How Does a Major Theatrical Venue Reopen? PPAC Offers Answers

by Will Demers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday August 25, 2020

Providence Performing Arts Center
Providence Performing Arts Center  (Source:PPAC)

The current pandemic has hit many industries quite hard, especially larger venues in the Entertainment industry. And while many businesses are opening up after being closed down for months, the truth of a future for a place like the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) is that when it is time to reopen, the experience will be quite different.

EDGE spoke with General Manager Alan Chille about their preparations for the day when PPAC can open its doors to the public again, and just what that may look like when it happens.

Announcing their intentions to achieve Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR accreditation, Chile explained how this program works. A twenty-point system that focuses on cleaning, disinfection and disease prevention; a "Good Housekeeping seal of approval" from an industry leader to help educate and train all members of staff and management in the "protocols for cleaning performing art centers and theatres, making sure everyone is brought to the level of understanding what chemicals to use and which equipment is going to be necessary" in achieving the goals for not only reopening, but going forward during a busy season.

Alan explained that all of these protocols will be documented, and since The Veterans Memorial Auditorium is part of this family, both venues will participate in GBAC certification. Under the guidance of ISSA, the industry standard for cleaning and implementing the correct procedures for making each space absolutely compliant before welcoming guests and subscribers back to the Philharmonic or the latest national tour. He also noted that "cleaning is always important, in any scenario" but when it comes to the current issues facing these spaces, "social distancing is difficult in our industry, if you're distancing at six feet apart with 3000 seats you're looking at 450 people, and that's difficult to work into a business plan."

And PPAC has nearly that many seats, with The VETS at nearly 2000, and where before COVID-19 everyone in the audience is sitting not nearly six-feet apart, it will be interesting to see how the protocols play out, at least before a vaccine or viable cure is found for the highly contagious disease. We also asked Chille about other options for entertainment, and he told us of a program where artists are brought in and the performance is digitally rendered so that it may be seen by students, rather than having them pile into a bus and go to the theatre itself. The Rhode Island Philharmonic is also looking for ways to perform during these times, but the issue is "not knowing a date" when both venues can safely reopen.

"But when the last show that anyone saw was 'Hello Dolly' in early March, nearly five months ago and was supposed to be followed immediately by two shows, including 'Blue Man Group,' which was to be rescheduled for Memorial Day, and look it's nearly Labor Day and we're still not open!"

We were also told of a possible swab test for COVID-19, where guests will still stop for a bag check and now be testing on the spot for exposure to the disease. Is this the new normal? For those that are craving their performance arts fix, it might be, and as we move into Fall with several restrictions in place still, many are looking to PPAC and the VETS for just how this will look in the New Year. Currently "The Prom" is on national tour that will open the 2020/2021 season in January.

For information on GBAC STAR regulations visit visit this website. Both venues will continue to update their schedules: for PPAC visit www.ppacri.org or call 401-421-2787 for The VETS www.thevetsri.com. Additional information is provided by ISSA at www.issa.com or 800-225-4772.

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