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American Repertory Theater, Harvard health researchers to collaborate on a path forward for theater

ART will serve as a case study in the development of principles for safe approaches to rehearsals and performances

The Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, where the American Repertory Theater stages most of its major productions.
The Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, where the American Repertory Theater stages most of its major productions.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/file

Left reeling by the COVID-19 pandemic, theaters all over the country are trying to figure out how they can safely reopen once authorities give them the green light to do so, given that large public gatherings are at the very heart of the theater experience.

In an attempt to bring science squarely into that equation, the American Repertory Theater and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health announced Monday that they will collaborate on developing a “roadmap” that will utilize the ART itself as a case study.

Dr. Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science at the School of Public Health and director of the Healthy Buildings Program, said in a statement that the plan is to “draw on decades of research and practice on how to keep people safe as we consider how to effectively minimize the risk of disease transmission in ways that will allow theaters to continue their work.”

“This is an all-in moment for the world, and the arts have a critical role to play in our recovery,” added Allen.

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The planning and activities of the ART, which is Harvard’s resident professional theater, will be central to researchers’ development of principles for safe approaches to rehearsals, performances, and audience interactions when buying tickets, using restrooms, or purchasing food and drink at concession stands.

Also to be explored: the role that might be played by presenting productions outdoors.

“The question of how the theater can safely come back is our field’s most pressing challenge,” Diane Paulus, artistic director of the ART, said in a statement, adding that the goal of the collaboration is to develop a plan “so that we can once again experience theater’s healing power, which I believe we need now more than ever before.”

The findings will be at americanrepertorytheater.org/public-health-update, to be updated as scientific developments warrant.

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Don Aucoin can be reached at donald.aucoin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.