As one of your New Orleans Local Board members, I would like to share observations about social distancing, interpersonal interactions and work on set. Social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19 changes how we interact with friends, in social settings and on set.

To think about how space affects characters and story, consider how we use personal and social spaces. Before COVID-19, Americans often stood or sat next to friends and peers from 2 to 3 feet apart in social situations. Intimate situations close this distance to less than 2 feet. Formal distance was considered to be 5 to 6 feet. Formal distance allows for people who might not know each other very well to draw and/or wield a stage combat weapon, such as a sword, or shake hands in a formal ceremony. Now, social distancing during COVID-19 is 6 feet in most situations. What was once formal distance is now “social distancing.” Standing 6 feet apart actually increases the distance of the shot through which we see each other. Cast and crew keep each other safe by social distancing, but characters often need to work closer than 6 feet to tell the story.

On screen and in rehearsal, the context is paramount. Context informs how much space characters need. Characters tell stories through what they say and how they act. Nuanced intention is communicated by intonation, manner of speech, movement, energy, action, reaction and spatial relationships. How close or far away one character is from another changes the viewers’ perceptions of each character. Power dynamics affect how much space a person uses. A protagonist has more lines and screen time, but a character with higher social status or greater physical power may take up more vocal time and physical space in a given scene. Space reflects a character’s power in a scene of the story. As we give social distance to each other, we are increasing our power and the power of people around us.

As we go back to work on set, the cast and crew are adapting to the new normal to continue to work during the pandemic with science-based safety protocols for those working on film and television productions. On Sept. 21, the unions representing casts and crews reached an agreement with the major studios on protocols to allow the industry to safely reopen.  

The heart of the agreement is a zone system that divides the different sections of the production and implements strictly enforced testing procedures for each, depending on risk. It also requires the availability of personal protective equipment and oversight from an on-site COVID compliance supervisor, with specific safety protocols for auditions, travel, hair, makeup and wardrobe. 

With these new protections and protocols, we now have a system in place that helps to both mitigate risk and empower members so that characters can tell stories in a brave space.

— By Artemis Preeshl for the New Orleans newsletter.

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