Broadway producers and the labor union representing stage actors have reached an agreement on health protocols for touring shows that should allow hundreds of performers to return to work at theaters around the country beginning this summer.
The 17-page agreement says that producers must require all members of the traveling company to be fully vaccinated and mandates free weekly virus tests. Also: “absolutely no interaction” will be permitted between performers and audience members.
The union, the Actors’ Equity Association, announced the touring agreement with the Broadway League in an email to its 51,000 members Monday evening.
The agreement does not apply to shows on Broadway — the rules for those are still being discussed — and it covers only actors and stage managers, not the many other theater workers represented by different labor unions. But it is a significant development for an industry that has been dark for 15 months, and gives a first indication of the safety measures producers and performers are envisioning.
“This new set of protocols is another step toward the safe reopening of our industry in full,” the union email said, “and we’re excited to see where this leads us.”
The Broadway League also welcomed the agreement. The League’s president, Charlotte St. Martin, said the deal followed several months of negotiations, and had been adjusted to reflect “changing guidelines, science and laws.”
“It was great to work with Equity to help bring tours back and keep the employees safe,” she said.
Touring shows are a major part of the commercial theater ecosystem. According to the Broadway League, 18.5 million people saw touring shows in about 200 North American cities during the 2018-2019 season, and those tours grossed $1.6 billion.
Tours have been completely shut down throughout the pandemic, but many have announced plans to get back on the road. “Wicked” is planning to restart its tour on Aug. 4 at Dallas’s Music Hall at Fair Park, while “Hamilton” is planning to resume performances later that month in Los Angeles and San Francisco; many other shows are planning fall performance dates around the country.
The union said that safety protocols will continue to be adjusted as the public health situation evolves. But for now, the rules are quite detailed, covering everything from backstage signage to hand hygiene, mask laundering and prop disinfection, in an effort, the agreement says, “to minimize and mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission during a tour.”
The rules require mask-wearing and social distancing “except when doing so is incompatible or interferes with their job responsibilities or part of the performance during the tour such as performing onstage.” And stage-dooring is out: “Autograph signings, meet-and-greets and backstage tours are strictly prohibited.”
Some of the rules are quite detailed. There is a ban on self-serve buffets. Water dispensers should be contactless. Hair and makeup designers are to wear masks plus face shields plus gloves, and must change their gloves each time they work with a different cast member.
Each touring company is to have a Covid-19 safety manager. Actors and stage managers who do not follow safety protocols can be fined and, after repeated violations, fired.
The vaccine mandate allows company members to request accommodations for “a qualifying disability or a sincerely held religious belief,” but the agreement says it is up to producers whether to grant such accommodations. As for states where vaccine mandates are not allowed: “The League and Equity will determine the appropriate Health & Safety protocols.”
The agreement has a few things to say about audience members as well. Venues must require that patrons be masked, and all patrons must be at least six feet from the conductor (if there is an orchestra pit) or the stage.
The union and the producers also reached separate agreements outlining safety protocols for developmental work (closed-door rehearsal or performance sessions that producers and creators use to assess shows that are still being written and revised) and auditions.
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