You Can’t Just Let People Tear Your Clothes Off Anymore

Recently, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union which has members working in performing arts venues, convention centers, movies, and television productions, recently released their Covid-19 reopening guide. If you work in an environment that employs IATSE members, it is worth reviewing the guidelines to get a sense of what the union expects working conditions to look like.

By and large, the guidance on the first 19 pages doesn’t differ substantially from some of the other guidelines that have appeared here on ArtsHacker. If you have pored over the guidance put out by your state/province, you are probably familiar with much of this.

If you haven’t formulated internal human resource policies about training, testing, reporting, quarantine length and leave policies, the guide provides a good framework for creating them, including some information on paid leave laws in the U.S. and Quebec.

The last seven pages of the guide address how to apply the safety practices you may already be generally aware of to the specific situations one encounters during live performances. As the title of this post references, in the past it has been very common to have two-three people standing ready off-stage to pull the clothing off a performer in order to effect a quick costume change.

So for example, in regard to shared wardrobe and make-up spaces and resources, some of the guidelines provided are:

  • For example, a small group of performers and dressers can be formed as a “work team” to limit their exposure.
  • Dressers should not “float” through the entire cast.
  • Performers should be instructed to dispose of used tissues, lozenges, etc. in trash receptacles, rather than handing them to dressers and guardians
  • Performers may not be able to wear face masks or PPE in costume. Workers in close proximity to actors without face masks shall wear a properly fitted N95 face mask and face shield at all times and perform hand hygiene before and after the encounter.
  • No one should enter a workspace while Make-up Artists and Hair Stylists are working with an Actor
  • Mix foundation, powders, lipstick, etc on a separate clean palette for each individual

Some of the guidelines are relatively obvious like not allowing fans to congregate around the stage door. There are others, that while obvious from generally known guidelines, once you see them applied in a practical situation, force one to acknowledge that additional time and resources will need to be allocated in order to stagger the spacing and movement of equipment and personnel. As they say, time is money. In many instances, the costs executing productions at the level of past standards will likely increase.

Joe Patti
Joe Patti
In addition to writing for ArtHacker, I have been writing the blog, Butts in the Seats ( since 2004. I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. ( I am currently the Theater Manager for the Rialto Theater in Loveland, CO. Across my career I have worked as the Executive Director at The Grand Opera House in Macon, GA, at University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College, University of Central Florida, Asolo Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and numerous other places both defunct and funky.
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