There is an upside to opening up last.
As I wrote here, Broadway is actually in the enviable position of getting to watch what theater companies, sports franchises, and other mass gathering events are doing to make sure their patrons and company members are safe and comfortable as they open their doors again.
When I started to look around at which theaters to watch in this country, it was no surprise to me that Tom Gabbard, the CEO of the Blumenthal Arts in North Carolina and one of the leading Broadway touring presenters in the country, has been out in front of this issue for both his theaters in Charlotte and our entire industry.
I asked Tom to share his learnings with me and all of you, so you can get an idea of what the theaters outside of the city are planning . . . since I’d bet money that Broadway returns to Charlotte before it returns to New York City.
Take it away, Tom!
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Blumenthal Performing Arts manages/presents in 7 venues in Charlotte, as well as producing outdoor events. Many jobs are dependent on the shows and programs we offer, not just arts jobs, but those at restaurants, hotels, and bars.
With the suspension of all our shows, we’re focused on learning any strategies to help us safely re-
activate our venues and put people back to work.
On April 30, The Stage published a piece from producer Richard Jordan with the headline, “We can learn from Korea”. Richard explained that big shows in Seoul, like The Phantom of the Opera, continued to play throughout the crisis. The shows run without social distancing and major reductions in capacity.
Serin Kasif, VP of Production at Really Useful Group, who is on point with Phantom in Seoul, accepted my invitation for a group Zoom call. With only a few days’ notice, 90 peers from New York and the road logged on to learn from her.
She explained that while this is unprecedented for us, it’s not for the Koreans. They’ve been through similar crises before. Government, business and the public have learned to manage through these situations and avoid widespread lockdowns.
Serin explained that every region of Korea is different and requires different responses.
There are many elements to their success in Seoul, but here are my Top 10, all of which we hope to
- Universal masking. Everyone wears a mask at all times. Exceptions are for those actors playing that day and wind musicians in the pit.
- A simple questionnaire completed by ticket-buyers, staff, and cast prior to entering the building each day.
- Strict control over backstage access.
- Temperature checks in the lobby and stage door.
- Medical grade cleaning of the venue twice a week.
- Daily disinfectant cleaning of props, backstage hallways, and dressing rooms.
- Hand sanitizing stations everywhere.
- Limited food and beverage service to avoid lifting your mask.
- Fast access to testing for all company members.
- Close cooperation with public health officials.
The call confirmed that we indeed had a lot to learn from Korea that could help us reemerge earlier,
safer, and stronger.
Beyond studying and embracing the Seoul model, in North Carolina we created NC Live, a consortium of major theaters, arenas, and amphitheaters to work directly with the state in developing safe, viable plans for our venues.
Our officials have been eager to hear from us. They have encouraged us to submit detailed plans for their review rather than wait for them to tell us what to do.
Even if it’s taking small steps first, like doing small outdoor concerts, it’s important that we find ways to move forward. Our communities have never needed us more.
Tom Gabbard has been CEO of Blumenthal Performing Arts since 2003. The Blumenthal’s 110 employees manage six theaters in Charlotte, hosting over 1,000 performances annually, as well as extensive education programs. During his tenure, the Blumenthal became a Top 10 market for touring Broadway shows in North America.
A member of the Board of Governors of the Broadway League, he serves on the Executive and Finance Committees and has been a voter for Broadway’s Tony Awards since 1997. In 2012 the League awarded him the Samuel J. L’Hommedieu Award for Outstanding Achievement in Presenter Management.
He serves as co-chair of The Jimmy Awards, the National High School Musical Theatre Awards held annually on Broadway.
He has co-produced/invested in several Broadway, Off-Broadway, national tour, and West End productions including for Monty Python’s Spamalot, Thoroughly Modern Millie, La Cage aux Folles, RED, Pippin, Kinky Boots, The Color Purple Revival, Hello Dolly, Dear Evan Hansen, The Band’s Visit, Oklahoma!, Hadestown, Moulin Rouge, Ain’t Too Proud, Frost/Nixon, Jagged Little Pill.