A Positive Test Before Opening Night
It was a half-hour before curtain on the night of Sept. 2, and the company of “Waitress,” led by Sara Bareilles, had gathered onstage at the Ethel Barrymore Theater for one of those kooky theater rituals — an opening night ceremony at which the chorus member with the most Broadway credits runs three circular laps in a quilted robe, inviting other actors to touch it before visiting each dressing room to bestow a blessing.
The “Waitress” legacy robe ceremony was even odder than usual. The robe recipient, Anastacia McCleskey, was not present: she had tested positive for the coronavirus, though vaccinated, and was isolating at home.
What to do? Theater artists are nothing if not resourceful, so another cast member placed a FaceTime call to McCleskey, and then, holding the phone aloft, donned the robe, ran the laps, and visited the dressing rooms with a virtual McCleskey along for the ride.
And, oh yes, the show went on, with an understudy in McCleskey’s place.
Producing during a pandemic is going to be complicated. There are upgraded air filtration systems, digital tickets, ubiquitous disinfectant and frequent testing.
There is a whole new job category: the Covid-19 safety officer. Disney’s theatrical division has six, overseeing 500 tests daily at the company’s four American productions.
And, at least for a while, fans can forget about backstage tours and stage door selfies.
“There’s an extraordinary new layer of logistics that every show and every theater has learned, adopted, and implemented,” said Jordan Roth, the president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which runs five of the Broadway houses.
The biggest safety measure Broadway has taken is to require that everyone 12 and over — audiences as well as employees — be vaccinated (children can get in with a negative coronavirus test) and that everyone except performers wear a mask.