by Charles Kruger
I have written before about my concern with lax COVID protocols at many of our beloved Bay area theatre venues, and have not hesitated to call this situation out each time it is encountered. Sadly, that was my experience at the SF Playhouse tonight, further complicated by an attitude of contempt by some of the staff when I spoke up. This should be unacceptable to the theatre community.
In this case, the present company of “Follies” performing at the theatre had already had their opening postponed a week due to a COVID outbreak. Do the producers have no respect for the actors that they would have them return to the stage, unmasked, to perform for a house where stated COVID protocols are being treated in a nonchalant and dismissive fashion?
That is the short explanation of why you will find no review here of this production. I left the theatre in a huff because of the lax COVID protocols and did not see the play.
I may well have been obnoxiously rude and Karen-like in my manner. I regret that. But, in my opinion, my attitude is nothing compared to the seriousness of lax protocols on the part of the producers.
Friends, if you feel as I do about these situations, please speak up and let producers know how you feel. Everybody has different ideas about what is safe these days, and how far we should go in enforcing COVID protocols. But people who go out of their way to invite the public to attend indoor events at crowded venues have an undeniable obligation to enforce all COVID protocols which they promise, without exception and without compromise. Who would argue with that?
For those who want the nitty gritty, what follows is a detailed account of my experience.
I drove downtown all the way from my home in Vallejo to Union Square earlier this evening to enjoy a revival of one of my favorite musicals at one of my favorite theatres. I was excited to be there. I am always excited when attending the theatre, especially these past few weeks as we all come out of COVID hibernation. But a night at the theatre has excited me every time for the last 50 years of my life. It never tires. This weekend has been especially promising: “Follies” tonight, an opening at the Shotgun tomorrow night, then Alter Theatre performing at Cal Shakes, and, on Sunday, I get to attend the Magic Theatre and enjoy the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Mason. What could go wrong with such fabulous plans?
Tonight started magically when I eased into a free parking space on Post Street just half a block from the SF Playhouse, and had time to settle into a stool at the uncrowded bar at Sears where I dined on crab cakes and their excellent bread. Then I walked in good cheer to the Kensington Park Hotel. Always conscious of COVID protocols, I was pleased to see the sign at the door notifying me that the SF Playhouse would require all attendees to wear masks, and to show proof of vaccination and photo ID to attend the play. These rules would apply once inside the theatre. Confident in my safety, I sauntered through the lobby, up the staircase to the second floor, and into the Playhouse lobby.
I turned to watch the young man checking everybody’s vaccination status as they approached the box office. There was quite a happy, bustling crowd. We stood shoulder to shoulder. It was pleasant to be in a crowded theatre after so long. The young man checking vaccination cards was quick about his business, but I was distressed to note he was not checking IDs. This would seem to be a matter of small concern, except that it was part of the stated protocols posted by the Playhouse. I firmly believe that if a theatre company advertises specific COVID protocols, they have an obligation to follow them religiously.
So, being who I am, I spoke up. The young man informed me that he did not feel there was any necessity to check IDs because after all, he wasn’t a police man and anybody could have a fake COVID vaccination card anyway. (It occurred to me that this fact is precisely WHY it is advisable to require IDs, but I didn’t mention that.) I pointed out that, however he felt about it, the policy was posted and should be followed. He replied bluntly that he wasn’t going to follow it and he didn’t have to and then turned his back.
I approached the person wearing a headset and bustling about the lobby whom I assumed to be the house manager. I told her of my concern. She agreed that protocol wasn’t being followed, but made no move whatsoever to correct the situation. I figured she would and turned to the box office.
I sighed with disappointment, and growing anger, when I realized that the woman in the box office was not wearing a mask, as if the plastic divider with space above and a hole in the middle protected those in the lobby from the breath of anybody in the box office. Of course it does not. At that point, I turned back to the house manager and asked whether she was going to speak to the young man checking vax cards about checking IDs, and also pointed out the maskless box office attendant. She responded by saying she would get her boss.
At this point nobody had said anything to either the box office worker or the young man checking cards.
The house manager returned with her boss, and I asked her (the boss) whether she understood my concerns. She said, “yes,” so I asked whether she was going to correct the situation. She told me it was no longer the policy of the theatre to check IDs and when I pointed that it was the posted policy, she said it shouldn’t be. She sympathized with my high level of concern, she said, but was not going to take any action at the moment. I wondered about whether she would speak to the young man about his having told me, essentially, to mind my own business and turning his back. She said she would but made no gesture to do so.
At that point, I noted about half a dozen people entering the space unmasked, and also noted that the vax checker was not saying anything to them about this.
I was told, “Well, it’s almost start time so we’re too busy to deal with it now.” And, further, that because we were not actually in the bar space of the lobby, masks were not required because there was “more ventilation”. This was an entire floor removed from any outside air, with no windows, feet away from the bar area and crowded to the point of people being shoulder to shoulder. To suggest that masks were appropriately required beyond the threshold of the bar but unnecessary where we were standing is absurd, and leads me to the conclusion that the protocols at this venue are not taken seriously but are merely performed for show. Also, again, note the stated protocol on the company website that masks are required at all times throughout the building.
And this laxness persists in spite of the fact that a recent COVID outbreak among the company had required a delayed opening for this very production.
This is intolerable. Again, if producers, in the midst of an ongoing and risky public health situation, are going to entice the public to attend their events in crowded venues by advertising their concern and adherence to published COVID protocols they damn well ought to adhere to them strictly.
Am I right or am I right?