Actor’s Equity Association has released new COVID-19 safety protocols for productions that contain a fully vaccinated company. The protocols include requiring a dedicated COVID-19 Safety Officer (CSO) for every 20 people in the company, and actors must be masked unless they are performing or rehearsing. Producers are also required to pay sick leave to any actor who has to isolate if they test positive for COVID-19.
The new protocols are dated to June 30, 2021, and the union said that they may be revised after.
The protocols define a “fully vaccinated” company as every Equity member in a cast and anyone who comes into contact with them; everyone must be at least two weeks post their COVID-19 vaccinations. The guidelines don’t mandate the producers to vaccinate their company. If vaccines are mandated, producers must provide paid time for Equity members to get their vaccines, and sick time if they experience negative side effects from the vaccine.
The protocols also include testing guidelines, saying an antigen or PCR test must be administered once a week, and a negative test must be provided 72 hours before work begins. Any Equity member who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate, and the production has to provide food, laundry, and medication to them while in isolation. If they share a living space, producers need to provide them with alternative housing. Producers are also required to compensate Equity members while they are isolating.
Producers will also be required to cover two weeks’ worth of salary if they cancel a production because of COVID-19.
The protocols also contain guidelines for sanitation and ventilation. Daily cleaning of “low and high-touch areas in theater and rehearsal halls” is required. The ventilation system should be “adequate” and examined by a professional.
Audience members will be required to wear masks, as well as every member of the company unless they are performing or rehearsing.
There will also be no backstage visitors and Equity members are prohibited from attending opening night parties. Producers are required to submit their safety plan to Equity for approval before the first day of rehearsal.
The complete guidelines are available on Equity’s website. On April 7, Equity will also host a webinar on the COVID-19 vaccine, in partnership with the Adult Vaccine Access Coalition. It is open to the public and attendees can register here.
“The broad availability of COVID vaccines is already impacting the landscape of reopening the American theatre industry. And as we know, the recovery of live performance will reinvigorate local and state economies across the country,” said Equity President Kate Shindle in a statement. “That said, we know that our members have reasonable, thoughtful questions about the process and the science. So we are grateful to AVAC for connecting us with world-class experts in the field who can help us understand the development, safety, and efficacy of the vaccines, as well as discuss initial vaccination experiences and the work being done to ensure equitable distribution.”
Recently, Equity had come under scrutiny from its membership for its seemingly restrictive COVID-19 protocols.
The previous safety protocols, released on March 3, required plexiglass barriers between actors who are singing, housing actors who have to do intimacy or fight scenes in hotels, and requiring productions to provide private car services for actors to and from work. These new protocols for vaccinated companies do not include those stipulations.
More than 2,100 actors—including Tony winners Karen Olivo, Stephanie J. Block, and Ali Stroker—signed a petition saying those older safety regulations were preventing them from going back to work because it was too strict for any producers to meet. “Based on the impracticality and numerous impossibilities found in the recently updated March 3, 2021, Covid-19 Procedures and Protocols, many Equity members, and many theaters have grown deeply frustrated and increasingly concerned about the lack of practical details in how to return to work,” said the petition.
The petition also requested a meeting so the union could hear for its members. “Some of you have asked for more information about what the path forward looks like in the theatre. We see you and we hear you,” Equity said in a Medium post. The town hall is now scheduled for April 8.