Emergency Preparedness, Part 6: Safety and Security for Performing Arts
In 2019, LYRASIS presented a webinar* on Community Recovery Through Arts and Culture. California Community Theatre presents excerpts and takeaways in this feature article, the sixth in a series dedicated to emergency, safety and risk preparation.
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What are some ways in which an event can go wrong, even with proper planning?
§ Stage/roof collapse or other facility disaster
§ Extreme Weather
§ Crowd Crush/Panic During a Disaster (could be perceived, not real threat)
§ Fight Among Audience Member
§ Performance Cancellation/Legal Issues
REMEMBER: Things can go wrong anywhere, not just big venues or in big cities. Furthermore, you can secure your venue indoors, but emergencies can occur outside your venue and still impact you.
You can be prepared to respond regardless of the size of the event.
Things to Discover Regarding Your Theatre and Crowd Management:
o Multiple audiences or just one audience?
o How does your programming affect audience size? I.e.: do you have two spaces or shows back to back?
o What is your audience demographic, and how does that impact their arrival or departure? How does age of audience impact the ability evacuate in an emergency? What about family attendance? Children?
o What happens if your audience arrives late in mass due to traffic or an accident, and how does mass entrance impact your venue? What about early entry and risks of people 'hanging out' before a show starts; and what does your demographic tell you about this, i.e.: do elder people show up early, do younger people show up early and drink alcohol if you serve it?
QUICK TIP: Document Your Decisions about events or issues that come up, especially if you are the one making them.
Considerations Regarding Your Theatre Venue & Site Design
o Timing of performances or events versus accessibility with exits or egress from area or building. Is there safety? Options for patrons or participants to get home? What responsibility do you feel your organization has for its patrons and participants getting home safely, especially if you have a remote location?
o Does your site layout work as a whole? How do people move in and out of restrooms, for example, at intermission? Is there a crowd forming at the restroom line that could potentially be an issue in a disaster?
o How is the health and safety of your staff at any given moment?
QUICK TIP: Think of all of the above also in terms of who else is on your site? Do you have rentals, vendors, volunteers, or others who use your space or site? These people also need to be considered when you think of your own organization's procedures? Make sure each area in which those individuals 'work' has a plan. All visitors or temporary space-users need to know your theatre policies and procedures related to the venue as much as your permanent, regular staff do.
QUICK TIP: Have a new volunteer or staff member (or colleague unfamiliar with your theatre) serve as a 'secret shopper' to test your space and see if navigating the venue is intuitive or clearly labeled/laid out
Things to Consider Regarding Your Theatre's Communications Protocol
o What are your methods of communications? Backup methods?
o What are your methods of communications with your audience? (Includes pre-show, before they've arrived at the theatre)
o What are your methods of communications with your staff members and artists, and volunteers?
o What are your methods of communications with local agencies?
QUICK TIP: building local partnerships (local stakeholders, government, emergency services, vendors) can help you prepare for your events. Help them know your location and your production/events plans when they occur.
Advocacy Through Arts After Disaster:
Performance as protest (participate in an organized movement, or your own)
Provide a voice to those who might not have one:
o Produce workshops or theatre opportunities for community members to directly tell stories (bridge community and artists)
o Your theatre can collect and share stories of the community
QUICK TIP: Understand that you are a theatre artist or administrator; not a therapist
Presenting Performance in Recovery
o Gives people a break from the disaster
o Allows catharsis and release from the trauma
o Helps economy
o Retains the experience by memorializing it if the stories are turned into performance
o Allows many avenues of participation