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As Delta Surges, Three New Haven Theaters Move To Vax & Mask Mandate

Lucy Gellman | September 1st, 2021

As Delta Surges, Three New Haven Theaters Move To Vax & Mask Mandate

Economic Development  |  Long Wharf Theatre  |  Arts & Culture  |  Theater  |  Yale Rep Theatre  |  Public Health  |  COVID-19  |  Shubert Theatre

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Griffin Health Nurse Mary-Kate Lemoult gives Karma Salon Owner Cheryl McMahon her first dose of the Moderna vaccine at the Shubert Theatre in April 2021. Lucy Gellman File Photo.

The stages are almost ready. Rehearsals are unfolding behind closed doors. Box offices have revved back to life, some after months of eerie quiet and online-only performance. Now, one thing stands between patrons, actors, crew members and the stage: proof of vaccination. 

Three New Haven theaters—the Yale Repertory Theatre, Shubert Theatre, and Long Wharf Theatre—have joined a growing list of performance venues in the city and the state requiring masks and proof of vaccination as they reopen their doors for live, indoor performance this fall. At this time, actors are not required to be masked onstage.

Monday, Connecticut’s Flagship Producing Theaters announced that they will require both vaccination and masking for all patrons and staff, as well as cast and crew members. Connecticut’s Flagship Producing Theaters include the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Hartford Stage, Westport Country Playhouse, and New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre and Yale Repertory Theatre.

In late August, New Haven’s Shubert Theatre also announced that it would be requiring proof of full vaccination or a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken no more than 48 hours before a performance. Children under 12 "must be accompanied by an adult (who meets the above guidelines), and are required to wear a face mask," according to the theater. 

It follows Broadway’s July 31 announcement that patrons will need to be vaccinated and masked to enter a theater. As it pertains to Broadway, children under 12 and those with medical and religious exemptions can show proof of a negative test. 

All of the theaters are currently accepting FDA approved and authorized vaccines, including the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine.  

“It was about community care,” said Jacob Padrón, the artistic director at Long Wharf Theatre, in a phone call Tuesday afternoon. “That's the thing that we've been talking about for the last several months. So much of our decision making has been about: How do we care for the community? How do we keep our community members, our staff, and our artists safe?”

In New Haven, implementation of that policy looks slightly different among the three theaters, all of which are located within roughly two miles of each other. At the Shubert, “all patrons, as well as staff, volunteers, performers, backstage crew” will now need to show proof of full vaccination or a negative Covid-19 PCR test, according to the theater. The latter option is meant to allow unvaccinated patrons, children under 12, and those with medical and religious exemptions to enter the space.     

Anthony Lupinacci, director of marketing and community relations for the theater, said the Shubert released its guidelines in late August to give patrons plenty of time to arrange their vaccine appointments and look into testing options if they have not done so already. He warned, however, that some artists are only allowing vaccinated patrons to enter the theater. Artists Gregory lan Isakov and Patty Griffin, for instance, have let the Shubert know that they are not comfortable with unvaccinated or test-only patrons for their Oct. 16 show.

The theater begins its season with “The Best of the Second City,” a comedy showcase out of Chicago, on October 1. Currently, the Shubert’s policy is in place through Oct. 31. Earlier this year, it played a part in early vaccination efforts with a pop-up clinic at its College Street home.

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Haben Maria and Coleen Ndemeh in Yerba Bruja, a virtual production at Long Wharf Theatre earlier this year. The theater plans to reopen with The Chinese Lady in October. 

At Long Wharf, the theater is allowing proof of a negative Covid-19 test only for those who have medical and religious exemptions to vaccination. According to both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization, life-threatening reactions to the Covid-19 vaccine, for which one might seek a medical exemption, are extremely rare. Meanwhile, over 640,000 Americans have died from the virus.   

Padrón said that he sees the decision as one made with great care and compassion, that protects both audiences and theatermakers as the space reopens its physical doors. After Long Wharf shuttered last year, it suffered huge financial losses and multiple waves of layoffs that gutted the theater. With new guidelines around the pandemic and funding from both the CARES Act and the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant (SVOG), it recently announced an in-person season that begins in October

Padrón, who got the vaccine as soon as he was able to earlier this year, said he wants to ensure that Long Wharf is doing everything it can to keep its people—consumers of theater, but also its creators—healthy and safe. He added that he is working to actively listen to concerns around vaccine hesitancy and is “hopeful that as more time passes, people will begin to trust the science.” 

“In this moment of such profound stuff, I still maintain that the theatre and that storytelling can be a balm,” he said. “I think the theater is going to be a space where we can understand and make meaning out of this historic time.”

The Yale Repertory Theatre is currently the only New Haven theater requiring proof of full vaccination without exemptions. Florie Seery, associate dean at the David Geffen School of Drama, said that the theater made that call after receiving both institutional and audience feedback that patrons were nervous about returning to shared indoor spaces in an ongoing pandemic. Vaccines don’t eliminate risk, she acknowledged—but they do mitigate it.

“We're looking a lot to what our sister theaters are doing, we’re looking to Broadway, and they are all requiring vaccines and masks,” she said. “I think there's a health concern with the Delta variant, and I think the audience needed to know that they were going to be safe. We're finding that there are some avid theatergoers that are nervous.”

She pointed to the fact that the Rep is working within a slightly different context: Yale University announced months ago that it was requiring faculty, staff and students to be vaccinated if they wished to return to campus. Graduate students typically work on the shows, which means that the theater is also ensuring their safety. The season opens in January 2022 with Susan Soon He Stanton’s work Today Is My Birthday.

Members of the state’s producing theaters have also linked their work to Connecticut’s economic recovery as the Covid-19 pandemic drags into its second year. Prior to March 2020, the state’s arts, culture and tourism sector generated $9 billion, 57,000 jobs, and five percent of Connecticut’s economy.

Of that, ​​the six producing theaters generated $42 million and brought in over 330,000 people, according to a press release from the consortium.

The mandate comes almost a month after New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker reinstituted a citywide mask mandate and one week after he and City Health Director Maritza Bond announced mandatory vaccines or weekly testing for city employees.

Find out more about Long Wharf Theatre here, the Yale Repertory Theatre here, and the Shubert Theatre here