Audience members at a Springfield Symphony Orchestra concert sit in a socially distanced seating arrangement at Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts. (Photo: Discover Creative Services)

From the start, Springfield performing arts organizations have followed pandemic safety protocols released by the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. Some programs voluntarily adopted extra measures. 

Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts and the Gillioz Center for Arts & Entertainment host professional tours. They follow whatever the touring group requires when it comes to protocols such as masking backstage, testing for COVID and, in some cases, requiring staff to be vaccinated. Keith Boaz, Hammons Hall executive director,  has seen firsthand how the virus can disrupt a professional tour. Traveling last fall to see “Hamilton” in Dallas, he learned the previous night’s performance was canceled because of COVID.  That could happen to any performing arts center, he says, which is why they will closely monitor the tour of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” as it gets closer to its Feb. 19-20 dates in Springfield.

Depending on the program or theater, audience masking is recommended but not usually required in Springfield (with some exceptions). Shannon Sherrow, marketing director for Springfield Little Theatre, says in the first year of COVID, SLT performed for a limited capacity audience. Currently, seating is back to full capacity and audience masking is optional although performers still mask backstage and while rehearsing. 

A few local organizations, including Springfield Contemporary Theatre and Ozarks Lyric Opera, more closely follow the lead of professional equity show protocols. For SCT, that has resulted in limitations some other programs don’t face, says Rick Dines, SCT’s artistic managing director, but they feel it’s best for performers and the audience. “Eventually we’ll get to the point where we won’t worry about it,” Dines says.

“Nobody is testing for COVID the amount and rate of what we are,” says Mark Templeton, managing director for Missouri State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance. MSU programs follow protocols set by the university and developed by the theater industry. During 2020 and 2021, shows were staged with reduced audiences and masks were worn backstage and during rehearsals. For their rescheduled fall 2020 production of “The Secret Garden,” actors also wore clear shields on stage. 

For some organizations, the early 2022 surge in COVID infections called for extra measures. Employing  a reduced-size orchestra, socially distant seating, and performer and audience masking policies, Springfield Symphony Orchestra was one of the first performing groups back on stage after the initial shutdown. With their older patron demographic, the symphony still requires audience masking, says executive director Jennifer Cotner-Jones. MSU recently went back to using clear shields during shows after testing for COVID revealed a positive result. And SCT has already pushed back its first 2022 show because the cast and director don’t feel comfortable to rehearse. That meant reshuffling other 2022 shows – yet another COVID-related adjustment. “We’ve really been approaching it as a ‘safety first,” Dines says. “We’ll figure out how we’re paying the bills second.”

Sony Hocklander

Sony Hocklander is a freelance journalist, video storyteller and photographer who produces creative content through her small solo business, Sony Hocklander Creative LLC. When she’s not telling community stories, she loves wandering the Ozarks outdoors with a camera in hand. You can follow her on Twitter @SonyHocklander and on Instagram @shocklander or email her at: sonyhocklander@gmail.com More by Sony Hocklander