We’re Still Here: Pandemic Updates

Jump to Today’s News from Broadway and AGMA’s updated return to stage guidelines

Entertainment industry folkx are still here. I’m still here. My Facebook memories today reminded me that one year ago today I was having first preview for Measure for Measure at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

View from the stage manager's booth at Actors' Theatre of Louisville, with script, lighting and infrared monitors, and a view of a stage full of doors.
My view from the booth at Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, October 2019

While I worked on a cirque production and an opera after that, it was the last Equity show I did “in the before times.” And I do wonder when I’ll work on one again. I’m happier than I was a few weeks ago, as I found a slight way to pivot (and earn a little money though very part time) and still feel tangentally-related to my chosen career. I’ve now added a section to my resume of “Virtual Facilitator.” First, I assisted an education group (totally non-performance related) in turning their annual conference into a virtual gathering via Zoom. And now I have an ongoing relationship with WSHU public radio as Producer/Stage Manager as they move to online events. It has been so good for my mental health to have a project to organize and help create. I get paid to train on a new virtual platform (with very little to find online about it, so a lot of exploring)…AND I get to reconnect with a peer from the 1990s to boot!

Screenshot of the back end of the Shindig virtual platform
A recent screenshot of myself testing out the back end of the Shindig virtual platform

This weekend, I’m also joining the National Collaborator’s Conference, where Jennifer Leigh Sears Scheier and I have our second interation of Stage Management Paperwork Through the Centuries: A Virtual Exhibition. This time, I created a companion website and you get a sneak peek here! We’ve linked to many of the digital collections online so that you can flip through more of the prompt books. Tomorrow, I’ll be moderating her panel “The History, The Art, The Act of Calling Cues.” [Sidebar: At the conference, I’ve also gotten to connect with another mid-1990s peer, too, another perk of this virtual world. We still need our connections and interactions.] There was already a great discussion about changing the culture away from 10 out of 12 tech days which are really 14 to 16 hour days for those of us behind the scenes. Stay tuned for a new website they’re creating about it.

Today, my husband and I had conversations about perhaps removing the spare bed from our guest room, and turning the room into even more of an office for me, rather than being cozy/cramped in one corner. I mean, who will we feel comfortable having as a guest for a while anyway? I’m also working up another blog post of things to consider when working virtually, as I’ve certainly got a bit of a setup at the moment – and am looking to make additions, as economically as possible. More on that later.

Today’s News

Approximately seven months since Broadway closed, today the Broadway League announced it will be at least next summer until it returns. Fifteen months. And that’s probably still being optimistic. There are also many other worrisome topics regarding the theatre industry. There’s a jurisdictional fight between Actors Equity and SAG-AFTRA regarding virtual performances. The Stage Managers’ Association has issued a public resolution about protecting stage managers during all of this. (Note, Actors Theatre of Louisville is not employing Equity stage managers this year, nor do they have any SMs in their Professional Training Program.) And it has become nearly impossible to earn health insurance through Equity any more. I’ll be switching to COBRA myself at the end of this month. It’s going to be tough going for many of us for a while.

Meanwhile, a shift on how to come back comes from the union ballet and opera world, where today AGMA made another announcement. They have released the third version of the AGMA/SDC Return to Stage and Performing Arts Playbook. Per the email I received, here are the updates on this version:

  • Additional Appendix on the Employer and Employee Roles and Responsibilities
  • Change in criteria to meet Levels 2, 3, and 4:
  • Level 2- you now must have government permission to reopen and meet TWO of the criteria, where previously it was just one. In addition, the positive test rate now needs to be 10% or less (previously 15% or less)
  • Level 3- the positive test rate now needs to be 10% or less (previously 15% or less)
  • Level 4- the positive test rate now needs to be 5% or less (previously 10% or less)
  • Additional details on the action plan for when a COVID-19+ person is onsite
  • Additional details about paid sick leave per the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act
  • Two new sections under ventilation- Outdoor Performances/Pollution + Theatrical Smoke, Fog, and Haze
  • A new section on Outside the Workplace: Minimizing the Risk of Virus Transmission including new activity risk graphic
  • Additional details about Reconditioning for Dancers
  • New graphics in Special Considerations for Singers
  • New graphic in Mask/PPE section

The email adds: “The overarching goal of this Playbook is to help performing arts organizations responsibly reopen so that AGMA artists and SDC Members can safely return to work. The AGMA/SDC Return to Stage and Performing Arts Playbook helps to address the unique challenges of singing, dancing, stage managing, choreographing, and directing by outlining the layers of protection necessary to mitigate risks.

Notably, the Playbook presents a step-by-step approach to reopening built on five levels linked to the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community and allows for increasing activities based on clear criteria. The key is ensuring proper space and ventilation for the activity involved, augmented by a foundation of consistent and thorough hygiene practices and regular testing.”

As with the last edition, you are able to download the document to your own files. Be sure to check back for any updates, as this is version three.

Screenshot of the Stage Manager section of the AGMA/SDC Return to Stage Playbook
Per our request of a past edition, the Stage Management section is a little clearer that it isn’t SOLELY the SM’s job to be the COVID-19 Compliance Officer.

I do appreciate the guidelines AGMA has prepared, and even if not finalized, at least it’s a solid footing of where to start to think about coming back. Much of it is still geared towards performers rather than those of us behind the scenes, and it would still be much safer to rehearse towards a virtual performance than one with a live audience. Hopefully, we stage managers are made to be included.

OH! And did you catch the virtual opera Miranda from Luma Festival? It’s not the same as being at something in person, but was a fascinating pivot in the meantime. And I knew the stage managers involved. Yay for work for them! Below is a preview.