Preparing to perform again: Chicago enters Phase IV of reopening on June 26

The state of Illinois will begin Phase IV of Governor Pritzker’s reopening plan on Friday, June 26. The transition between Phase III and Phase IV means additional businesses and public amenities will be allowed to reopen with limited capacity, including performing arts venues.

Along with John Rich (dance and theatre coordinator with DCASE), Ellen Chenoweth (director of the Dance Presenting Series at Columbia College Chicago), Lori Dimun (acting president and CEO of the Harris Theater for Music and Dance) and LaWanda May & August Tye of the Hyde Park School of Dance, I am contributing to the Art + Culture Working Team as part of a large group of people across various sectors working to safely reopen the economy. Each task force makes specific recommendations to Mayor Lightfoot and other government officials regarding their efforts to reopen. This sub-committee has been particularly focused on public gatherings and events in the creative industries, including performing arts, sports and religious organizations. 

See Chicago Dance has previously published Phase III guidelines as dance organizations began to consider the return to rehearsals and classes earlier this summer. Click HERE to view this resource, which includes important questions to consider when weighing whether and how to return to dance studios. The city and state have also created recommendations for health and fitness centers in Phase IV, many of which apply to dance studios.

As a service organization, it is our mission to support dance through audience development, services and programs that take care of our field holistically. We are facing an extraordinary challenge. The decisions dance companies and venues make around creating and performing dance productions are complicated and specific to each individual organization’s circumstances. The economic health of your organizations and need to “get back” to dancing are paramount, but we urge dance leaders to proceed with extreme caution and prioritize the health, safety and comfort of your staff, audience and performers above all else. Just because you are legally permitted to hold classes, rehearsals and performances doesn’t mean that the risks spreading COVID-19 have been completely mitigated—as with all critical decisions, the benefits must outweigh the risks.

In addition to the guidelines below, which summarize the Phase IV guidelines for the City of Chicago and State of Illinois, we present some questions and considerations here as companies, studios and venues begin to reopen.

General Guidelines for Performance Venues in Phase IV:

  • Attendees and employees (front of house and backstage crew) are required to wear face coverings at all times.
  • Masks may be removed when eating or drinking while seated. Venues may want to consider limiting or prohibiting concessions for ease of traffic through lobbies and to allow audience members to wear masks at all times. Ensure lobby tables are at least six feet apart (audience must consume food and beverages while seated).
  • Rows or seats are to be decommissioned to allow for social distancing (at least six feet distance between groups, on all sides).
  • Household members may be seated together, with adequate distance between groups for social distancing.
  • Visual signage is to be posted throughout facilities regarding hygiene (hand washing and hand sanitizer), social distancing, mask wearing and flow of traffic.
  • Performers not required to wear face coverings while on stage. They are expected to wear PPE in all backstage common areas and observe social distancing from other performers and backstage crew.
  • Consider the nature of your choreography to prevent the spread of infection between cast members on stage. It may be advisable to use plexiglass dividers, face coverings and social distancing as part of your performance. If dancers in your production are roommates, partners or have been sheltering in place together, they are ideal for choreography that demands close contact and/or partnering.
  • Producers may want to include disclaimers in their programs about the cast and precautions taken to ensure performers’ and audience members’ safety.

Recommendations on Venue Gathering Size: 

  • Seating capacity for venues of all sizes shall be limited to 25% of the total capacity, or 50 individuals, whichever is a smaller number of people.
  • Limit each indoor space or room (lobbies, separate theaters, backstage facilities, etc.) to no more than 50 individuals, while practicing social distancing, or 25% capacity (whichever is fewer)
  • A venue may have multiple gatherings of 50 individuals in a single theater (not to exceed 25% total seating capacity) if the following accommodations are in place: Separate groups are clearly delineated and separated by different levels or floors (e.g., balconies), separate groups have dedicated entrances and exits and/or timed entries AND separate groups have dedicated restroom facilities.
  • Ensure social distancing in all restrooms, stairwells, elevators and lobby spaces
  • Limit gatherings of non-household members to no more than 100 individuals for outdoor spaces (e.g., outdoor performance venues), if that group largely remains static (e.g., sitting at tables) and practices social distancing.
  • It is recommended that face coverings be worn for all public gatherings, even those held outside.

Jackie Kling and Lauren Warnecke contributed