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Student Blog: The New Normal: Should it Stay or Should it Go?

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As I sit here breathing the same air as my neighbor, I wonder: what practices learned from COVID-19 should remain and what should we bid farewell to in the theatre?

Student Blog: The New Normal: Should it Stay or Should it Go?

I'm currently sitting on an airplane. Not to New York City, mind you, but a cross-county trip nonetheless. As theatres on Broadway are planning to open their doors in the fall-some as early as September-and avid theatregoers are booking shows and flights in the coming weeks, I'm suddenly extremely aware that this COVID-19 thing isn't over. Yet, airports and jets are crowded, masks slip below noses at an alarming rate, and no one seems to care whether or not I'm vaccinated. As I sit in this airplane breathing the same air as my neighbor, much like I'm forced to in a several-hundred seat theatre, I wonder to myself: what practices learned from COVID-19 should remain, and what should we bid farewell to with herd immunity?

Mask-wearing, although initially cumbersome, has become the new normal. I don't see that going anywhere anytime soon. Aside from keeping your immediate neighbor safe from disease, I see several other theatre-going benefits. You ate a Ceasar salad before the show? Slip on a mask to save your neighbor the smell. Got a cough from seasonal allergies? No need to alarm your fellow patrons. Yawning and nodding off during a lackluster performance? Problem solved!

Akin to mask-wearing comes social distancing. While we didn't know what this term meant prior to March of 2020, it's become part of our vernacular. However, while the theatrical space is meant to be social, it is equally not meant to be distant. So, what I'm about to tell you will be the biggest heartbreak of this blog: theatres should remain socially distant for as long as necessary. If we want to be able to enjoy live performances, with audiences knowing how hard theatres and companies have worked to be able to bring us there, we should be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of artists, their craft, and their pay. There's no need to risk for the biscuit. (See: Lollapalooza)

When I boarded the airplane today, I was handed an individually wrapped antibacterial wipe for my seat and tray table. I am ALL for this! Much like being offered a playbill by an usher, a wet wipe is something that is both welcomed and totally optional at the theatre. Perhaps, in a two-for-one type of deal, put the wet wipes...in the playbills! Genius!

Student Blog: The New Normal: Should it Stay or Should it Go?

Speaking of playbills, I wouldn't mind if theatres continued to roll out digital options for the convenience of patrons. Simply scan a QR code at the entrance to the auditorium and take a quick glance before the show starts. It allows for easy editing with understudies and program changes and aids the underappreciated ushers in their clean-up of the house. Of course, Broadway die-hards know the joys of filing their playbills into a laminated cover to add to their collection, but much like a wet wipe, this is not the end-all-be-all, just a courtesy or recommendation.

Finally, there's the infamous COVID-19 vaccination card. I brought it with my for my travels, but no one has asked for my proof of inoculation...so far. As summer music festivals like Lollapalooza are creating their guidelines of operation this year, many say that this ticket from Dr. Fauci is almost as important as a ticket for entry. Should we be following in these footsteps as national and regional theatres open their doors, asking patrons to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test? That I'm not sure. It's one thing to ask Broadway patrons travelling from all over the world to make their health and the health of others a priority, but regional theatres may be less inclined to do so when members of their own community are in attendance.

As many states start to fully reopen this summer, history has its eyes on us, recording our every move as we bring arts and entertainment back to life. Of course, I can guarantee you no two people, patrons, or politicians will agree on any one of the procedures I've recommended (**I am NOT a public health official**), but the precedent we set in this next season of live events could carry forward for years to come. I say we act thoughtfully these next few weeks to ensure we have a safe and successful season of theatre.


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From This Author Student Blogger: Kelly Schwantes