Open Forum

Navigating the Opening of Theatres and Venues in a Masked World

By Christopher Trevino posted 07-27-2020 08:00


Christopher Trevino holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music, and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Chris has designed or operated lighting for venues across the country, including Sea World-San Diego & San Antonio, Dead White Zombies, Cincinnati Ballet, Collin County Ballet Theatre, Santa Fe Opera, Opera New Jersey, ABC News/WFAA-TV, Nevada Ballet, Nevada Conservatory Theatre, Collin Theatre Center, Stagedoor Manor, Six Flags Over Texas, and many more.  He currently serves as the Assistant Technical Director at the UTD and teaches the Technical Theatre classes there. Chris also serves as an Associate Lighting Designer for Premier Illuminations lighting company that creates and designs for venues and productions all around the world.

How do we make theatrical art and design again while practicing and ensuring the safety of our students, guests, and patrons?

As dream makers and designers, it is our job to start to think about how we can make venues safe and available for our audiences. As practitioners we are required to side-step that natural thought blocking process and overcome the incubation period. As educators, we must instill in our future designers the need to continue to think outside the box and entertain all possibilities for the future patron. But, as we do that-how do we as educators make a safe environment for all our students, crew, and fellow staff in this COVID-19 world? Where do we start? Who do we believe? What resources do we have to help us on our journey?

Things to Consider
While we navigate through all the rules, manuals, procedures, and guidelines it is hard to distinguish exactly which to follow and how.  What is the best way to adhere to every city, county, state, and federal mandate when it comes to our line of work?

We all know that what we do is different from everyone else and how we interact with the community is different from every other trade. We waited until there was a release of a guideline that specifically targeted entertainment or theatre.

When the guidelines for entertainment finally came out, we searched the documents for specifics on how we were to forge ahead. I think I read one document at least five times and thought to myself…huh? This happens so many times in our industry… the entertainment industry is a broad world. It can cover the smallest bar on the corner while also covering a Las Vegas showroom, an educational theatre space, or a concert hall that holds thousands.

So, what do we take from these? How do we tailor each of those guidelines to our individual venue? How do we make sure that everyone in our venue feels safe from the talent to the patron? How can we ensure a memorable experience and keep the doors open?

A lot of these questions can be answered by asking ourselves how in touch with our guests/patrons we are. Do we send out surveys asking for guidance and help from the very same people who frequently visit? Do we have an online presence that can be measured? Do people look at our social media before coming out to visit us?

Be proactive with the leadership, administration, and elected officials that govern your city, county, and state. Have a conversation with them first and describe what exactly you would like to do and how you are going to ensure the safety of the public, staff, and students.

Yes, you are going to abide by all the requirements at a minimum-but I would suggest taking it a step further. Again, we are educators, designers, and practitioners and we can come up with multiple scenarios.

When we include our local city, county, and state officials-we are starting the conversation and presenting it on our terms. Invite them out for a trial run so that they can see for themselves that your thoughts and ideas are safe. Make sure you always have a contingency plan in case something is not approved. We tend to hold our designs and ideas very close as our children and become defensive if it is called into question.

Then let your audience know all your procedures and changes BEFORE they get onsite. Post on social media, have a special section on your website, include any language on tickets, send out emails/newsletters, have digital and printed out signage leading up to the entrance.

Thinking about finances

How do we ensure that the capacity will still balance the books so that we do not have to close programs back down? Is it worth operating at a smaller capacity? If so, how can we still produce the content without driving up the costs? If it is not worth it, can we use that money to improve our programs? How do we present that to our administration and students? If our venues are limited by size-can we have more shows? Is this going to produce a strain on the talent? Do we bring more talent in to help with those shows that need it?

One of the biggest challenges that the industry is facing is this:  how do we create an experience like the ones you had before? For this, you must look at what you are presenting. Is it a production that must take place in a theatre? Is it a parade or show that you want your guests to see? Is it a haunted house that you want to keep open for Halloween?

Some other questions to ponder over when it comes to venues are regarding front of house and the terms at which we interact with the public/patrons. How do we get guests in and out of the venue? How do we ensure that there is enough time for cleaning? How do we socially distance the guests as they watch? How do we eliminate contact with each other?

I know I am posing a lot of questions, but these are for your organization to answer. Make sure when you meet to discuss all these guidelines for your venue-INCLUDE EVERYONE-from all departments. You never know who has the answer or who can provide you with the best scenario. Also remember, just because the other venue is doing something-it does not mean you have to do the same. Think of new ways to engage your audience, think of different ways to bring that same content or experience to your students, guests, patrons, staff.

When it comes to attractions or seasonal activities that are produced, you approach everything with the above principals but think outside the box. Most haunted attractions rely on guest interaction and without socially distancing. How does that change now? How can we change it?

We must go back to the drawing board when it comes to designing costumes, sets, ground plans, and street scenes. A lot of the time, we design and construct those physical barriers from the audience and hide it in the theme.

For talent, how do we keep them safe and keep them in costume and in character while adhering to the guidelines set forth? Can we design, construct, and build facemasks into their costume? Could we add latex appliances or masks to their character? Are we able to re-arrange the set pieces to where they do not come into contact with the guest?

Once all these questions are answered, you have another meeting with everyone; talent, technicians, front of house, ushers, etc. and let them know the plan. Make sure all questions are answered and at any point if someone if uncomfortable-you have that conversation with them.

So, how do the younger people fit into all of this? Run scenarios in your classroom and give examples and have your students come up with alternatives. Discuss each individual sub-sect industry of entertainment. We are charged with teaching the future and to instill the principals of safety being at the forefront. I believe that with this being part of education now-we will be training the new practitioners of the future that will lead our workforces.  


Recommended Actions You Can Take

-start the conversations about new procedures in your classrooms

-keep an eye on what the current guidelines are and how they are changing

-look to other schools and ask what their staff is doing

-ask your administration to set up a meeting for the performing arts staff in your district

-attend webinars and look at resources from all facets of entertainment

-encourage thinking outside the box

-assign projects that theme parks or haunted attractions are facing right now

-talk to industry professionals; ask question


Some Additional Links and Resources

Event Safety Alliance Reopening Guide

Universal Reopening Guide

Disney Reopening Guide

How to Reopen Your Haunt During the COVID-19 Pandemic

EdTA’s Recommendations for Reopening Programs Guide