(Mark Kennedy’s article appeared in the News-Herald, 8/28; Photo: FILE – Theater’s line 45th Street in New York on May 13, 2020. As Broadway reopens this fall, proof of full vaccination are required for entry and masks are mandated while moving through the theater. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File.)
NEW YORK (AP) — There’s a woman who has seen the play “Pass Over” multiple times in just a few days. She sat with the audience one night, returned another day to stand at the back of the theater and once stayed backstage for an entire performance.
She’s not exactly a super fan. Don’t get her wrong, Dr. Blythe Adamson loves the play. But she was searching for something more than a jolt of live theater — ways to lower the risks of COVID-19 transmission.
Adamson is tasked with making the August Wilson Theatre safer on both sides of the stage. She has climbed onto the roof to inspect the new HVAC ventilation system that brings in fresh air and put portable air filters around the building. She has talked to stage managers to understand the movement of people backstage and hung out in the lobby during shows to look for chokepoints. She once spent a performance loitering at the bathrooms to see how patrons could spread the virus.
“Bringing together more than a thousand people into one room during a pandemic, as an epidemiologist, is something that I would not endorse if I didn’t really believe that it can be done safely,” said Adamson, founder of Infectious Economics, which has helped develop protocols for the NBA, the fashion industry and retail stores.
Adamson is part of a new group crucial to Broadway’s reopening this season: Professionals grounded in science tasked with ensuring a COVID-19 free zone.
“It’s all about reducing risk,” said Mimi Intagliata, director of production at Disney Theatrical Group who is in charge of its virus response. “We on Broadway aren’t going to get rid of COVID any more than anybody else. But it’s about reducing our risk so that we keep our folks as safe as we can and keep the show going.”
Air is now constantly circulating inside the August Wilson Theatre, thanks to the placement of portable air fans and air filters with MERV-13 or HEPA technology. Adamson cut the number of people who can go backstage and recommended PCR testing for COVID-19 for everyone, regardless of whether they are vaccinated. All workers now wear KN95 masks.
Adamson endorses a policy of layered solutions — multiple, overlapping efforts that currently is grounded on rigorous personal testing and air filters everywhere. It means listening to the latest science and changing protocols if necessary. It means bracing for the inevitable positive test result.