(1:45 p.m. EDT) -- Changes designed to keep performers and audiences alike safe from COVID-19 will definitely be coming to shipboard entertainment once cruising resumes, according to a panel discission on the future of shipboard performance during this week's Virtual Seatrade conference.
Everything from developing reservation systems in large theaters to rethinking costume changes to making sure that the entertainers don't touch each other are all among the health and safety issues that need to be addressed, the panel said.
"We know there is a risk on-stage and in the audience for COVID-19 transmission", said Jake McCoy, executive producer, operations with RWS Entertainment Group, which manages stage shows and performances on land and sea. "So we have to deal with both performers and guests."
To mitigate that risk, large-scale production shows taking place in the ship's main theatre will likely require passengers to reserve seating in advance, rather than strolling in shortly before --or even while -- the performance is underway.
"We're looking at the idea of reserving seats and ticketing main stage events," said McCoy. "You could reserve that ahead of time and actually pick your seats, just like you would on Ticketmaster if you were going to Madison Square Garden."
McCoy doesn't expect that procedure, if adopted, to extend to more casual entertainment in the ship's secondary lounges or bars.
"Lounge entertainment can be easier to deal with because there isn't the massive production value and spectacle associated with them," said McCoy. "We can group off those performers form the rest of the room and keep them safe, whether we're doing that with plexiglass or another divider."
Smaller Casts, Illusion of Touch for Main Stage Shows
For main-stage performances in the ship's theater, shows are having to be completely re-tooled in order to suit new COVID-19 health and safety protocols being developed by cruise lines, RWS Entertainment, and other organizations.
Often, this has to be done for little to no cost, given the current cash flow restrictions facing cruise lines.
"We've spent time the last couple months re-staging shows completely, at our cost, to make sure it's ready to come back into service," says Ryan Stana, CEO and founder, RWS Entertainment Group.
"The other thing we have to accept is that budgets will not be there for the next three to four years to make these changes," Stana said. "We have to figure out how to make the performers safe without spending any money.
"The head of entertainment's job is to say, 'How are we going to redo what we currently have?'"
Stana also points out a myriad of small changes that are being adopted to keep performers and audiences safe. These range from increased costume numbers onboard to ensure costumes, particularly costumed characters, can be sanitized properly between performances.
"Production shows are different," said McCoy. "We're trying to figure out how we can appropriately place these people up there. One idea is a reduction of cast sizes. New approaches to scenery - -moving away from traditional scenery and moving to LED scenery behind you -- can give an additional six, ten, 12 feet of space."
Another new legal requirement is something called "Illusion of Touch." Stage shows are engineered to make it look like performers are touching each other when they actually aren't. Stana points out this is a legal requirement for many stage performances for the next 12 months.
"This isn't just happening at sea," said Stana. "This is the entertainment world at large."
Shipboard dressing rooms -- already a tight, claustrophobic space with little room for physical distancing -- are being rethought, to the point where performers may do some costume changes in their own cabins.
For other performances, costume changes might require more dramatic measures.
"What's worth calling out is really evaluating each case individually," said McCoy. "If we have a lead singer in a vocal show and she's doing a Whitney Houston number and the costume is a big spectacle, we might need to engineer a very specific and safe way to get that individual into their costume.
"We might have someone in a full respirator and a face shield and a gown to change her. We'd have a reserved changing area for this individual."
Different Doesn't Mean Worse
Despite the numerous changes being consider to entertainment options on land and sea, McCoy stresses that different doesn't have to mean that the cruise entertainment experience guests have come to know and love will be worse off.
"There is instrumental forward momentum right now," McCoy said of the industry's recovery. "There are a lot of really fascinating, creative solutions that are coming up.
"The best thing we can do at this point is not fall into the trap of realizing that just because something is a certain way doesn't mean it is going to be gone forever."