(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Actors’ Equity is ending its mandate for mask-wearing and testing of company members who are fully vaccinated at certain theaters across the country.

The union released the new guidelines this week for productions that play a single venue and have a fully vaccinated company. On Friday, the union separately announced an agreement with the League of Resident Theatres, which sets out a flexible safety plan depending on the vaccination status of the company. 

These protocols do not apply to Broadway productions, productions negotiating as part of the Off-Broadway League or tours under the purview of the Broadway League. 

The newly released protocols for single venues include the hiring of a COVID-19 safety officer, increased cleaning of the theater and a ventilation test of the air flow within the theater, as well as in rehearsal studios and employer-provided housing. The protocols cover productions playing from July 1 through Sept. 30. 

On Friday, Equity also announced it had reached a separate agreement on safety protocols with the 75-member League of Resident Theatres, which includes Lincoln Center Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, the American Repertory Theater and La Jolla Playhouse, among others. This agreement, which expires in July 2022, calls for theaters to design a safety plan alongside Equity and following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as local and state regulations.

That plan will vary depending on whether producers are requiring Equity members to be vaccinated — a decision Equity is leaving to the theaters. If the cast includes any unvaccinated members, the number of protocols increase and may include weekly testing, mask wearing and social distancing measures. Theaters are required to conduct a ventilation inspection and install HEPA filters in closed areas that do not have proper ventilation.

These guidelines are less stringent than those put forward by Equity earlier in the pandemic, at a time when vaccination rates were significantly lower. They are also less restrictive than the protocols that are currently in place for touring productions. 

“The health and safety of our members comes first,” Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity, said of the new protocols. “We are heartened by the declining infection rates nationwide, because so many people have done their part and gotten vaccinated. As such, it will now be a smoother and less expensive process for employers to recall our members to work. We still need to be diligent about the virus, but we are very hopeful for the months ahead.” 

The Broadway League and Actors’ Equity reached an agreement on touring protocols in June, which include a requirement for touring companies to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, weekly testing and for cast, crew members and musicians to wear masks and maintain physical distancing whenever possible. Those protocols are unaffected by the guidelines for singular venues, but are scheduled to be re-evaluated in July.

Discussions on safety protocols for Broadway and for other Off-Broadway productions are ongoing.