Deep Dive: Towards “Normalization” of Covid-19 as an Acceptable Risk

With venues reopening and 90% to 95% of arts audiences vaccinated, we have entered a new stage of the pandemic. A significant share of the audience, despite being vaccinated, is still concerned about contracting the virus, and the recent turnabout in infection rates among unvaccinated Americans, driven by the Delta variant, is fueling this caution. Covid-19, it appears, will be with us for a long-time. Against this backdrop audiences must gain comfort with policies and practices that acknowledge the reality of a protracted, or perhaps even indefinite, risk of Covid-19 transmission at cultural events. Guest speaker James Doeser, a distinguished UK arts researcher and evaluator of the Contagious Cities initiative, will offer his views on Covid-19 as one of many risks that arts goers take each time they go out, followed by facilitated Q&A with Victoria Bailey and Alan Brown. This session is offered specifically to inform sector discussions about proof of vaccine requirements, masks and other protocols, surcharges for venue safety, and finding language to signal that Covid-19 is both an ongoing and acceptable risk.


How are you going to get people in quickly with checking vaccine docs, tests, proof of age for children etc.?

Alan Brown: I am not familiar with the logistical solutions. There will be apps. However, I imagine that many hundreds of arts groups will be learning and sharing much about implementing vaccine-only admittance policies over the coming weeks. I know at least one small theatre that checks vaccine documentation in advance, so that patrons are not held up at the door. I imagine that the ticketing software companies will be adapting their software to meet this need, so that once patrons have provided their vaccine info., either in advance, or at the door, it is stored in the database and they don’t need to provide it again. We need to work this out as a sector, and fast, so that as many organizations as possible use the same implementation procedures.

But we are still waiting for vaccinations for children - so for children theatre its still another year or two before we can get back to touring in PAC.

Alan Brown: Yes, there is a different timeline here. Masks, distancing, and proof of negative Covid test results may be necessary policies for youth theatres for the next year, at least.

Can you speak on the potential efficacy of health surveys and contact tracing efforts as tools to utilize as we reopen?

Alan Brown: I cannot speak to either of these policies in terms of their actual efficacy in reducing risk of transmission. Some arts groups believe that so-called “community agreements” and “self-assessments and attestations” will be effective tools for achieving a higher level of trust between and amongst audience members. See:

Tory says that the three Broadway venue owners all have different approaches to how and who to contact trace, so clearly there is not yet any standard of practice with respect to contact tracing.

Can orgs in those states (where mandates are prohibited) recommend rather than mandate?

Alan Brown: Yes, but there will be a segment of ticket buyers who won’t come without vaccine-only and/or mask mandates in place. Mask-optional policies could backfire if audience members with strong pro-mask feelings act to marginalize or ostracize those who are not wearing masks. Some sports teams are designating specific seating sections for unvaccinated and vaccinated folks in sports stadiums and arenas, but this doesn’t make a lot of sense in smaller theatres.

Curious about flexibility on ticket refunds, given the changing environment.

Alan Brown: We will have to remain extremely flexible with refunds if we want people to buy tickets, given the current environment.

Is that a good approach for messaging -- to actively compare the risk to other known ones?

Alan Brown: I think its a slippery slope to compare Covid-19 to other viruses, but James might disagree.

How are some organizations approaching school field trips to see shows?

Alan Brown: You might want to check in with TYA/USA, the service organization for youth theatres. They were a partner with us on the first phase of the Covid study, and their member organizations are actively engaged with school districts in negotiating how artists will be able to access students in-school and outside of school.

What about digital productions? I know this was waning fast earlier this year, but does the fact that they are loyal audiences that miss us, and are now more wary, mean that they will be more interested in digital again?

Alan Brown: Yes, the latest Delta variant surge illustrates why it will be necessary to maintain some capacity to reach audiences with digital content. Most arts audiences are saying that digital programming will play at least a small role in their cultural diet moving forward.


Welcome, everyone. 100+ folks in the session currently. If you want to ask a question, please use the "Ask a Question" button at the bottom of your screen. We will respond to your questions either live or via email shortly after the event.

Lisa: Wonderful points, would you please give us some examples of how to do these?

Debra Waxman: MTC is following Broadway policies at our Off-Broadway theater as well

Ron Evans: Lisa, is that a question for James?

Lisa: Yes, Ron...sincerest appreciation

Ron Evans: Great. If we don't get to your question during the session, James will respond to your question via email.

Lisa: Perfect...thank you so much!

Ron Evans: code 44919544

Lisa: just lost audio?

Krystle Kline: yes, it's frozen for me too

Manuel Prestamono: audio?

Lisa: Yes, we can't hear Alan

Betsy: What was the recommendation about attendees 12 years of age and under? (since they aren't eligible for the vaccine yet)

Victoria Bailey: Bway is requiring proof of negative test.

Victoria Bailey: At least that is how I read it

Cheryle Hansen: how are you going to get people in quickly with checking vaccine docs, tests, proof of age for children etc.

Ron Evans: audio and video should now be back

Lisa Thank you!

Ron Evans: If we don't get to your questions live, we will respond via email to everyone shortly after the session. But keep your questions coming.

Debra Waxman: Can orgs in those states recommend rather than mandate?

Lisa: Curious about flexibility on ticket refunds, given the changing environment

Ron Evans: Thank you, Debra and Lisa

Marlina Halper: My audio and vdeo never came back on - I am so sorry.

Ron Evans: Marlina, try refreshing your browser window.

Pat Torre: sMy audio is out.

Amanda Nelson: Given that we will likely need to adjust our policies and practices to respond to current situations - what messaging/communication would you recommend organizations use to better prepare our audiences for change/changing rules.

Laura Zucker: People are not being irrational-- the recent outbreaks have infected up to 75% vaccinated.