Promising success! Positive conclusion for pilot project #BSO500

The pilot project with 500 visitors in the Nationaltheater has already been running for six weeks and the expert team and the audience agree – with a coherent hygiene concept in place, there are no increased risks of infection, quite the contrary. Here’s our result report.

Pilot project yields positive interim result.

The Bayerische Staatsoper’s hygiene concept to start the season has been in effect since mid-August – so two months already – and we’ve been performing on the main stage again since the beginning of September. Approval by the Bavarian State Government means we’ve been allowed to run tests with performances in the Nationaltheater with house occupancy of 500 visitors since 1 September (currently until 1 November). Although less than a quarter of the seats are therefore filled, this is still far more than the 200 seats that are currently specified as the fixed limit by the infection prevention measures regulation. The goal of the pilot project is to develop methods and measures that enable higher occupancy in the Nationaltheater, but also in many other similar cultural venues. Today we would like to provide you an insight into the results of the pilot project, which are both clear and promising:

The pilot phase in the Nationaltheater is being supervised and scientifically evaluated by a team of doctors from the Technical University of Munich at the city’s Klinikum rechts der Isar, and by representatives of the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety. Their expertise has been integrated into the concepts for both rehearsals and performances and for the procedures and processes in all audience areas. The good news straight away: The results of the pilot project show that the increase in the number of visitors does not have a negative effect on the processes in the audience area and the objective risk of infection, or on the visitors’ satisfaction and perception of safety.

The hygiene concept

For an example of the hygiene concept’s key points simply see our instructions for your visit. Comprehensive training measures and additional staff ensure compliance with the new regulations. A mouth-nose covering (MNC) must be worn in the audience area. The only exception to this rule is for the audience during the performance (“lights off/curtain up” until final applause). Since the 7-day incidence limit (50 per 100,000 inhabitants) was exceeded in Munich, during the performances from 19 September until 1 October and from 14 October onwards, an MNC is also mandatory during the performance. Different seating plan variations were implemented in September and October, in which various configurations of “exam seating” (one row and two seats free) and a looser form of the “Salzburg model” (chessboard pattern) were worked out. As part of the pilot project, seats together will essentially only be sold to people that belong together. Admission to the Nationaltheater will be via the main entrance (right-hand side of the auditorium) and the Freunde-Foyer (left-hand side of the auditorium); the box office has its own entrance (right-hand side entrance door). When the season started performances were at first staged without intermissions and theatre catering. Since the end of September, however, we now perform with intermissions and catering again. Food and drinks may currently only be consumed at a table.

The evaluation methodology

A three-component evaluation was chosen as the methodical approach for evaluating developments in the audience area. The experts’ views, the internal analysis and the audience’s opinion provide a 360° evaluation of the trial operation. The “live” method means improvement measures can be identified and implemented directly in the trial operation. The visitor survey was developed in cooperation with the Institute for Market-oriented Management (IMM) at the Ludwig Maximilian University under the guidance of Prof. Manfred Schwaiger.

The most important results

On 9 October 2020 there were a total of 4,686 evaluations, which corresponds with a response from approx. 28% of the visitors. The audience survey shows a very high level of safety perceived by the audience: 94% of those asked are satisfied with the measures that the Bayerische Staatsoper has implemented to reduce the risk of infection with the COVID-19 virus during their visit. Only 3% are were not satisfied with the measures. 96% of those asked felt safe during their visit, and only 2% didn’t (2% felt both). A very small number of complaints were recorded with front-of-house staff – during the 6-week period only two pairs of visitors broke off their visit because of the conditions in the building before the performance began. 98% of those asked believe the obligation to wear an MNC in our buildings was complied with (apart from during the performance). Attentive monitoring by our front-of-house staff and direct, friendly reminders where MNCs were not worn or were worn incorrectly ensured the obligation to wear a mask was adhered to even more. 54% of those asked say they will also wear an MNC during the performance as well. In September, when this was not yet an obligation, just under 29% of those asked also continuously wore an MNC during the performance. In the obligation period from 19 September this was more than 98%, and after the obligation period from 2 October until 9 October it was just over 51%.

97% of those asked say they have read the visitor instructions entirely or partially. 99% of these say the instructions are understandable. On the basis of the internal analysis (evaluation of performance reports, observations and checks in performance areas on the spot), but especially also on the basis of the on-site observations of the experts involved, it can be stated that the visitors implement the instructions very conscientiously. With the aid of open comments in the survey, but also with the front-of-house team’s feedback and as part of the performance reporting system, improvement possibilities for communication were identified and worked directly into the instructions for visitors.

The evaluation of various situations by the audience is shown in the following table. How crowded or spacious the respective situation was considered to be was recorded on a seven-level Likert scale (1= very tight and crowded, no distances, up to 7= very relaxed, distances no problem at all).

Audience situations were surveyed after visit

An overwhelming majority (at least 89%) believe that the situation in all audience areas is quite relaxed with distance or very relaxed. Even with the placing in the front part of the stalls, where the “Salzburg model” was tried in September in the form of the more relaxed chessboard pattern, which was still unusual for the Munich audience, only 5.7% of those asked thought the situation was quite crowded. Furthermore it is also clear that with a suitable hygiene concept in place, there is no reason why the offering of food and drinks and intermissions should not continue.

Based on the survey’s open comments, but also the performance observation analysis by Staatsoper representatives and the named experts, further measures to prevent clusters of people and potential intensive contacts were implemented step-by-step. Additional staff will be used at the usual gathering points, to ask people to continue moving (e.g. foyer behind the portico/programme sales) and to coordinate queue formation (e.g. box office access, toilets area and balcony).

The audience’s experience was confirmed by the medical experts’ scientific evaluations and observations. The general specification of maintaining distance from one another wherever possible is adhered to. Valuable findings on the placing in the form of a chessboard pattern in the respective three selected parterre rows were produced – this appears to be unproblematic, as it was in the “Salzburg model”, because all visitors face in the same direction here, and generally do not speak during the performance when they remove their masks. The use of fans is not permitted either, to prevent aerosols from spreading. The distance between the seats (axial dimension from mid-chair to mid-chair) is still more than a metre here.

The ventilation analysis is also cause for optimism: There is an air change of 75,500 m³ per hour in the Bayerische Staatsoper’s Nationaltheater, which means that with a maximum visitor number of 2,101 there is an air change of 36 m³ per hour per person.  This alone is almost twice as many as the number that the Places of Assembly Regulation calls for. If the “pandemic-required maximum number of visitors” was to be set at 1,000 visitors, this would be 75.5 m³ per hour per person. The room volume in the auditorium is approx. 12,000 m³, which means the entire room air is replaced approx. every 9.5 minutes – no doubt an argument for similar cultural venues, that with the appropriate conditions on-site, the 200 visitor limit appears to be too rigid.

Four cases of infection

The handling of four cases of infection shows how the concepts also pass the “stress test”: Firstly we were informed by a person from the audience that they had tested positive in the days following their visit. Even though there was sufficient time between the visit and the appearance of the first symptoms and therefore according to the health authority’s specifications, contact tracing in the Nationaltheater was not necessary, we nevertheless checked the case thoroughly. It was shown in the case analysis that the hygiene rules were adhered to with the visit and there were absolutely no intensive contacts with other visitors.

Three further cases of infection appeared in the red protection level group, which is the extended artistic/performance-related area: The first two cases appeared already before arrival in Munich as part of the advance testing. The infected people could therefore already be isolated early on and consequently had no contact with anyone involved with the Staatsoper. The fourth case was at first classified as a level one contact person due to an infection in their immediate group of acquaintances. In accordance with the protocol developed beforehand, a suspected infection test was performed as part of the Klinikum rechts der Isar’s test strategy. The positive test result was returned only hours later. Thanks to the experts’ medical advice and the action plans developed for this case, further people suspected of being infected were identified, and their tests have so far produced a negative result. We are extremely happy that a possible spreading of the disease was quickly interrupted by the swift action. 

Our conclusion

We are very happy and satisfied that the concepts developed have proven to be so successful in both the audience area and in the artistic/performance area. The result: It is possible on one hand to appropriately preserve the safety of all involved and on the other hand to meet the requirements of our cultural mission. We therefore send this positive message to all cultural organisers and decision-makers, to encourage culture across Bavaria in these difficult times and to boost confidence and responsibility in those carrying out their duties in the respective institutions.

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