Photograph of Hugh Hysell ('88 BFA Acting) and members of The Broadway COVID Safety Team

After a dark winter of shutdowns caused by COVID breakthrough cases and the widespread Omicron variant, audiences are cautiously returning to theaters, and as they do, safety is top priority for School of Theatre Alumnus Hugh Hysell.

Hysell (‘88 BFA Acting) leads The Broadway COVID Safety Team, which celebrated a record setting milestone this week, facilitating COVID compliance safety support for its 2000th Broadway performance in NYC.

“It’s really great to be part of the reopening of Broadway. We’re the gateway to the building. We have to make sure COVID doesn’t enter the building. That’s the bottom line.”

In addition to checking proof of vaccination and photo ID of every ticket holder, the safety team also provides manpower backstage, providing support for the cast, crew, ushers, concessions vendors, and anyone who comes into the theater.

“Vaccination is so important to stopping the spread of this virus, and making sure everyone has one is crucial. We can’t rely on social distancing and we can’t really even do social distancing here because the breakeven point is so high on Broadway shows that we need at least 80% capacity at full-price to keep going.”

Hysell manages a group of 80 full-time people and including the part-timers the workforce totals over 300. It involves a staggering number of logistical details, taking as many as five days to put together a schedule to staff all of the Schubert Theaters, the Lyric Theater, four national tours, and several other theater-related events. Hysell says everything he’s done as an actor and producer has prepared him for this.

“As my mother always says – it’s important to have transferable skills. I have a background in administration and marketing. I’ve got the ability to think laterally. I’ve built grassroots projects. Now I’m just doing it on a much larger scale – with much better software.”

Hysell and his team also have the people skills needed to handle situations in which someone shows up with a ticket but no vaccination card or an ID.

“That’s not an immediate ‘no’. We take the person out of line and start brainstorming on how we can help them get in. ‘Do you have a photo of your ID or vax card?’ or ‘Can someone at home take a picture of it and send it?’ If it turns out they can’t come in, we allow them to exchange tickets. We give them options.”

Hysell says what is not an option is allowing safety to take a backseat.

“Broadway is our number one tourist attraction. If it goes down, it’s not just the theaters that are affected. A majority of commerce in New York is related to Broadway – restaurants, parking garages, other tourist attractions, the fashion industry, babysitters – you name it. For New York City to be alive, Broadway has to be alive.”

Story by Terri W. Relos

Photo provided by Hugh Hysell