Every decision we have made – and continue to make – regarding the recommencement of our in-person arts programs during this Covid era has been – and will continue to be – made with thoughtful, multifaceted consideration. The purpose of these updates is to cover these considerations and outline to you just how seriously we are taking this.
Although we appear to be heading toward some sort of normality and we are making decisions in response to that, the safety of our community (children, family, and team) remains our top priority.
A cautious step forward
Further to our previous update (Feb 2021), research (and feedback from our community) shows that we are reaching a tipping point regarding the mental health of our youth.
Guidance on COVID-19 mitigation is constantly evolving, and we continue to react, pivot, and update our policies as we go. As it stands, Arizona State law (A.R.S. § 15-342.05) states that cloth face masks will continue to be optional, though we encourage both our vaccinated and unvaccinated students, staff, and visitors to wear them according to their comfort level.
Clearly, singing is the activity that is most pertinent to the wearing of masks. It is very clear that masks completely change the experience of singing and it’s not a stretch to suggest that prologued use could be counter-productive to vocal development: unless of course, masks will be used consistently in lessons, and on stage, for the rest of the singers’ life. For this reason, we are utilizing a hybrid approach to the re-opening of in-person lessons at our singing school: predicated on the wishes of our students. Lessons can be taken online and in-person, interchangeably, at their request. We encourage those not comfortable going maskless to take the online option at this stage.
Classes and musical rehearsals will return to normal with the exception of optional mask-wearing. We will continue to utilize the Awair Element Indoor Air Quality Monitor to enable us to use CO2 levels in the studio and other enclosed spaces as a proxy for COVID-19 transmission risk: whenever possible, we will open the outside door of the main dance room to increase ventilation.
Thank you for your patience and support as the Phoenix Youth Theatre community continues to collectively navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Your support and dedication to arts education are what will keep our studio open during this phase and hopefully long into the future.
With hope in our hearts,
Steve and Jacqueline
Updated as of February 2nd, 2021.
We are excited we can now begin our re-opening process in a phasic manner to ensure that we are upholding our high standards and satisfying the considerations noted below. Generally speaking, we are introducing programs that begin to rebuild hope and happiness for our students and families whilst incorporating interventions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our community and preserve capacity in our healthcare system.
We have been guided by four key considerations. We expect that most other extracurricular organizations will also be making decisions based on these factors.
Reducing covid spread
Protect healthcare system and workers
The mental health of our children and families
Maintaining an income for our business to survive
These all matter, but throughout 2020, factors #1 and #2 were obvious considerations. The uncertainty surrounding the virus, its transmission, and its consequences encouraged us to close our physical doors and take our programs online. At the time of writing, January 26th, 2021, factors #1 and #2 remain just as salient. Data confirms that Arizona has recently had more cases per 100,000 than any other state and, at times, any other part of the world. It’s noted that we have seen a steady decline from the peak of January 10th to January 13th.
A note on factor #4: it goes without saying that an inability to serve customers (for whatever reason) will ultimately result in any business closing for good. As a youth theatre and performing arts school trading in 2020/21, we face this reality daily. That said, we still stand strong behind our belief that, at this time, we (or any business for that matter) have a responsibility to make decisions considering all factors and not act solely for the perceived and/or financial good of the business or its owners.
We require face masks, not shields, for all staff and students. We suggest a clear face mask (example) for acting and expression while dancing. For information on why we request face masks instead of face shields, please read here.
We will utilize the Awair Element Indoor Air Quality Monitor to enable us to use CO2 levels in the studio and other enclosed spaces as a proxy for COVID-19 transmission risk: whenever possible, we will open the outside door of the main dance room to increase ventilation.
The studio is routinely cleaned and high touch areas disinfected between classes using Virex Tb Hospital-Grade Disinfectant.
Hand sanitizer is available in the lobby and dance room areas.
Our policy has always been to ask students to stay home if they are sick or have a temperature (see PYT Agreements). We are requesting now, per Maricopa County Guidelines, that students do not attend class if anyone in their home has tested positive or been exposed to Covid-19 or has any of the following symptoms:
We look forward to in-person singing and performing soon. It is clear that loud singing is a very effective way to transmit Covid-19: aerosol transmission is dependent on the volume and duration of the vocalization, the number of participants, and the environment in which the activity occurs. Put simply, singers standing in close proximity to each other, a student singing into a teacher’s face, and/or audience members inhaling the same air as the stage performers can significantly increase the chances of Covid-19 transmission. Take a look at these animations that are indicative of how Covid-19 could be transmitted through aerosol particles.
Without question, virtual voice lessons are the best option for vocal education at this time and serve as an equal to in-person for most motivated and focussed children. In some cases, virtual lessons offer a more practical solution than in-person.
Risking our students’ and community’s health, and/or having to cancel or postpone a show (and the hopes and dreams that go with that) as a result of prematurely starting a show is not something we are willing to entertain. Moreover, recorded performances delivered online provide our students with many exciting opportunities and experiences that in-person doesn’t. We are extremely lucky to be able to depend on film as a replacement for many of our performance-based activities and are excited to continue to deliver this medium within the applicable programs.
There have been calls for wearing masks during singing lessons. In our opinion, this drastically reduces the effectiveness of the experience for everyone involved.
Face visors have been suggested as a happy medium to allow various activities to continue but it appears that exclusive use of face visors is more of a facade to instill confidence than an effective tool to reduce spread in certain environments. This study notes that “face shields can substantially reduce the short-term exposure of health care workers to large infectious aerosol particles, but smaller particles can remain airborne longer and flow around the face shield more easily to be inhaled”. Logically, this renders exclusive use of face visors ineffective within the performing arts realm when used to reduce Covid-19 transmission during prolonged singing or speaking within rehearsals or performances.
For these reasons and more, all singing lessons and/or performances will be delivered online at this time. We are anticipating the first possible opportunity to recommence in-person.
Please let us know so we can notify anyone you may have had contact with at the studio. If you had previously received a positive test, we also ask both students and staff to provide a negative test result before returning to the studio. The CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting will be implemented.
Due to the unprecedented times that face our community as a result of COVID-19, we have decided to conduct our fall programs and performances virtually. The health and safety of our PYT families and friends continues to be our number one priority. We are waiting enthusiastically for the day when our studio is filled with the voices of our students.
A small insight into what we have considered
(We have no doubts you’ve been researching similar things and so we will keep it brief).
We have to remember that a lot of the current research that exists in connection with performing arts and Covid-19 is based on prior viral outbreaks and situations that may or may not translate to various singing or performing arts organizations.
That said, from the many horrifying reports from summer camps, choir rehearsals, and even schools considering reclosing shortly after reopening, it would indicate that the question of reopening a performing arts studio is one that holds a variable risk that would require gambling on what we don’t know about SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
In particular, if true, the prospect of aerosolized transmission – and how singing, in particular, would create an ideal environment for this to exist – is one important factor any responsible performing arts organization would need to seriously evaluate before reopening.
From the recent experience of having to postpone our Alice In Wonderland Jr. show, any consideration for announcing, or even planning, an in-person show, would be counterproductive at best. Risking our students’ and community’s health, and/or having to cancel or postpone another show (and the hopes and dreams that go with that) as a result of prematurely restarting is not something we are willing to entertain.
What can we do?
We are fortunate to have been teaching remotely for many years now. In 2017, Steve released this video in support of remote tuition. It subtly acknowledges that remote learning differs from in-person and highlights some use cases. Whilst we cannot ignore the fact that remote learning is different to in-person learning, we can also celebrate the possibilities it holds for us.
As educators, we continue to ask the question we ask every single day: what do I need to do to instigate a positive change in the creative soul standing in front of me? The question doesn’t change because of Covid-19, but the parameters we work within does. With this in mind, to serve our students most effectively, we have to adjust.
We understand it is our (PYT’s) responsibility to ensure access to lessons and classes is an easy process because technological prowess cannot be a barrier to entry for a child or parent.
Focus, social interaction, and the student’s sense of progression are all important components we consider when writing our curriculums and lesson plans. Our bespoke Learning Management System (we call it the ‘Performers’ Profile’), and communication tools have all been thoughtfully integrated to address these head on.
Like any other learning environment, student success (however that is measured) will differ from child to child. It’s important to note that remote learning poses certain challenges for some children and a real opportunity for others. You can trust that we will be continually reassessing our approach in our quest to bridge this gap and create an optimal experience for all children during this time. As a matter of fact, we already have.