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Student Blog: Mask Mandates & Live Theatre

After two years of a pandemic, the mask mandate in my state is no more. How do we handle a decision like that in theatre?

After two years of a pandemic, the mask mandate in my state is no more. How do we handle a decision like that in theatre?

I'm a 3rd year Musical Theatre major at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois - one state in which the mask mandate has officially been lifted. After two years of a pandemic, Gov. Pritzker has done away with the mask mandate that was originally reinstated in August of last year. Though public transportation, places like hospitals, and private businesses can still and will still require the wearing of masks indoors, all other establishments are up for debate in the counties they're in. For example, Millikin University is being decided by Macon County's choices and the private owners of the university. The mask mandate that was originally in place for the fall of 2021 affected several performances done at my school, including one I was part of.

Kingdom Come (written by Matthew Webster) is a workshop musical based on stories of the 9/11 attacks, and I was part of the first production done with orchestration. The rehearsal process was conducted with all actors and crew members always masked, but in order to perform without masks, there were steps that had to be taken. We were required to take a COVID test multiple times during show week, and the show itself had to receive permission to perform maskless. Our cast established trust, and we all agreed to be careful and take the necessary precautions to ensure the show would go on. And on it did - we performed two shows on September 11th, both maskless.

Student Blog: Mask Mandates & Live Theatre
The cast of Matthew Webster's Kingdom Come a??a??
- performed at Millikin University -

As you may guess, my experience in this production has affected my opinion on the mandate-lift. Here are the facts of our show: we rehearsed solely in masks, tested several times the week of the show, and there were no COVID outbreaks among our cast. Additionally, not one of us complained about having to wear our masks - in fact, we were grateful that our cast and crew were so aware of the importance of doing so.

So why stop now?

The pandemic isn't over, and we've proved that masks work to slow the spread; I see no reason to tear down that wall just yet. It's possible to conduct rehearsals safely and masked and I personally will continue to make that choice for myself; even if we choose to forgo other precautions, such as performing scene-work masked but not socially-distanced. I think it's all about the ratio. If you're far away from someone, and you're outside, you don't need to wear a mask to stay protected - if you're inside and close up with a scene partner, it's smart to wear one. That sounds decent and safe to me; and it's been proven successful. So if my school's production of Kingdom Come can go on safely and without a hitch, doesn't it make some sense to proceed the same way with other performances?

I understand why we're all itching to be done with masks, I am too. But why risk any amount of progress we've made in our country and our communities because we can't wait a little longer? Life is long and our careers in theatre will be too - I think taking a couple years to take this seriously won't mean a thing in the long run.



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