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Broward Center Volunteers 'Usher In' A New Age Of Theater Safety, With Smiles (Printed On Masks)

 Volunteer ushers for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts prepare to welcome guests wearing purple smile masks and uniforms with red neck ties
Richard Zendarski
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Volunteer ushers for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts prepare to welcome guests.

COVID-era guest policies go into effect this week at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, perhaps the greatest challenge for a theater usher was making sure a glaring cell phone screen or annoying ringtone didn’t steal the spotlight.

Suzanne Southwell, who's been a volunteer usher at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts for the last six years, remembers one time where audience members just couldn't help becoming part of the show.

“When we had ‘Hamilton,’ people knew that music so well that they were singing out loud," she says with a laugh. "And I mean singing loudly. So sometimes we would have to tell people not to sing along with the music.”

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But things are different now.

New COVID-19 safety protocols go into effect for audiences this week at Broward Center and its affiliated venues. And the return of more live shows means ushers have to be on their toes when it comes to enforcing safety rules.

Face coverings are now mandatory for guests during performances. And theater patrons must be prepared to show a recent negative COVID-19 test to enter. Guests may also volunteer proof of full vaccination in lieu of the COVID test documentation.

Despite the strict rules, Broward Center's management says it remains committed to making sure the theater retains its welcoming ambiance — beginning with the people who greet you at the door and hand out the Playbills.

Masks emblazoned with smiles are now standard issue for all Broward Center ushers. They'll also be equipped with paddles reading "Mask Please" — a silent reminder to audience members that facial coverings are a must throughout the whole performance.

Similar paddles remind patrons to physically distance in common areas like lobbies, hallways and concession areas.

Friendly reminder paddes.jpg
RICHARD ZENDARSKI
Broward Center's ushers will use these paddles to silently remind patrons to 'mask up' or physically distance.

Although Broward Center's ushers are volunteers, the management made sure to stay connected with them throughout the many months that the theater was "dark."

"We did a lot of Zoom calls," says David Dillon, Broward Center's guest services director and COVID-19 compliance officer. "We did Zoom bingo; we did a talent show on Zoom at one point. The team was very excited to be engaged that way."

Pandemic or no, seven-year usher Karen Greer says the pleasure she derives from greeting and assisting theater goers is too good to pass up.

"It's just being around the people and the happiness," says Greer. "People are excited, they're happy because they can't wait to see a show. It's a very rewarding feeling for me."

Dillon says the requisite red ties worn by Broward Center's ushers serve as a reminder of the team's acronymic mantra.

"We call ourselves 'Team Red,'" he said. "Respect, Empathy and Dignity. That's really the cornerstone of the volunteer system here."

For information on how to become a volunteer for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, please visit this link.

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This interview is part of WLRN’s series, “Intermission,” a look at how South Florida’s arts community is coping — and adapting — during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you've got a story for us, please email us at talktous@wlrnnews.org with the word "Intermission" in the subject line.