USC

New SDA COVID-19 protocols take center stage as in-person performances return

After a year and a half of Zoom theater, the School of Dramatic Arts is tackling in-person rehearsals and performances with new COVID-19 testing protocols.

The exterior of the new School of Dramatic Arts building.

After 15 months of canceled shows and online productions, the School of Dramatic Arts reopened its doors to in-person audiences this week.

After a hiatus beginning in March 2020, four shows are set to open this month beginning with “The Wolves” on Thursday, “The Normal Heart” and “Body of Faith” on October 10, and “Spring Awakening,” opening October 28.

Accompanying the return to in-person performances, SDA implemented a new set of COVID-19 guidelines meant to keep performers, crew members and audiencess safe as they enjoy live performances again.

According to SDA head of production Elsbeth Collins, actors will not have to social distance or wear masks while on stage during performances. Audience members, however, are required to wear face coverings while inside the theatre.

Cast and crew are also required to take additional COVID-19 tests beyond the university’s weekly requirement.

“Our protocol is basically we do three tests: The Friday before our first dress rehearsal, which is on a Monday; the Tuesday, which is the day of our second dress rehearsal; and then the Friday of the day after our first performance,” Collins said. “Due to the current protocols, there has to be distance of 12 feet between the unmasked performers and any audience members.”

To ensure COVID-19 safety protocols were being properly followed, Collins said SDA associate dean of student services Sergio Ramirez developed an online testing notification system that requires performers and crew members to follow the additional requirements.

Students are willing to complete the tests, submit them and adhere to the additional SDA COVID-19 protocols, Collins said, because they are “so invested in being able to perform without masks that they’re also being careful when they’re not in class.”

Nico Fife, a senior majoring in theatre and performing in SDA’s production of “Body of Faith,” said masks impede an actor’s ability to perform.

“So much of acting is removing your emotional boundaries and walls so that you can live in the moment and act with one another and be the most authentic, truthful human being,” Fife said. “The masks just add another layer of wall … that can keep people from accessing the most authentic emotions and character. So, removing the mask makes you act more real and more authentically.”

Christian Labertew, a senior performing in “The Normal Heart,” said many of his classes were difficult to replicate over Zoom. He and his fellow classmates are excited to be back working together and performing in front of others, and he said they wouldn’t want to jeopardize the opportunity by not following the school’s safety guidelines.

“Broadway and live theater is one of the last industries that is finally just now starting to come back,” he said. “It just kind of feels like there’s been all this pent up energy, and we’re just on the cusp of getting a taste of normalcy back.”