Four young adults post for a photograph in the orchestra section of Ford's Theatre.

Making Theatre During a Pandemic: The New Rules of Engagement at Ford’s Theatre

4 min read

The past two years have been a whirlwind. For many, 2020 and 2021 were and still are a period of loss, grief and tragedy. For the arts world, facing a pandemic meant dark stages, jobs lost and shuttered venues. As President Lincoln once said about attending the theatre, “… to be alone yet to be with people, it rests me.” Many culture workers and patrons are like President Lincoln, comforted and inspired by the experience of being surrounded by others to share a live performance. 

Cultural Spaces During a Pandemic 

For Ford’s, like many of our theatre colleagues, COVID-19 forced us into a new way of thinking and interacting with each other, the visitors and artists who enter our site. Weathering the storm has been a rocky, scary journey. While navigating new safety protocols, the question for theatremakers became how can we make a comeback to producing new works and programs while keeping everyone safe? We needed to expand our thinking to include the entire experience we offer visitors to our site.  

Across the city and world, there are signs and displays telling patrons to wear their masks, provide proof of vaccination, wash their hands and stay six feet away from others — reminders of our new way of living and the major impact that the ongoing pandemic has had on how we communicate and interact. 

While it is important to be safe—you will absolutely see those helpful mask and distance reminders around the campus—we at Ford’s Theatre felt it also necessary to remind our visitors of what we hope are helpful tools to reconnect with us and each other while attending a show or visiting our museum spaces.  

Introducing the new Ford’s Theatre Rules of Engagement! 

These rules are inspired by Dominique Morisseau’s Playwrights Rules of Engagement. Morisseau helped to develop her Playwrights Rules of Engagement after having a less than pleasant interaction with an audience member. She wanted to ensure that every theatregoer feels at home while attending the theatre. We at Ford’s, similarly, want to create a welcoming environment as we all begin to make our way back into the theatre. 

Ford’s Theatre Rules of Engagement 

We are glad that you are joining us at Ford’s Theatre today. This is an inclusive and interactive community. Whether you are here to visit our historic site or to see a show, we invite you to be your authentic self. 

At Ford’s Theatre: 

  • We are allowed to be human, in all the ways that make us unique. 
  • We are allowed to be human together. We encourage you to find moments of respectful connection and engagement with other members of the community.  
  • We are on common ground. We are all here to enjoy a shared experience and though our reactions and responses may vary, we will remain respectful. 
  • We are creating a live theatrical experience together; audible reactions and responses are welcome. The actors need you to engage with what you see but not to distract them from their performances. 
  • We also welcome the use of personal communication devices if they help you to better experience the show, but we encourage you to respect the actors’ work and the other audience members around you. Please note, the taking of photographs, video or sound recordings of the performance is not permitted.

    Let’s create something beautiful together. 

Where can you expect to see the new Rules of Engagement? 

The new Ford’s Theatre Rules of Engagement apply to our entire campus, from the historic theatre to the basement museum, Petersen House and the Aftermath Exhibits.  

We are embracing these reminders as part of our cultural DNA. These guidelines will be visible across our campus and in print materials. Visitors and audience members can expect to find them posted in our lobby and in each show playbill. We have also included them in a newly developed Artist Welcome packet that we distribute to everyone who works on a stage production with us. We believe in them and hope that they will assist our visitors as they adjust to the new way of experiencing theatre. 

We are so excited to welcome visitors, audience members and artists back to our campus and we hope that those who visit Ford’s Theatre will embrace these new Rules of Engagement. We look forward to seeing you soon! 

Headshot for Erika Scott.

Erika Scott is the Artistic Programming Manager at Ford’s Theatre.

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