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Emory Nursing School Partners with Atlanta Performing Arts Companies to Develop Safe Reopening Plan

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Emory Nursing School Partners with Atlanta Performing Arts Companies to Develop Safe Reopening Plan

As we all struggle to figure out how COVID-19 has affected our lives, the nonprofit arts community of Atlanta has been particularly challenged. As a field, we have come together to support each other and ensure we are able to make our way through the crisis. After three months of shut down, theatres and performance halls are beginning to consider how and when to re-open and what kinds of safety precautions we can take for audiences, actors, staff, and backstage crew.

Actor's Express has led a coalition of 18 arts organizations in creating a partnership with the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University to evaluate and study performing arts operations. This evaluation will lead to the creation of a set of guidelines and suggestions on how to come back from this crisis safely and responsibly. The study's architects will release recommendations to the performing arts companies in August.

The study will analyze data on how patrons, performers, and staff interact, and propose ways to safely return to work and performance as soon as is prudent. These plans will also take into account current statistics on new infections in the community, and define benchmarks for reopening.

"How to reopen has been on everyone's mind since theatres shut down in mid-March, but reopening safely is critical to our communities of artists, audiences and staff. We are excited about this study and hope to have a clear and safe plan forward when we get the results." Alex Scollon, Managing Director, Actor's Express.

Work on the study began over a kitchen table when Alex Scollon, Managing Director of Actor's Express and Helen Baker, Assistant Professor and Global and Community Engagement Coordinator for the Lillian Carter Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility at the Emory School of Nursing, who are married, discussed the challenges of getting theatres back to work, and what protocols would need to be in place to safely resume productions. Dr. Baker pitched the idea of a collaboration with the arts community to the rest of the faculty at the Lillian Carter Center, Emory School of Nursing, who embraced the opportunity and saw it as a way to make an immediate impact on the city and its cultural life.

"Working with Emory School of Nursing will give us data that is grounded in science and specific to our organization. We'll be able to leverage that data to find a path through this crisis that prioritizes the safety of our artists and patrons." - Gretchen Butler, Theatrical Outfit

The Team Assembles

Three Doctor of Nursing Practice students (Morgan Clark-Youngblood, MPH, BSN, RN '21, Laura Wiese, MPH, BSN, RN '21, Deborah Silverstein, MSW, RN, MSN, FNP-C '20) are coordinating the project. They are working with a steering committee of 12 arts professionals and have created a data collection tool that assesses each theatres' practices before COVID and their adaptability to new normal. The tool also asks theatres to analyze their workflows in three different areas: 1. Front of house, including audiences procedures before, during, and after performances; 2. Rehearsal and performance, and 3. Backstage, including building, installing, and running backstage operations.

The data gathering will be done by pre-licensure nursing students during their public health clinical rotation over the month of July and overseen by seven School of Nursing faculty members.

"True Colors is excited about this unique collaboration. While these are challenging times for all of us, it has been uplifting to work as a theatre community to identify and overcome the barriers to bringing our work back to our patrons. This project goes above and beyond to build theatre-specific processes that ensure the safety and well-being of our True Colors family." - Chandra Stephens-Albright, Managing Director, Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre Company


After all 18 of the participating performing arts companies have completed the assessment tool, the project architects will analyze the data to create standard operating procedures for each area of operation, including front of house, performance, and backstage. These operating procedures can be applied across all the performing arts companies in the region. Then the DNP students will go one step further, issuing specific guidance to each participating performing arts company detailing how that individual company can adapt its workflows to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

"Because every operation is different and each venue has a unique set of challenges, no one sweeping policy will work for everyone. Through this partnership as well as guidance from the CDC and Georgia DPH, we hope to find a set of guidelines all performance venues can put in place to reduce risk to audiences, artists, and crew, as well as specific action plans for each company participating in the study." - Morgan Clark-Youngblood, DNP candidate at Emory School of Nursing

The final recommendations will be released to the performing arts companies in August; at which point the companies will begin implementing the recommendations to safely return to work as soon as is prudent, while simultaneously using the plans to engage with the performing arts unions and national performing arts community to create a standard of safety across all performance venues.

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