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"On Re-opening Moves, Safety Concerns and a Robot Custodian"

May 29, 2020

Good day, 

As an arts journalist for more than 40 years, I am always trying to look for patterns in news stories, seeking out a larger, more telling picture.  As I scan dozens of news outlets, on-line sites and professional reports daily, this weekly letter maps significant trails that emerge on this uncharted journey.

Is this the beginning of our return to work, worship, shopping and other activities, including cultural offerings  — or is it a premature start-up leading to new and greater problems?

States in the U.S. this week began lifting restrictions, and presented various phases of openings, levels of operation, safety procedures and methods ofmonitoring.

But it’s a mixed bag, with some states like Massachusetts offering a long-term, phase-in plan that only includes performing arts venues in its final stage, with details yet to be determined.

Texas has already ramped up and entered its Phase Two, giving guidelines for this next stage of public engagement — though not for the performing arts sites. Some museums there have already begun opening their doors and may be able to determine peoples’ general willingness to return to some semblance of engagement.

For early indicators, it may also be helpful to look at countries that are weeks ahead in their gradual re-opening processes.

But large commercial and non-profit performing arts venues are another matter and many are taking a wait-and-see approach.Variety reports Broadway will be dark at least through early September. Producer Cameron Mackintosh told The Guardian it’s unlikely London’s West End would open until 2021. Even more dramatic: The cast of“Hamilton”reportedly has been told the show won’t return until a vaccine is widely available. 

Though there is a longing to return to “normal,” there are feelings of deep caution, too. AP reports “close to half of survey responders say it is essential that a vaccine be available before public life resumes. A third say that’s important but not essential.” 

It’s all part of the information-gathering needed before long-term projections can be made with any degree of assurance, comfort and sustainability.

Lastly, a look at how technology is creating solutions to problems caused by the pandemic — some sounding as if they came out of an episode of “The Jetsons.”Forbes reports a Buffalo-based company has developed drones to spray disinfectants in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter tells of disinfecting robots created by a Texas company.

Custodial services are no small thing. As large venues inch closer to re-opening, audiences’ health concerns may become the tipping point in when — and whether — they return. 

—Frank Rizzo


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