At the Radio City Christmas Show, Some Workers Worry About Covid Rules
Some of the people who put on the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show are expressing concerns about the Covid-19 protocols in place for workers as the show prepares to open on Friday night.
All the employees for the “Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes” must be vaccinated. But other aspects of the annual Christmas pageant’s policy are not in line with those put in place by Broadway theaters, the Metropolitan Opera and some other live performance spaces across the city, according to email correspondence and a policy document reviewed by The New York Times.
Unlike on Broadway, at the New York Philharmonic and the New York City Ballet, for example, the Madison Square Garden Entertainment company that produces the show and owns the theater is not requiring employees to be tested for the virus. Unions representing some of the employees of the show have raised the matter of testing to the show’s management, according to an email reviewed by The Times.
Management at the Music Hall says the protocols it has in place are completely safe, were developed in conjunction with health and safety experts and have been used successfully at a roster of shows in the venue since late summer.
“We believe our protocols are more than adequate to protect people in our building,” a spokeswoman for Madison Square Garden Entertainment, Kimberly Kerns, said. “The show has more than 1,000 employees. While there are a vocal few that don’t agree, the vast majority are excited about coming to work.”
Under the Music Hall’s policy, masks are recommended but not required for artists, cast and crew members, which differs from the protocol at many performing arts institutions like Carnegie Hall. In addition, at Radio City, not all audience members must wear masks as is the case with all Broadway shows. (The “Christmas Spectacular” is admitting audience members with one dose of a two-dose vaccine, and they will have to wear masks. But fully vaccinated audience members who are 12 or older will not be required to wear a face covering.)
Kerns emphasized that Radio City Music Hall is a vastly different kind of venue than a Broadway theater. It is far bigger, with 6,000 seats and more space between the stage and the audience, she said. And, importantly, she said, company officials believe the venue’s air filtration system is “just as good — and most likely better” than any system at any performance venue in the city.
The spokeswoman also noted that management does recommend wearing a mask. She said the show has provided information on where and how to get a test off site. And she reiterated that the company is using the same protocols for the “Christmas Spectacular” that it has used effectively for other events at Radio City and other properties the company owns. (Madison Square Garden, another of its venues, has been home to Knicks games and concerts at which vaccinated audience members did not have to wear a mask.)
Four unions representing the show’s musicians, stagehands, dressers and its dancers, the Rockettes, did not respond to requests for comment.
The “Christmas Spectacular” runs for roughly eight weeks,employs more than 1,000 people, and delights several thousand audience members at each show. On some days during the run, the “Christmas Spectacular” is performed four times in a single day.
Several company members, who asked not to be named because they said they were concerned about possible retaliation, said they worried about working in cramped spaces backstage; they also noted that they have family members at home who are at risk.
Infectious-disease experts say the best way to protect the health and wellness of theater cast and crew members involves a combination of vaccination, air filtration, frequent testing and mandatory masking backstage.
At some other venues, employers are requiring, providing and paying for Covid tests for their vaccinated arts workers. Broadway employees are currently being tested at least twice a week. People who work regularly at the Met Opera are expected to take one weekly test between Saturday and Tuesday and another between Wednesday and Friday. The New York Philharmonic tests members of its orchestra as well as crew and staff members who interact with the orchestra once per week.
“Not having people mask in a full theater — I’m not ready for that yet,” said Dr. Danielle Ompad, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at New York University. “For a group of employees who are walking around without masks because that’s part of the performance — I would still want to be able to get tested.”
Though transmission has been rare at live performance venues so far this fall season, Broadway productions like “Aladdin” caught positive cases within its company through testing and were able to resume performances in relatively short order.