Arts & Science Founder on Covid protocols for theatre productions

Lauren Class Schneider, Arts & Science Founder, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss founding Arts & Sciences during the pandemic to aid the theater community and Covid protocols for theater.

Video Transcript

- Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. The curtain went up last week for Broadway shows after an 18 month COVID induced shutdown. But what about all the live theater outside of Broadway, that's not on the Great White Way? Well, my next guest is helping those places come back safely as well. Lauren Class Schneider is founder of Arts and Science.

Lauren, it's so good to have you. Thanks so much for being here on the show. I know that in your prior life-- or sort of still your current life, you are a stage manager. You're a Broadway producer. Talk to me how you pivoted during the pandemic when everything was shut down to create Arts and Science.

LAUREN CLASS SCHNEIDER: Sure. Well, first off, it's wonderful to be here. It would only be better if I was actually seeing you at the theater, which will be soon I'm sure. And as a live event, live theater producer, director, when the shutdown happened, we were in the midst of doing an event with 45 dancers in Boston when that shutdown hit.

And it was everything from, how can I earn a living? To, how can I help within the community and the industry that I feel so passionate about, that I've spent my career in? And out of that came Arts and Science, which is actually webinars created for those interested in knowing more about COVID safety during the pandemic. For professionals involved in the theater and in live events, whether they're working backstage or front of house with audiences.

And that was a bit of the impetus to get it started, was to be able to help.

- And I know you're doing this with a lot of science behind you, hence the name Arts and Science. You've actually aligned with a doctor. Tell me a little bit about that relationship, and how that's helped you bring these safety protocols to theaters all around the country.

LAUREN CLASS SCHNEIDER: Sure. His name is Dr. William L Daley. And we started working together in 2006, where I was tasked to create plays that were presented at medical conferences. And Dr. Daley was the medical doctor responsible for the accuracy, and the science, and the context of all of those plays.

So we literally would sit together, and I would have a line in the play that moved the action along. And Bill would need to make an adjustment to make it scientifically accurate. And then we would go back and forth to be sure that it was colloquial speak in the way that the character might say the words, as opposed to the way that a medical professional might say the words.

So we've had that extraordinary relationship since '06, including a lot of theater going. And I knew that he was a passionate theatergoer and theater lover, in addition to being very committed to public health. So for us to be able to work together, to really help all live theater and events have a roadmap and a bit of a blueprint in this huge mystery of how to and what to that's facing everyone that wants to do this sort of work right now.

- Now, I know Actors' Equity recommends your webinars for COVID protocol, or these COVID protocol classes for other theater companies. But just give us an idea of who it is you are working with right now.

LAUREN CLASS SCHNEIDER: It's vast. And it's very rewarding. And we're so gratified that we're able to reach so many, and so many are in need for what we've created. So it's everything from equity shows, the producers around the country that are having their staff be trained through Arts and Science, whether they're going to be COVID compliance officers or not. Just, again, to have the knowledge.

Also, United States Institute of Theater Technology, Columbia University, and Roundabout Theater. Those relationships are strong business alliances. In addition, organizations like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, New York Stage and Film, the Memphis Grand Opera, the Oslo Theater in Sarasota, Duke University, Fox Theater Performing Arts Center in Appleton, Wisconsin, Yale University, University of Montana.

So you see just from that little bit of a list how vast it is, and how the protocols don't really change that much.

- Right. From state to state, I was going to ask, because you know, COVID cases are different from state to state. It's playing out differently. But you're finding that the protocols are sort of the same across the board for the theater community?

LAUREN CLASS SCHNEIDER: Well, COVID transmission doesn't change when it crosses state lines. So during the coursework, we frequently say, one needs to be paying attention to federal, city, state, and local, union, if applicable, guidelines. So starting with that, and we know that that's an ever changing landscape. There's just a lot to keep up with.

And I also recommend that people use pencil, with an eraser. Because whatever plans that they make, they're going to probably need to change them throughout the course of their production. But mostly, to really realize that no individual is governed by this alone, and we advised strongly to work with a medical professional to work with a building engineer or a facilities manager, to be paying attention to HVAC systems and air filtration systems.

But mostly to also pay attention to transmission in your own area. And even though masks and vaccinations may not be required for an audience where you are, is it more psychologically suitable to require that of your audience? And same with the choices that get made for production itself. How do you want to manage the load in, the tech rehearsals, your backstage area, your onstage area. There's so many questions to answer.

But the questions are the same, whether it's a community theater, a college or university, a regional theater, a union house. The questions, the transmission, is all the same.

- And the cost. The cost is also real. And I know that the profit margins in theater can be quite thin. Oftentimes, you're dealing with non-profits. What's the cost challenge been like?

LAUREN CLASS SCHNEIDER: Yeah, it's huge. Actually, the least expensive thing with regard to risk mitigation and COVID protocols are our webinars at Arts and Science. And in reality, it's everything from the hiring of the new individuals like a medical professional, unless you may have one on your board. A building engineer, the COVID compliance managers, the COVID compliance office and staff to take care of those details, backstage and front of house.

So that's the human resource element of it that didn't use to exist in a budget. Add to that any improvement needed within the building to upgrade the HVAC system, or fans that are going to be all of a sudden in places with windows that are open, and doors that are open. In addition to testing. Are you going to be testing your company? Or are you going to be testing your audience?

Tests can run anything from $20 at a drugstore do it yourself at home all the way to $100 for medical professional, or to $500 if that medical professional is actually going to come to your home three hours before it's your time to go to the theater.

So there's the testing. And add to that, masks, if you're going to be providing them. Add to that face shields, if you're providing them. Hand sanitizers, hand sanitizing stations. The list goes on and on. The cost is extreme, and it's the new first line item on the budget.

- I bet it is. Well, Lauren Class Schneider, I know that you're also working the Tonys, which are coming up September 26. You're going to be stage managing that. We're looking forward to it. Thanks so much for being with us. Lauren Class Schneider, founder of Arts and Science.

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