Actors’ Equity Association has released updated guidelines for theatres that intend to employ its members, which include performers and stage managers, as indoor productions begin to take the stage once again following the pandemic shutdown. The protocols are specifically for “fully vaccinated” companies, in which Equity members and all those who would be in contact with them are at least 14 days past receiving their final COVID-19 vaccination shots.
The newly issued guidelines arrive after Equity faced scrutiny by employers and members alike, who claimed that the union’s slow response compared to other similar guilds—as well as restrictive and costly measures like private transportation and extended breaks from rehearsal—were preventing work instead of protecting workers. In response to a petition that cited these concerns, Equity will hold a town hall on reopening-focused safety protocols April 8.
Among the union’s requirements is the implementation of COVID-19 safety officers. Productions would have to have one for every 20 people in the company (which includes actors, stage managers, and anyone who comes in contact with them). Officers would ensure compliance with health protocols, overseeing testing, symptom monitoring, cleaning, contact tracing, and more. The guidelines stipulate that actors and stage managers cannot act as safety officers for their production.
At a recent panel presented by the Theatre COVID Think Tank, medical professionals advised that even as vaccination status become more ubiquitous, routine testing should continue to surveil and identify hotspots at the earliest possible level. Equity’s protocols call for testing (either antigen or PCR) at least once a week at no cost to actors or stage managers.
Should a test come back positive, employers would need to notify Equity, and the individual will be required to self-isolate, with the employer providing grocery, laundries, and medications and alternative housing if need be.
Additionally, the new guidelines limit members’ interactions with audiences, indicating that while live performance may be revving up again, certain practices, like stage dooring and backstage visits, will not return so quickly. Opening night parties and other production-sponsored events are also off limits for Equity members.
Additional mandates that have become the standard for safe workplaces, including the providing of PPE, routine sanitization, and adequate ventilation, remain in place.
The “Fully Vaccinated” protocols are currently in effect through June 30; Equity says that they may be revised at that point “based on the science.”