Getting Ready for the Downbeat: 6 Guiding Thoughts to Developing Covid-19 Safety Plans for Jazz Fest 2021

Hi folks,

Eduardo here, Operations Director for Coastal Jazz. Most of you don’t know me because I’m one of the many people behind the scenes who works with a great team that oversees Production, Site, Artist Hospitality, Transportation, Signage and Permitting. One of the elements of my role at the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival is leading Health and Safety and Emergency Management in our venues. Covid-19 has forced us all to re-evaluate everything we do—the extent to which this virus has impacted events and live concerts is enormous. While I can write chapters on lessons learned this year, I don’t want to bore anyone with the minutiae of particular Covid Plans. I would, however, like to share some salient principles that ensure the safety of our artists and crew, and if Provincial Health Orders allow, our amazing audiences. Here is my list of 6 guiding principles to developing Covid-19 Safety Plans.

1. Involve the whole team, and make a Covid-19 Plan that is evolving

Unlike most years when festival departments could organize mostly independently, mitigating the risk from Covid-19 and creating robust protocols truly needs every department’s input. One small decision impacts so many other elements down the line. All of a sudden Ticketing, Front of House, Marketing, Communications, Site, Production, and Hospitality all intersect—getting everyone involved is key. Creating a plan that is updated continually also helps create an environment where people feel part of the process. This encourages everyone to take ownership and think critically about how they can contribute to ensuring a safe and successful festival.

2. Communication, Communication, Communication!

I can’t overstate how critically important communication is in implementing any good Covid-19 Safety Plan. From developing the plan with fellow staff and stakeholders, to sharing it with artists, contractors, volunteers and community partners, to making the time to have a Covid Safety briefing before every shift. It is time intensive to do this, but one of the great things this virus has forced us to do is slow down, pay attention to the details, and make sure everyone is feeling safe and feeling heard.

3. Take time

Everything takes longer in a pandemic (except for attending staff Zoom meetings in your pyjamas). As a Production Manager, I like getting things done quickly and efficiently. But working safely during this pandemic just doesn’t jive with the “let’s get it done” mentality. I have had to learn a lot about patience, slowing down, and planning for more time to do just about everything. From a Production perspective, simple tasks that took a few crew an hour to do all of sudden take 1.5 X longer because crews can’t be touching the same surfaces, or breathing the same air within a confined area.

4. Let go of “But we’ve always done it this way…”

Or…. “Why fix it if it ain’t broke?”. These are words held in high esteem in the Festival world. But rethinking spaces and how people move through them is an absolute must with this pandemic. For instance, at Ironworks, what used to be the green room downstairs is way too small for a group of four artists to socially distance, so they will now hang out in the larger upstairs space where audiences used to mingle pre and post show. Volunteers used to be able to do shifts at many venues in a festival. This year we are asking volunteers to stick to one venue so we can develop safe working teams, enhance ownership and knowledge of venue specific protocols, and reduce the risks associated with people moving between venues. The list of how we are adapting our processes is too long to get into, but suffice it to say that every department has majorly rethought how we do things.

5. Be ready with a Plan A, B and C

Need I say more? The word “pivot” might have been overused of late, but it really is true. The Jazz Fest will have a Plan A, B and C set in advance so we can be ready to adapt to a variety of Provincial Health Orders that may or may not come in the next few weeks. We will of course have Covid Plans in place for us to present shows that are livestream only, but we will also be ready to safely welcome audiences with protocols that adhere to and go beyond regional health orders.

6. Keep the big picture in view

I am not sure how many people know this, but British Columbia has been one of the only jurisdictions in Canada where we have been allowed to continue to produce live shows this last year, albeit live-streams. Our fall series of 6 concerts live from Frankie’s last year, and our recent Winter Jazz run at Performance Works with 11 incredible sets of music from talented local artists and friends—we are fortunate to have had the ability to present these. In true Coastal Jazz style, we did them with high production value and great musicians on stage.

So here we are, some 15 months into a pandemic. Everyone at Coastal Jazz is working tirelessly to create this year’s TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival 2021 edition with over 100 live concerts, and the safety of our staff, crew, artists, volunteers, and (fingers crossed) audiences is paramount to us all.

Whether we are able to have audiences or not, this is huge for the Vancouver music community—for artists, music lovers, and the many technicians who have been out of work for over a year. We are truly fortunate to have the ability to do our festival this year, and I am proud to be part of it.