Behind the Curtain: Opera and Science – An Unexpected Journey
By Greg Carpenter
These days, it seems that my days are filled with less discussion about programming and artistic matters and much more about understanding all the issues created by COVID-19. To be honest, during my 20+ years in arts administration, I never imagined having to navigate the world of health science as it relates to a global pandemic.
As we consider resuming administrative and artistic activities at the Opera Colorado Opera Center and the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, the health and safety of our staff, artists, chorus, orchestra, production personnel and audience must continue to be our top priority. We cannot safely welcome our audience to performances and events without a thoughtful, data-informed plan for safe working and rehearsal environments. This means doing a deep dive into the world of COVID-19, understanding how it is spread, fully digesting the CDC recommendations, and analyzing the variety of legal and liability issues that have surfaced around workplace health and safety.
Fully acknowledging that I am not an authority in any of these areas, I assembled a task force composed of experts in epidemiology, workplace health and safety, and state/local mandates. The taskforce advises the company on how best to prepare for a phased return to work at the Opera Center, and safely welcoming our new class of Artists in Residence in late September. We are investigating everything from maximizing HVAC system airflow exchange, to reconfiguring workstations for social distancing, to securing reliable sources for cleaning products and PPE.
We now have a detailed fourteen-page guide instructing all employees, artists, instructors, and production personnel on Opera Center operations during COVID-19. The guide focuses first on outlining all of the steps we have taken to ensure that our workplace is as safe as possible and second on how we will maintain a healthy work environment once we are back in the Opera Center.
Simultaneously, we are working closely with Denver Arts & Venues, the city agency that owns and operates the Denver Performing Arts Complex, to develop the same types of plans necessary to safely rehearse and perform at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. This includes protocols for both backstage and public areas, taking into account the latest best practices in public health and safety.
Although I devote a significant part of my workday to COVID-19 related issues, our expert staff continues to dig into the considerable amount of detailed work required to be ready for our 38th season of grand opera at the Ellie. Their commitment to both safely presenting live performances at the Ellie and supporting our health and safety plan is truly remarkable. I would like to recognize and thank the volunteer members of our COVID-19 Response Taskforce who have given so generously of their time and talent: Dr. James Todd, Dana Svendsen, Maria Garcia Berry, Elizabeth Caswell-Dyer, and Dr. Andrew Sirotnak.
While time seems to move a bit more slowly when working remotely, our days continue to be filled with the usual excitement and challenges of producing opera and educational programming, admittedly intensified by the uncertainty of the world around us. I know that I speak for everyone at Opera Colorado when I say we longingly await a time when we can be together again, engaging our community in exciting, live opera experiences.