Rehearsal rooms are collaborative environments: actors, stage managers, directing staff, music and choreography teams, creative team members, and producing staff all traditionally work together in these spaces. These combinations necessitate careful management in light of recommendations for physical distancing, contact chains, and other risk-mitigation measures. Rehearsal strategies must be developed in close communication with all these constituencies, as well as with the unions and service organizations that represent their interests.
Theaters working to minimize risk during rehearsal might consider the following central questions:
What steps can be taken to shorten the traditional in-person timeline of rehearsals?
Should casts and creative teams be quarantined prior to the start of a rehearsal process?
What can be done online while in quarantine?
What housing strategies for visiting artists might minimize the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-2?
What transportation policies (between housing locations, rehearsal spaces, and performance venues) might minimize the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-2?
How can actor calls be scheduled in a way that minimizes contact and de-densifies the rehearsal room?
What role will screening and testing play in the rehearsal process?
How can risk-mitigation protocols be integrated into the traditional rhythm and activities of a rehearsal process?
How can safety and consent measures surrounding physical contact be implemented effectively in the rehearsal room?
How can theaters provide easy access to suitable hand-washing and hand-sanitizing facilities?
How can theaters create separate stations in the rehearsal room for each actor’s belongings, props, script, and hospitality items?
How can theaters minimize in-person contact between performers, stage management, and creative team members?
What strategies for coverage/understudies best protect a production for the event of an illness or quarantine?
In editions to come, this roadmap will continue to outline the specific steps taken by A.R.T.
The production period of a show involves the collaboration of many different teams. Scenic, costume, lighting, sound, video, and props staff all consult with creative teams and producing staff, and they often work on tight schedules in order to meet deadlines. In shops, many different hands contribute to the creation of production elements.
Theaters working to minimize during production processes might consider the following central questions:
How can theaters reimagine the timeline for build, load-in, and tech to allow for de-densified workspaces, increased cleaning, and new knowledge about the lifespan of viral material on surfaces?
What steps can be taken to reduce risk for production work that must be done in close proximity, such as costume fittings, loading trucks, carrying heavy items, and putting microphones on actors?
How can theaters ensure a supply of personal protective equipment for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 uses (i.e. in a shop)? How can theaters best manage, store, and dispose of PPE?
How can institutions support production staff in staying safe at home and in transit? What staffing plans, policies, and procedures create space for staff to stay home when sick despite a culture of “the show must go on”?
In editions to come, this roadmap will continue to outline the specific steps taken by A.R.T.
Actors’ Equity Association
AEA has also released guidance and producer worksheets for the four types of productions seen currently: outdoor with a live audience, outdoor without a live audience, indoor with a live audience, and indoor without a live audience.
Fall 2020 at the Loeb
While A.R.T. was closed to the public last fall in keeping with local regulations, the theater hosted CS50—Harvard’s Introduction to Computer Science and the university’s largest course. Taught by David J. Malan, Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science, the class always attracts thousands of students from within and beyond Harvard’s student body, some of whom attend classes on-campus while others participate virtually through Harvard edX. This year, with Harvard’s classes taught entirely online, over 60,000 students tuned into the course, which was broadcast from the stage of the Loeb Drama Center. The course will film additional lectures in the Loeb Drama Center in spring 2021.
For these lectures, Malan lectured live from the stage, captured by cameras, while screens over the house seats displayed the video feeds of students tuning in via Zoom. Drawing on their experience creating sets, props, and lighting for A.R.T. shows, the theater’s production team crafted a number of special items designed to concretely illustrate the principles of computer programming—including a row of footlights to teach the basics of binary notation, which were then used as a binary clock or to display secret messages during classes and a giant rubber duck illustrating “rubber duck debugging.”
A series of rigorous safety protocols, designed in partnership with the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School for Public Health, made this work possible. A.R.T.’s production and facilities teams used the schedule of a typical theatrical load-in and tech process as a template, identifying key points at which traditional operations required modification to allow for mask usage, regular hand-washing, and social distancing. Conducted in keeping with federal and local safety regulations, these plans integrated Harvard’s Crimson Clear framework of wellness attestation and regular COVID testing for any staff entering university buildings. (Harvard’s university-wide COVID testing information is presented in this dashboard.)
For more detail about these specific protocols, don’t miss the roadmap’s interviews with A.R.T. Theater and Facilities Manager Tracy Keene and with A.R.T. Director of Production Rick Noble and A.R.T. Associate Production Manager Lindsay Child (below). Video of CS50 lectures broadcast from the Loeb Drama Center are available on YouTube and the course’s Facebook page; the entire course is also available for online enrollment through Harvard edX.
Above, CS50 in the Loeb Drama Center: Arturo Real/
Interview with Rick Noble and Lindsay Child
A.R.T. Director of Production Rick Noble and A.R.T. Associate Production Manager Lindsay Child share safety protocols for work in the Loeb Drama Center in fall 2020, including Harvard’s Computer Science 50 course—broadcast from the stage of the Loeb Drama Center to 60,000 students around the world.
Fall 2020 Productions at OBERON
Throughout the fall of 2020, the A.R.T.’s club space, OBERON, pivoted to become a filming site for virtual productions in partnership with OBERON’s community of local artists and producers across disciplines including live music, storytelling, drag, and circus arts.
Captured and edited by The Loop Lab, all of these productions were filmed over the month of October in accordance with state, local, and Harvard University guidelines. A group of staff worked collaboratively to develop safety protocols specific to the space, using this roadmap as a guide. OBERON’s protocols followed a multi-layered approach to safety, including improving the filtration system; implementing weekly COVID testing for all technicians, artists, and staff; observing social distancing and designated work zones for each team; limiting the number of people in the venue; ensuring frequent cleaning, hourly hand washing, and mask-wearing by everyone throughout filming except for a small number of performers. All participating artists completed Harvard’s COVID-19 Safety Awareness training, and were required to attest daily to their wellness using Crimson Clear, a COVID-19 Screening Certification and Self-Assessment that determines eligibility to enter a Harvard facility.
In addition, the OBERON and Loop Lab teams worked closely with all artists and producers to prioritize safety over production needs and to make sure the filming process included ample time for questions, concerns, and adjustments. The events were scheduled such that the least technically complex performances were filmed first, allowing the team to test and refine protocols in a low-pressure environment. Prior to filming, each artist attended a safety meeting over Zoom to go through the plan for the day and ask any questions. On each filming day, an A.R.T. staff member was designated the COVID Safety Officer and was responsible for reminding all participants of protocols, addressing any concerns, and convening safety meetings at the beginning and end of each day to discuss challenges specific to the performance.
Singing and playing wind instruments are activities that can generate aerosols. If someone who is infectious with COVID-19 sings, speaks loudly with a projected voice, or plays a wind instrument, they will produce infectious aerosols at a higher rate than if they were talking at a normal volume or simply breathing. These infectious aerosols can remain aloft in air and, if they aren’t removed by ventilation or filtration, can be inhaled by other people.
While there are some mitigation strategies to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission by singing or playing musical instruments, these activities are inherently higher risk than talking or breathing, particularly if vocalists or musicians do not wear masks. Consequently, theaters may consider choosing pieces with minimal singing and wind instruments, optimizing opportunities for strings and percussion played by masked musicians.
In cases where live singing or wind music is part of the performance, organizations should make sure they are pursuing the holistic set of risk reduction measures described in this roadmap, including staying home when sick, building a culture of shared responsibilities, frequent handwashing, and healthy building control strategies. Specific risk reduction measures that should be taken for singing or playing wind instruments include:
- Testing. Testing singers and wind musicians frequently, and quarantining anyone who tests positive, is a particularly useful strategy because it reduces the likelihood that the extra aerosols produced by any vocalist or musician are infectious. Other risk reduction measures should also be pursued in addition to testing, as false negative test results are possible; it is also possible for performers to become infected with COVID-19 after they take their test but before they gather with other performers, or to take a test too soon after being infected with COVID-19 for their infection to register in the test.
- Masks. Vocalists should wear masks to reduce their aerosol emission. There is very limited research on how to reduce aerosol emission while playing a wind instrument (though a new research effort is currently underway), but current knowledge indicates that musicians should put coverings on their instrument bells while playing. Unfortunately, this does not prevent aerosols from escaping through keyholes. Musicians should also wear masks as much as possible when they are not playing. For more information about masks, see PPE for Staff.
- Physical distance. Vocalists and musicians should be separated by distances of at least six feet at all times. Plexiglass barriers between vocalists or musicians are not sufficient to protect them from airborne viral transmission. In some cases, plexiglass barriers between performers may actually promote airborne viral transmission because they can alter airflow patterns and reduce the ability of HVAC systems to dilute or remove airborne contaminants.
- Amplification. An additional strategy to reduce the emission rate of infectious aerosols by vocalists or performers is amplification: less vocal projection results in less emission of aerosols.
- Short-duration rehearsals/
events. The duration of an indoor event with vocalists or musicians is important, as risk of airborne viral transmission is higher during a longer event. If possible, indoor events should be short (e.g. 30 minutes or shorter). If longer indoor events are required, risk can be reduced by singing or playing instruments for short periods of time (e.g. 30 minutes) followed by breaks (e.g. at least as long as one air change, ideally as long as three air changes). During these breaks, everyone should leave the rehearsal or performance space to allow the ventilation system time to clean the air in that space. During breaks, everyone should remain physically distanced and masked.
- Moving outdoors or choosing a well-ventilated space. The location of an event with multiple vocalists or musicians is also important. Risk of airborne COVID-19 transmission is expected to be much lower at a masked, outdoor rehearsal or performance. If an event with multiple vocalists or musicians must be held indoors, the indoor space should have excellent ventilation with high outdoor air exchange which may be supplemented with air filtration from MERV 13 filters in HVAC ducts and/or from portable air cleaners with HEPA filters.
This roadmap is provided for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended as a set of directions. Please see About the Use of This Resource for further explanation.
Above, Lance Horne and the cast of ExtraOrdinary in rehearsal.