccination or a negative covid test performed less than 72 hours before a performance.

Concerts and Covid: Can the show go on?

Some people have complained about the policy to the Florida Department of Health, which can impose a daily fine of $5,000 on violators of the state’s vaccine passport ban. Department officials have not followed up on these complaints, but a small theater in Sarasota canceled a scheduled show in November over fears the owners of the small operation could not afford to pay fines.

Theater owners are also discovering that a small percentage of people will resist their mask mandate, even after multiple reminders. If they try to enforce a covid safety measure not prohibited by state law, those who oppose the rules will ignore it.

“It’s like playing a mole,” said Rebecca Hopkins, director of the Florida Studio Theater in Sarasota. “As soon as you walk away from some people, they take their masks off. We’ve had to tell people ‘we’ve politely asked you three times that we need masks and if you can’t comply, you should go.'”

In Utah, the 360 ​​singers of the Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square in Salt Lake City are vaccinated, along with the orchestra and anyone entering the rehearsal and performance space. A handful of singers refused vaccinations and were granted leave, said choir chairman Michael Leavitt, the former Republican governor of Utah and President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Travis Tritt cancels concerts on stages with Covid safety measures

In addition, every choir member is tested for covid before every rehearsal and performance. Artists are being instructed to stay home with possible Covid symptoms, including runny noses. However, the choir dropped a mask mandate for singers during rehearsals after complaints that voices were muffled. Wearing a mask is still mandatory when the choir is not singing.

Orchestra members have the option to remove their masks during performance if they feel a mask is interfering with their performance.

Most importantly, Leavitt said, the choir, which still hasn’t scheduled its first public performance, is willing to withdraw rehearsals and performances if things go wrong. It has not set any rules for the public when the performances begin. Some state lawmakers have proposed blocking vaccine mandates.

“I’ve used the analogy of walking in a newly frozen lake. Take one step at a time. Listen for crackles and if we don’t hear anything, we move forward. If we do, we run back to shore,” Leavitt said. .

Since Covid, performance groups are increasingly relying on members with medical backgrounds to advise them on how to act safely. That person for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is Dr. Susan Ray, a hospital epidemiologist and a soprano in the orchestra’s choir.

Orchestra members now wear masks for both rehearsals and concerts. The choir is masked for rehearsals and plans to be masked for its first concert with the symphony, in December. The newly appointed conductor, Nathalie Stutzmann, is not wearing a mask so she can better communicate with orchestra members, but is being tested daily for covid.

Ray is confident the orchestra is taking all the right steps to protect the choral audience, including a requirement for audience members to show proof of vaccination or a negative covid test. “But I’m still nervous,” Ray said. “We have a lot of choir members with gray hair, and not everyone is nice and thin.”

People aged 65 and older are among those more likely to have serious medical problems from Covid, and obesity increases the risk.

Researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the University of Maryland recently advised that while masks reduce the flow of droplets for both singers and instrumentalists, the quality of the filter material and fit are important components of effectiveness.

They also found that the longer musicians play and sing together, the greater the risk. They recommend breaks after rehearsing or performing for 30 minutes indoors and 60 minutes outdoors. And they also propose to leave several meters between musical instrument players and singers to reduce the “aerosol flow”.

“I want to recognize the courage of the music directors and the teachers to go ahead and follow our suggestions in the face of all this adversity, fear and worry,” said Shelly Miller, co-author of the study and a professor of mechanical and environmental engineering at Colorado Boulder.

Lauren Bergen, right, and Emma Luxemburg perform in Wagner College's production of "Small Mouth Sounds."  Professor of Performing Arts Felicia Ruff chose the piece because the actors usually have to be quiet.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that more than 15 minutes of exposure in a confined space with poor ventilation in which an infectious person shouts, sings or exercises can increase the risk of transmitting the virus.

Some college students hoping to prepare for future jobs in the arts feared that canceled classes and performances because of covid could limit their future opportunities.

Lauren Bergen, 22, a senior theater student at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York, was so concerned that she took the 2020-21 academic year off because of “so much potential for things to go wrong.”

Now she’s back in Wagner College stage productions, and the school follows the same safety protocols required for Broadway shows.

Bergen’s first fall semester show was “Small Mouth Sounds,” a play chosen in part because actors were supposed to be “mostly quiet,” according to Felicia Ruff, a theater professor at Wagner College.

“We’re very strategic about selecting shows that can be done safely,” Ruff said.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operational programs of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.

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