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theater with wooden finishes and yellow seating, stairs on the right to balcony at Point Park University Pittsburgh Playhouse

Pathways to (Re)Opening Night

Paul Westlake

The Coronavirus pandemic has focused a spotlight on many aspects of our daily lives and routines that often have been taken for granted. How we move through a space and interact with our environment, family, friends, and even total strangers has been altered for the foreseeable future. One of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy has been the entertainment industry, which accounts for up to four percent of the total workforce in the United States generating over $900 billion in revenue annually.

To help our clients, performance venue owners, and operators develop plans and strategies to return to the U.S. economy, our architects, engineers, theater technical planners, audiovisual designers, low-voltage system designers, lighting designers, healthcare specialists, and education specialists collaborated with our clients at Cleveland Play House, the Nederlander Organization, Playhouse Square, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts to shape our research. With this approach in mind, we offer the following preliminary considerations for context:

  • This evolution will not be immediate. There is a need to be adaptable and fluid as circumstances are changing daily in the progression of the pandemic.
  • There is no single silver bullet, but rather a hybrid approach and multi-pronged effort based on empirical facts and science.
  • Even while deploying a host of strategies, patron confidence and communication will be critical to any success.
  • Being allowed to open doors does not mean your audiences, staff, and performers will return unless they feel comfortable and confident in their health and safety.
  • A clear message about new policies and procedures will be required to be successful, especially if changes are required due to evolving responses to the pandemic.
  • Clear messaging should be coupled with a thoughtful education and communication program.
  • A high percentage of your venue’s occupants may be in high-risk categories.
  • Many older patrons may not be technologically adept at some new requirements such as wireless tickets or app purchases for concessions.
  • The importance of performers and crews feeling safe in their work environment is integral to a successful performance.
  • We will explore opportunities to test-fit strategies that will work with your organization.
  • Balancing operational and production costs with the projected reduced ticket revenue as audiences slowly return is critical.
  • Contractual obligations, including collective bargaining agreements, royalty payments, and new media strategies, will be important considerations.
  • There is a potential impact of streaming and other distance technologies, and a need for careful, considered messaging of these presentation opportunities to audiences.

Through our decades of award-winning cultural and performing arts design work, we have developed a guide that presents opportunities and considerations for the reopening of performance venues. Over the coming weeks, we will share financial, operational, and facilities observations and recommendations for potential reopening with safety and success in mind. We need the arts, now more than ever, and we need to ensure their safety now and for the future.

Read our recommendations for financial opportunities to help the performing arts community safely re-engage their patrons and artists without compromising the quality of their productions.


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