Throughout the past twelve plus months dancers have been wondering when they will be able to resume training in dance studios, sweating alongside other dancers, or participating in rehearsals with company members practicing lifts and other partnering maneuvers. Choreographers, artistic directors of dance companies and their audiences long for the day when live performances can again take place in theaters instead of parking lots with the audience sitting in their cars; in parks with a limited number of audience members standing safely distanced apart; or presenting their work virtually via Zoom, Instagram or Facebook live. In essence when will things get back to normal – or will they?

Another question facing dance artists and dance presenters alike, is when will audiences feel safe to return to performance venues. It is one thing to open the doors and invite people to enter for a live performance, but will they come? What has to be done to prove to the public that it is safe to return? There are, to be sure, many answers such as when the number of Covid-19 cases drop considerably, when hospitalizations are down to almost zero and when the majority of people have had their vaccination shots. One item that is not mentioned as often, is ventilation. Does a theater, large or small, have a properly working ventilation system that ensures the circulation of  fresh air. Our public schools are also facing this challenge before they can safely continue full time in-person instruction.

One venue that has recently faced this issue head on is The Music Center of Los Angeles, and it was just announced via their March 25, 2021 press release that The Music Center is the “first performing arts center to obtain UL Verified Healthy Buildings Mark for indoor air quality”. In anticipation of reopening, a notice announcing this new achievement will appear on the entrances of The Music Center campus buildings: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum, and the Ahmanson Theatre.

Overview of Walt Disney Concert Hall - Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Philharmonic Association

Overview of Walt Disney Concert Hall – Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Philharmonic Association

In order to accomplish the above, The Music Center underwent an extensive process proving that the ventilation systems in all four venues mentioned, plus the Grand Park’s administrative office and The Music Center Annex were working well enough to meet the new state and national health regulations. This process involved participating in multiple on-site visits, which included inspections as well as “IAQ performance testing and assessment, and upgraded heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems”. To ensure that The Music Center continues to meet these standards, it has agreed to participate in biannual UL Verified Healthy Buildings Program inspections and reviews.

The UL Verified Healthy Buildings Program was created 127 years ago to help build a better world through “advancing innovation safety, sustainability and connected security”. Including the US, the UL Verified Healthy Buildings Program now has offices in Australia, as well as numerous countries in Asia, Indonesia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. The program utilizes testing methods that verify indoor air quality and are aligned with industry-recognized, third-party organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHREA), among others.

Side view of The Music Center's Mark Taper Forum - Photo by Tim Street Porter

Side view of The Music Center’s Mark Taper Forum – Photo by Tim Street Porter

The Music Center closed its doors over a year ago but has continued providing virtual performances and programs via The Music Center Offstage, but, like all performance venues around the world, The Center is anticipating and looking forward to resuming its indoor and outdoor events and performances throughout its entire campus on the Covid-19 directives have been officially lifted. Receiving this new UL Verified Healthy Buildings Mark is one step closer to helping ensure audiences that The Music Center has taken every possible measure to reopen safely. Those responsible have worked hard to implement many new practices that will minimize health risks for their patrons, artists and staff throughout The Center’s campus.  “All of The Music Center’s new measures, protocols and procedures are based on directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health and other information made available to live entertainment venues.” The Music Center Press Release – March 25, 2021

“The Music Center takes our responsibility as a civic anchor institution very seriously and is committed to giving audiences not only the best, but also the safest experience possible. After 57 years and tens of thousands of performances, The Music Center has extensive experience as ‘people movers,’ coordinating logistics and crowd control, and now, has enhanced its commitment to environmental safety,” said Rachel S. Moore, president and CEO, The Music Center. “The Music Center has conferred with health and safety experts to implement multiple measures, from investing in indoor air quality to enhancing cleaning procedures and creating touchless environments. While we assess our indoor air quality annually, the steps we have taken now underscore the priority we place on the well-being of all who visit and work at The Music Center, from the time they enter the parking garages to the time they return home.”

View of Dorothy Chandler Pavilion from Jerry Moss Plaza at The Music Center - Photo by Tim Street Porter

View of Dorothy Chandler Pavilion from Jerry Moss Plaza at The Music Center – Photo by Tim Street Porter

“The Music Center is very proud of achieving this UL milestone, and we have plans in place for continual advancement of IAQ. Because air flow and circulation are critical to creating a safe environment, we upgraded all our filters throughout the campus’ HVAC systems, rebalanced the mix of recirculated and fresh air and maximized recirculation times for the air coming through the complex,” added Howard Sherman, executive vice president and chief operating officer, The Music Center. “Audiences already know they can trust us for presenting world-class performances, so it was important that we also give them peace of mind when they visit and enter our buildings. The health and safety of our patrons, artists and employees will always be our first priority.”

Exterior of The Music Center's Ahmanson Theatre - Photo courtesy of The Music Center

Exterior of The Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre – Photo courtesy of The Music Center

The Music Center did not stop with the UL verification but partnered with the County of Los Angeles to investigate both its current and future needs required to maintain a high standard of security, sanitation and safety. These standards include an ongoing updating of campus procedures for indoor and outdoor events and performances “as they pertain to entry areas, lobbies, restrooms, seating areas, box office, stage and backstage, food and beverage preparation and the administrative offices for The Music Center organization and its resident companies, Center Theatre Group, LA Opera, LA Phil and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.”

Other actions The Music Center is taking include:

  • Creating the new staff position of Director of Security and Safety and certifying key Music Center employees through the CAL/OSHA COVID-19 Training program;
  • Developing an Enhanced Cleaning Program designed specifically for The Music Center with its housekeeping partner, ABM, that will use a suite of medical grade disinfection tools and new schedules to ensure expedient cleaning of the entire campus;
  • Creating contactless environments and procedures that minimize surface contact and eliminate unnecessary touches, such as touchless restroom flush valves and faucets;
  • Installation of wall and hand sanitizer dispensers;
  • Installation of signage enforcing social distancing and mask wearing guidelines; and
  • Installation of signage directing public entrance and exit guidelines.

To stay up-to-date with The Music Center’s safety information, please click HERE.

The Music Center is also home to four renowned resident companies—Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles Master Chorale, LA Opera and LA Phil. For more information, click HERE.  You can also follow The Music Center on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @MusicCenterLA.

Written and compiled by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Overview of Jerry Moss Plaza at The Music Center – Photo by Tim Street Porter