The Road Back, Chapter 2: Actors' Equity Association Safety Plan

Posted January 20, 2021

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Chris Klopatek, Andrea San Miguel & Melisa Pereyra demonstrate social distancing in the 2018 production of 'As You Like It.' Read on for more about what we're planning to keep people safe this season in the latest edition of 'The Road Back'.

Chapter 2: Actors’ Equity Association Safety Plan

Safety is our top priority as we plan for the day we can once again perform in person. In terms of our audience and most staff, we’ll follow the recommendations from the CDC and our local health authorities (more about this in a future post). But when we get to the actors, things get a bit trickier. The actors on stage won’t be masked. They can socially distance to some extent, but for the most part they need to be in the same space, talking to each other and projecting so the audience can hear them. To be safe, actors and production personnel that must come into contact with them (like wardrobe staff) need special consideration.

Since the pandemic began, keeping professional actors out of harm’s way has fallen to Actors’ Equity Association (otherwise known as Equity or AEA), the union of professional actors and stage managers that was founded in 1913 and represents 51,000 members. Since the very first days of APT, we have negotiated with them to employ AEA actors and stage managers.

Last spring, as COVID took hold of the country, Equity, as well as other professional theater-worker unions, set up strict regulations that theaters (including APT) must meet in order for members to perform safely. And due to the pandemic’s severity, only a small handful of productions nationwide have been able to get the green light to perform with Equity actors for in-person audiences (the first shows were approved in July, and opened in August along with a few others). We hope that, by summer, we’ll be able to join that group.

The first order of business has been to pore over the union regulations and figure out how to comply. The union has been thorough – supplying producers like us with a 29-page intake document where they lay out safety requirements, and we respond with detailed plans on how we intend to comply. Every detail is addressed. Here’s just a sample of the puzzle pieces we’ll need to fit together in order to comply with the new Equity rules:

  • Local COVID rates must be at an acceptably low level.
  • All aspects of testing need to be addressed, including how often actors will be tested, what test we’ll use and how results are reported, to name a few.
  • We need to determine how the actors will “pod” – that is, avoid contact with any humans other than the people working on the play they are in.
  • Plan for what happens if there is a positive test in the company.
  • Detail our masking and other PPE requirements, both for the actors and any staff members that will need to be in contact with them.
  • Implement detailed disinfection and sanitation protocols .
  • Address new HVAC requirements (so many HVAC requirements!) to ensure air quality in APT buildings, including the Touchstone Theatre, rehearsal halls, dressing rooms, etc.
  • Calculate the amount of space that will be required between people (in rehearsal, in performance, at other times), and how we will make that happen.
  • Provide a plan for how actors’ housing, company cars and other shared spaces will be cleaned and ventilated.

And much, much more. If you’d like to read the whole document, it’s available here.

APT staff, led by Production Manager Michael Broh, Operations Manager Cari Stebbins and Assistant Production Manager Sara Stellick, are diligently working through the process, devising plans to meet each requirement. We expect to have the first intake forms to be turned in to Equity by February 1. After that, we can begin the dialogue that we hope will ultimately lead to permission to hire the talented actors and stage managers in our company.

Meeting these requirements is going to be a tall order. It’s going to take a level of planning and coordination akin to the very biggest projects (The Next Great Stage comes to mind) in our history, but in a fraction of the time. It will take resources – both human and financial – that will stretch us. And, of course, as much as we plan, the one element that is completely out of our control is the virus itself. We can plan and solve for every requirement, but it will all be for naught if the COVID cases in our area are not at a level that Equity deems safe. But know that, if that occurs, we will work tirelessly to make things safe again, and continue to bring you stories in whatever way we can.

Because it’s worth it. If there is a chance we can gather with you in person, to share stars and share stories, we’ll do whatever is necessary.

Next week: In the audience – what will the APT experience be like this year?