By Bill Hirschman
The Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale and the Arsht Center in Miami will require all audience members to provide proof of a negative COVID test or proof of full vaccination to be admitted to events later this fall — the most extensive response to the pandemic by a South Florida theater or venue.
The measure comes as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has told cruise lines that they cannot require proof of vaccinations, what he termed “vaccine passports,” but that mandate has been challenged by companies and remains in court.
But the venues’ requiring proof of a COVID test as opposed to proof of a vaccination is a legitimate alternative, according to previous statements from the governor’s staff.
The Broward Center for the Performing Arts also will require all patrons, visitors and staff to wear masks in its downtown facility as well as the newly-remodeled Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, which is expected to open this month, according to a statement late Tuesday afternoon.
The Arsht plans a detailed announcement in the next few weeks after it fine tunes its processes, but it also plans to require the same proof for events beginning in early October, said Suzette Espinosa Fuentes, Arsht Center vice-president for communication.
“As we look to the return of full houses for our 15th anniversary season, we believe this extra layer of precaution, coupled with facial coverings and continued sanitation practices, will keep our guests, artists and staff as safe as possible, particularly given the spread of delta variant throughout our area,” the Arsht Center released in a statement.
“The Kravis Center is planning to announce new health and safety protocols in the near future,” according to a statement relaesed Wednesday.
The Broward guidelines kicking in September 22 will apply to all of the varied ticketed events hosted by the center such as one-night concerts and the Broadway series, but also the independent companies based there such as Slow Burn Theatre Company, Florida Grand Opera, Gold Coast Jazz, Miami City Ballet and Symphony of the Americas.
“The return of live performing arts depends on artist and audience confidence,” wrote Kelley Shanley, Broward Center president and CEO. “Many artists are now requesting these type of safety protocols, and our new policy is quickly becoming the industry standard and similar to those being implemented by Broadway theaters, major concert promoters and venues around the nation.”
The measures do mirror requirements being placed on Broadway companies opening this month and requirements from the Actors’ Equity union. But research for a Florida Theater on Stage article coming out this weekend showed many artistic directors across the region say they are trying to decide precisely what their own policy will be. So far, no one has required either proof, but most are insisting on masks.
The Broward Center has worked closely for months with the Cleveland Clinic on plans for dealing with the pandemic. The center staff helped produce a national handbook of extensive and expensive measures covering everyone from patrons to performers, bookkeepers to janitors. They address everything from keeping crowds from congregating in the lobby to overhauling air handling systems. In addition to the guest entry policy, vaccinations are required for staff, volunteers and crew working performances.
What won’t be required is social distancing in the auditoriums. Shanley said in an interview earlier this year that practice would be fiscally unsustainable – something echoed by most local theater managers.
This is how the system will work:
For entry to performances, all guests 12 years of age and older are asked to provide documentation of a recent negative COVID-19 PCR test result conducted within 72 hours prior to the performance, or a negative COVID-19 Antigen test result conducted within 24 hours prior to the performance start time.
The test result can be printed or digital (including an email or text message from the test provider displayed on a phone or electronic device), but must clearly reflect the name of the guest, the date of the test, the type of test performed and the negative test result.
As an alternative, fully vaccinated guests have the option of presenting documentation of full vaccination with the final dose at least 14 days prior to the performance date. Acceptable documentation may be the original vaccination card, a printed copy of the vaccination card or a digital copy of such card.
As part of the new policy, staff will check for matching photo identification. The venues will not duplicate nor retain any of the documentation provided by guests.
It is the responsibility of the ticket purchaser to communicate these policies to all those who will be using the tickets. Performance ticket holders who do not comply with these policies may be required to leave the theater without refund.
Any guest two years of age or older is required to wear a covering that covers the nose, mouth and chin (rather than gaiters, shields or respirator masks) while inside the venues.
Refunds are available for anyone who submits confirmation of a positive test result in the ten-day period prior to the performance. For tickets purchased through resale or third-party sites, ticket holders should contact those purchase sites directly to determine their refund policies.
The policies don’t violate a new state law and the governor’s hard-fought opposition to private entities – let alone quasi-governmental organizations like the two venues – from requiring customers to provide proof of vaccination, according to Broward Center officials.
The “Broward Center received legal advice that this policy is acceptable under Florida law and is in line with industry standards,” a statement read. “In fact, it was clear from recent statements by the Governor’s press secretary Christina Pushaw that this policy is acceptable under Florida law.”
Quoting Pushaw, the statement noted, “SB 2006 only prohibits businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from customers as a condition of entry or service…. If concert-goers can provide a negative COVID test instead of a vaccine passport, that is acceptable under the law. People who want to show proof of vaccination instead of a COVID test are free to do that. It just cannot be compelled.”