Broadway will be back — but the longstanding question had been how.
On Thursday, the Broadway League and Equity, the actors' union, provided some answers, releasing an agreement outlining the top safety protocols for returning Broadway shows and tours that have extended stays at one theater, known as sit-down engagements.
Friday, the Broadway League announced that all 41 Broadway theaters will require vaccinations for audience members, through the end of October. Masks will also be required inside the theater, except while eating or drinking in designated spots.
Producers had announced opening dates for most of the theaters, and Bruce Springsteen has already been running his one-man personal retrospective, for vaccinated audiences.
But the question as to how musicals and plays would keep their actors, dressers, wardrobe, makeup and stagehands safe in the notoriously cramped conditions of theaters, some of which are more than 100 years old, was the great unknown.
Until this week.
The 15-page deal spells out, in minute detail, the plan going forward. Some highlights:
All employees are required to be fully vaccinated, with the exception of a qualifying disability or "sincerely held religious belief" and children too young to be vaccinated. Unvaccinated people will be required to wear a mask at all times, except when it would interfere with their job and on-stage performance, and will be subject to COVID testing no less than twice a week.
A COVID-19 Safety Manager will be on site for each production. Their dedicated function is to ensure compliance with COVID-19 prevention and safety protocols.
As of July 2021, employee testing shall happen weekly, at no cost to the actors and stage managers.
Actors and Stage Managers who contract COVID-19 shall receive up to an additional eight (8) performances of sick pay.
When it comes to wardrobe, tools that come into contact with a performer, such as measuring tape, should be sanitized after use.
Autograph signing, meet-and-greets and backstage tours will be prohibited.
The plan is set to expire as of March 27, 2022, but will be re-evaluated no later than Feb. 28, 2022 to determine if it should be extended.
Additionally they addressed cleaning protocols, ventilation, meetings, hygiene and more.
Read the full agreement at the end of this story.
On Friday, the Broadway League's announcement said audience members will need to be fully vaccinated with an FDA or WHO authorized vaccine in order to attend shows.
They will need to show proof of vaccination with their ticket. They must have received a second dose of a two-dose vaccinate or a one-dose vaccine at least 14 days prior to the performance date.
Exceptions will be made for children under 12 and people with a medical condition or "closely held religious belief" that prevents vaccination. Those audience members must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of the performance start time, or a negative COVID-19 antigen test taken within 6 hours of the performance start time.
Theater owners anticipate a review of policies in September for performances from November on.
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Story continues after gallery.
Anxiously waiting as COVID-19 delta variant affects New York
With COVID-19 still upon us and the delta variant causing concern across the country, keeping actors, crew and audiences safe in an environment where "we literally go to work and kiss each other on the mouth" — as Equity president Kate Shindle says — has been a top concern as discussions evolved regarding the return of theater.
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The news of the agreement will be met with relief in a Broadway community that had been waiting for the largest union to weigh in.
Two-time Tony-winner Patti LuPone is in Montreal shooting the Joaquin Phoenix film "Disappointment Blvd." at the moment, but she's slated to star in "Company" on Broadway in November.
Reached Sunday, LuPone was nervous about the lack of details.
"I still don't know how we will be protected backstage and onstage," she said. "I don't know what the theater owners and the League of Broadway producers and whoever else is involved has decided is protocol.
"They have certainly haven't told me. So I'm in the dark. And I don't like being in the dark about it. I'd really like to know how they intend to protect us."
The answer, from the agreement announced Thursday, is that everyone will have to be vaccinated.
LuPone, who said she is fully vaccinated, still voiced concern about the virulent delta variant, which has sickened the vaccinated and killed the unvaccinated.
"I don't see things getting better with the country in such politicized turmoil over the vaccination," she said.
League calls Broadway agreement 'important milestone'
Leaders of Actors' Equity and the Broadway League lauded the agreement, calling it a key step in Broadway's return.
“This is an important milestone on the path to getting all our members safely back to work,” said Mary McColl, executive director for Actors’ Equity Association, in a news release.
“We are grateful to the League for their partnership on these protocols. We all feel this plan is robust, adaptable to changing conditions and in line with the science. Vaccines work, and those who are vaccinated will protect both themselves and those who can’t be at this time.”
Her statement was echoed by Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League.
“The secure return of our casts, crews and employees is our top priority. The Broadway League and Equity, faced with ever-changing COVID related variables, have agreed on health and safety protocols for actors and stage managers returning to Broadway. We will continue to partner with our union colleagues as we work together towards raising all of our curtains again."
Read Broadway League's COVID-safety deal with Actors' Equity
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Broadway shows to require COVID vaccination through fall: What we know