Disparities in COVID-19 restrictions trouble performing arts community
Members of Yale’s performing arts community have taken issue with the restrictions that the University continues to enforce on in-person performances and rehearsals.
Regina Sung, Photo Editor
As the University relaxes COVID-19 restrictions on athletics teams, some members of Yale’s performing arts groups have expressed frustration with the regulations that continue to restrict in-person performance.
Currently, performance arts — including theater, a cappella, dance and comedy groups — face stringent COVID-19 restrictions. Yale requires that masks be worn for all indoor performances and rehearsals. Indoor performances can only be held in theaters at 75 percent capacity, and the production team and audience together cannot exceed 50 people. Outside visitors cannot attend performances. When groups perform outdoors, many restrictions are lifted, but singing groups are required to maintain 12 feet of distance between members should they wish to perform unmasked. By contrast, student athletes are not required to wear masks while playing or practicing.
“The safety of the Yale community and the surrounding New Haven community are always the first consideration,” Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd wrote in a statement to the News.
In late September, the University lifted some restrictions on all registered student groups, including performing arts groups. Before those restrictions were lifted, students could not gather in groups larger than 20, and performing arts groups had to wear masks indoors and outdoors.
According to Boyd, the University’s ability to loosen restrictions on extracurriculars has been dependent on vaccine availability and the increasingly high undergraduate vaccination rate. The most recently-available data shows that 99.5 percent of undergraduates are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. High vaccination rates have kept cases low, with 24 cases at Yale in the last week. Still, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun explained that the Delta variant figures heavily into the University’s planning, leading to the “semester start[ing] very differently from what we were planning.”
Cassandra Hsiao ’22, a theater and performance studies major currently producing her senior thesis performance, expressed her frustration with the continued uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 restrictions.
“All of this uncertainty for the [theater and performance studies] seniors especially have been wearing down our nerves,” Hsiao said. “How are seniors supposed to prepare for a thesis production when so much is up in the air, and Yale seems on the slower end in responding to our requests and concerns? A lot of our energy is going towards figuring out logistics instead of focusing on the creative.”
Bibiana Torres ’22, president of the Yale Dramatic Association, explained that COVID-19 restrictions affect every element of theater production.
Not only must performances be masked and limited in size, cast and crew sizes must be reduced so that rehearsals can be held in person, and the Dramatic Association is unable to hold full board meetings, Torres said.
“For some people, the arts are like their safe haven,” Torres said. “It’s how they take care of their mental health. For some people, going to see our performances is a really valuable part of their experience and something that’s essentially missing when that’s not allowed.”
On Sept. 2, the Spizzwinks(?) a cappella group wrote a letter to Boyd — that members of the Alley Cats, Mixed Company, New Blue, Out of the Blue, Baker’s Dozen, Red Hot ’n Blue, Something Extra and Doox signed onto — arguing that the University’s restrictions on a cappella were inconsistent with other public health policies.
But not all performing arts students take issue with the regulations.
The Yale Symphony Orchestra, whose annual Halloween show typically packs Woolsey Hall to full capacity, will be taking place in Woolsey again this year, Chun said, though not at full capacity. Tentative planning will allow for a small in-person audience in the theater itself, while additional watch parties will take place around campus.
“The restrictions placed on us during rehearsal are fair; we’re a large group that performs indoors, and some of us play instruments quite literally by blowing air, so it’s only reasonable that we should take precautions with our masks,” said YSO student president Supriya Weiss ’24. “I hope that we will be allowed to have some kind of live audience with us in Woolsey Hall, but after spending a whole year without even rehearsing in-person, I’m grateful that Yale has approved for us to play together at all.”
Still, Hsiao told the News that she sees the University’s restrictions on the performing arts as problematic when contrasted with the comparatively relaxed constraints on athletics.
Non-Yalies are currently not allowed to attend theater performances, according to Hsiao, but sports players and coaches are permitted to invite up to four non-Yale guests to athletic events. Hsiao suggested that non-Yalies should be allowed to attend performances with proof of vaccination.
There is no readily available list of COVID-19 restrictions on the Yale Athletics website. Mike Gambardella, associate athletic director for strategic communications, told the News that the department “follows the Yale University [COVID Review Team] approved policy for all fixed-seat venues.” Gambardella expounded on the application of those policies in a September interview with the News.
Customizing public health precautions to individual operations across the University has been “critical,” Boyd wrote. According to Boyd, there has been “useful synergy” between arts and athletics, as both are aerosolizing activities.
“Both areas have been able to open up to co-present audiences, with careful guidance and restrictions; the experiences with those events will help guide refinements to these and other policies, too,” Boyd wrote.
In a joint statement from Student-Athlete Advisory Committee president Chelsea Kung ’23 and the Yale Athletics Communications team, athletics leadership at Yale affirmed the safety of their COVID-19 regulations and their enthusiasm to return to in-person play.
Kung added that all athletics teams were excited to return to representing Yale across and beyond the Ivy League.
“Yale Athletics and Yale as a whole have done everything in their power to bring back safe extracurriculars, including athletic practice and competition,” the statement said. “While things are different from years prior due to COVID, the essence is the same and competition among student-athletes is welcomed back with a fierce desire to represent ourselves and Yale.”
Similarly, Boyd voiced her appreciation that extracurricular activities could continue in-person at all.
“These activities have been sorely missed and the hope is that more and more activity will be possible over the course of the year,” Boyd wrote.
The University’s full COVID-19 policies with regard to registered student groups are available online.