By: Cash Stafford – Guest Contributor

It’s no secret that the arts have been hard hit during Covid19. March 2020 saw Broadway shut down its theatre corridor, all productions going dark. Maine mandates followed close behind, shuttering theatrical doors in early April 2020. It wasn’t till restrictions began to ease in July that we saw some brave theatre companies in Maine opening their doors. The first to mount an indoor production was Footlight’s Theatre in Falmouth, followed closely by Lakewood Theatre located in Madison, and finally Some Theatre Company in Bangor. Other groups like Ten Bucks Theatre and True North, chose to do outside offerings only.

Theatre mandates in July allowed actors to be mask-less, and also included rule 12. This ruled permitted actors to be in close proximity to each other during a scene, and then required them to socially distance as soon as the scene ended. This worked well, and theatre companies kept their actors in a theatre social bubble.

So, with Broadway announcing the opening of all its shows, at full capacity no less, where does that leave Maine Theatre arts? Interestingly, no closer to normalcy, and maddeningly, with even stricter mandates than were present during the worst of the pandemic.

November 2020 saw the introduction of actors needing to be masked. April 19th 2021, however, brought the biggest change of all. The powers that be slyly removed rule all the info contained in rule 12, the ability for actors to be close on stage, and instead implemented rules that now require actors indoors to be 6ft apart. The question needs to be asked, why? After more than 10 months of shows being produced with actors close to each other, now we change it to be more restrictive? What is the reasoning behind this? You can go to a restaurant, take off your mask, be within 6ft of other people, even closer to your waitress, eating and breathing in the same air, but actors, who are masked, 6ft away from the audience at minimum can’t be within 6ft of each other? Actors who have spent weeks together, day in and day out rehearsing a show and not getting each other sick. What about actors that are related? Actors who are dating? Actors who are living together? Actors who are vaccinated? Does that make a difference?

To date there have been zero outbreaks attributed to any Maine indoor theatre production. No media reports of actors and crew being sick, or audience members infecting each other. So why the harsher restrictions? Harsher restrictions that have been in place AFTER we have weathered the worst of the storm, and prior to vaccines being available.

Theatre is about human relationships, and quite frankly, shows don’t work with actors 6ft apart professing their feelings. This is no more than a power play, with rules created by people who have no concept of theatre or what they are talking about. It’s a safe assumption that if they are talking to theatre folk its professional equity companies who have their own set of rules they have to follow, provide by Actors Equity Association. Those rules should not be passed down to semi-professional or community groups. How about the powers that be actually contact the companies who are producing shows and asking them what rules are necessary, instead of blindly stabbing in the dark and making things up as they go along.

One can only hope that now Broadway is opening, Mills will come to her senses and do the right thing. Allow actors to go back to how it was in the heat of the pandemic and be close and mask-less. Sadly, we all should not hold our collective breath waiting for that to happen

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