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BWW Interview: How Tuacahn's Safety Plan Led To An Equity Approved Full Summer Season

Find out how one of Utah's top venues reopened with a full capacity season last month.

BroadwayWorld is checking in with theaters around the country as they prepare to reopen this summer. Next in our series we check in with the staff of of the Tuacahn Center for the Arts!

We spoke with CEO Kevin Smith, Artistic Director Scott Anderson, Development Director Kacey Jones, Marketing Director Stephanie Finck, Assistant Artistic Producer and Casting Coordinator Shari Jordan, and COVID Compliance Officer Tanya Hesse.

This month theiroutdoor Amphitheatre reopened Disney's Beauty and the Beast and Annie, and will be followed by School of Rock and The Count of Monte Cristo in July. In the Indoor Hafen Theatre, Million Dollar Quartet will run from June through August and A Christmas Story for the holiday season - running November through December.

What has your theater's staff been up to over the past year?

Kevin Smith, CEO: From the moment we closed our doors in March 2020, the entire Tuacahn team has eagerly anticipated the reopening of our Broadway in the Canyon season in 2021. Unitedly, our staff worked to institute rigorous protocols developed with our local and State Health Departments which made our safe resumption of live events, including weekend Concerts, possible in Fall 2020.

Like many other Theatres, during what normally is our busiest season, the majority of our team (75%) was furloughed last summer. As we've returned to work, I've noticed an even deeper level of commitment from our team to do our best work every day. We've added a fourth outdoor show in 2021, School of Rock, to help our Theatre surface from 2020 losses, and everyone is excited to have more performances at Tuacahn in 2021 than any previous year.

How has the pandemic most affected your company?

Shari Jordan, Assistant Artistic Producer/Casting Coordinator: The two ways that the pandemic has most affected Tuacahn Center for the Arts is, first and foremost, being unable to present live theater to our hundreds of thousands of patrons who enjoy live theater as a cultural and entertainment outlet. There is nothing quite as moving as hearing, for example, Maria sing "The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music!" in the actual hills of the canyon surrounding Tuacahn Amphitheatre. The second way the pandemic affected TCA was being unable to employ hundreds of artists from across the country who help produce, design and star in our show stopping productions, both indoor and outdoor. These professional artists depend on Tuacahn for their livelihood including health insurance. It was heartbreaking to see these creators out of work.

What have you got coming up you're most excited to share with audiences?

Shari Jordan, Assistant Artistic Producer/Casting Coordinator: I am most excited to open shows to live audiences! Tuacahn will present two family favorites that are destined to inspire. Our spectacular and dazzling production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast is as grand and lavish as any Broadway or touring production. We are also opening the heartwarming classic, Annie, where we share in a young girl's optimism about the "Sun Coming Out Tomorrow." This unfettered optimism is something we all need right now because I believe we see the light at the end of this tunnel.

Scott Anderson, Artistic Director: I believe we're telling stories in a canyon that's been here for over a million years where an ancient people long ago told stories in this same natural amphitheater. What a great opportunity to continue that ancient legacy.

How did your venue come up with a reopening plan/covid safety plan?

Shari Jordan, Assistant Artistic Producer/Casting Coordinator: Since COVID hit last spring and we had to postpone and eventually cancel our season, I have relentlessly been trying to figure out how to safely return to producing live theatre. I have read countless articles and science studies about COVID, how it is spread, early detection, long- term effects, testing and vaccines and the different types of both of them - anything I could find! I compiled a 40+ page comprehensive guideline to safely reopening Tuacahn Center for the Arts. This fluid document which adapted with the ever-changing science this past year was used to start rehearsals at TCA this past March. It was also shared with other arts organizations across the state and country.

I worked tirelessly with AEA to create a plan that would keep everyone safe. We have had hundreds of emails and many Zoom calls about how to do this and do it right. I never gave up hope!

The other key to our successful reopening was teaming up with NOMI Health. NOMI Health has organized the extensive testing protocols required for our professional artists. We have been testing our employees up to three times a week since mid-March.

Tuacahn also needs to thank the Southwest Department of Health for helping us organize vaccinations as early as possible for our group. Our company reached full vaccination on May 6th, the day before our first public preview. Being fully vaccinated allowed the actors to be mask-less on stage. The tears flowed when I saw these performers' faces for the first time since they auditioned for me in Jan/Feb of 2020. It was very moving to see and experience their joy as well as hear them sing full voice without a mask. It is a moment I will never forget.

BWW Interview: How Tuacahn's Safety Plan Led To An Equity Approved Full Summer Season
The Tuacahn Center for the Arts

Will there be any adjustments in capacity or seating/vaccination or testing requirements

Tanya Hesse, COVID Compliance Officer: Because we are an outdoor theater, we were not required to socially distance our Amphitheatre seating. However, we have required masks of our patrons for our initial few weeks of shows. We are now working with the AEA regarding new CDC guidelines to allow our fully vaccinated patrons to go mask-less in the Amphitheatre.

They must stay 10 feet away from the stage and cast at all times. We are not allowing any backstage tours or meet and greets for this reason. The testing of our company began in March.

With our amazing partners at NOMI Health, we have had ongoing onsite testing 3 times a week. Protocols such as pre-employment testing and quarantining before in person work have helped us track and trace. We are very proud to announce that we became a fully vaccinated company on May 6th. Allowing our phenomenal cast to rehearse and take the stage un-masked for the first time.

Will there be any changes to the on-stage aspects of the shows in response to the pandemic?

Shari Jordan, Assistant Artistic Producer/Casting Coordinator: Due to the fact that our company was fully vaccinated by May 6th, we were given permission by Actors Equity Association to do close spacing and live singing as well as perform without a mask. Therefore, our audiences will experience the same Tuacahn magic they have come to expect!

Were there any COVID considerations in programming the upcoming season - selecting titles, etc?

Shari Jordan, Assistant Artistic Producer/Casting Coordinator: Since we had worked so hard for the cancelled 2020 season, from creating and building sets and costumes to casting the shows, we wanted to present these same titles to our Tuacahn audience: Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Annie, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Most of the cast and creatives were hired in 2020 and have been with us on this emotional journey of postponements, cancellations, and reopening. They have been patiently waiting to present these stories to our audiences.
In a first for Tuacahn, we added a fourth show to our Amphitheatre season. I am so excited to produce School of Rock. These young actors/musicians are so talented, they are going to knock your socks off.

Will there be any changes to your ticketing policies, flexible rescheduling, etc?

Stephanie Finck, Marketing Director: We want to be as flexible as possible this season. If a patron needs to change their tickets to another date because they are experiencing illness or have been exposed to the Covid virus, we will waive any exchange fees. If changing dates is not possible, we are happy to apply the ticket balance to a gift certificate valid for 2 years, or even refund if necessary. In 2020 when we had to postpone our entire Broadway season, we were very fortunate to have over 80% of our patrons hold on to their tickets or accept a gift certificate rather than receive a refund. We're so thankful for our loyal patrons.

What are you most looking forward to?

Kacey Jones, Development Director: With the arrival of our actors, stage managers, directors, and crew in early March, Tuacahn has felt tremendous joy. We are abundantly blessed by the community of creatives and professionals that build our Theatre. We are grateful their work gives our patrons meaningful experiences with live Theatre every single performance.

At the same time, we have all anxiously awaited the return of our loyal guests who stood with Tuacahn during our dark days in 2020 and will help us celebrate in 2021. As we've started our preview performances of Disney's Beauty and the Beast and Annie in the past few weeks, our seats have been filled with guests of all ages, grandparents, grandchildren, life-long friends, couples and individuals. This is what I love the most about what we do: Tuacahn gives many children their first experience with the Arts. We know when children have these experiences with live Theatre when they're young, the importance of it tends to stick.

How have you remained engaged with your audience about the return to the stage?

Stephanie Finck, Marketing Director: I know other Theatres have experienced this as well, but fourteen months is a long time for our patrons to be away from our Theatre. Part of what has been important at Tuacahn has been our enhanced communication with our guests. We've interacted through social media channels, local radio, and television specials and just this month we started "Backstage Notes", a monthly newsletter to give patrons a peek behind the scenes. In the fall of 2020 Netflix was here to film their comedy special Brian Regan: On the Rocks and this spring BYU TV filmed Marie Osmond with the Southwest Symphony concert for a television special that will air later this summer.

More than anything else, the factor that increased our guest engagement the most was our partial reopening in Fall 2020 through a series of weekend concerts. This series was made possible in large part due to our outdoor Amphitheatre, and the considerable effort Tuacahn invested in working with our local Health Department to develop safe reopening protocols. Once our guests saw that events were happening at Tuacahn in late 2020, it did immeasurable good in increasing our patron confidence we would have a summer season in 2021.

What has been the response from the actors being back at work?

Shari Jordan, Assistant Artistic Producer/Casting Coordinator: The actors are thrilled to be here and be back to work. The first part of our reopening plan was very strict due to the fact that the company was not vaccinated when we started rehearsals. Most of our rehearsals were outside in the elements because studies have shown that singing indoors can spread the virus. We had a couple very cold days outside where we had to pull out the remote heaters and we had many very hot days where we filled the coolers with Gatorade and water. At all times the singers and dancers rehearsed in masks which is not an easy feat, but they all did it enthusiastically with open minds and open hearts. You must understand, these are professional actors that do this for a living and their livelihood was taken away. This acting company has a renewed spirit and purpose to be working again. In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, they sing how they long to be "Human Again" and I truly believe that now that they are working, they actually feel "Human Again!"

BWW Interview: How Tuacahn's Safety Plan Led To An Equity Approved Full Summer Season
Nathaniel Hackmann in the title in Beauty and the Beast at Tuacahn.

How have the cast/crew responded to the added Covid protocols?

Shari Jordan, Assistant Artistic Producer/Casting Coordinator: The cast crew are very receptive to the protocols set forth because the protocols keep them safe, and in doing so, they stay employed. It hasn't all been easy, but everyone here is committed to bringing back live theatre and will do whatever it takes: wearing masks, testing three times a week, additional cleaning, symptom checking, vaccinating, etc. With the new guidelines recently set forth by the CDC as well as the fully vaccinated company guidelines from Actors Equity Association, the cast is looking forward to loosening the stringent protocols that we started with back in March. I think the most exciting part is rehearsing indoors more. The temperatures heat up to 122 degrees sometimes in southern Utah, so air conditioning will be a welcome addition. Our air conditioning system has also been through rigid testing protocols and we have added stand-alone HEPA filters that clean 99.9% of air particles. With people's safety, we leave no stone unturned!

How can audience members learn more and stay up to date?

Stephanie Finck, Marketing Director: Visit our website at www.tuacahn.org for tickets and the most up-to-date information on safety protocols, show schedules, events and more.


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