The safety measures in the rehearsal studio were extensive. Upon arriving each day, participants zipped their personal belongings into assigned garment bags, including the face masks worn during their commutes. The production provided a new mask each day, to be worn throughout rehearsal. No eating was permitted in the room. No sharing phone chargers. The schedule included regular “airing breaks.”
During my first week of quarantine in a Tokyo hotel, I attended rehearsals via Zoom. The choreographer, Ste Clough, was already in the studio, but the rest of the foreign creative team remained sequestered, back-channeling over WhatsApp. Over the course of the week, we cut 15 minutes from the show, replaced a song and juggled notes coming from multiple directions. We staged the first half of our intermission-less musical.
Then, the morning of my eighth day in quarantine, I got a call from a producer. One of the actors was experiencing symptoms and had tested positive for Covid-19. Rehearsals were on hold. Those exposed — 19 cast members; various producers, stage managers and production assistants who were in the room every day; as well as those who had merely stopped by, including our orchestrator and a vocal coach — were being tested that afternoon.
The more optimistic among us shared the hope that the results would validate the precautions taken, allowing work to start again in two weeks, after everyone in close contact with the afflicted actor had waited out their quarantine period.
The next afternoon, at a Zoom production meeting, our lead producer relayed the results. Seven positives. Five onstage, two off. Our efforts may have limited, but certainly didn’t prevent, the virus’s spread. It was becoming increasingly difficult to adapt to the constantly changing circumstances. “Sometimes,” she said, “the bravest thing to do is walk away.”
If we were to resume, I recognized, it would have to be with the fewest possible people in the studio. And, I had to admit, I wasn’t sure I was going to feel safe being one of them. As the apparatus for rehearsing remotely was already in place, I decided to return to New York.