Teachers Safety Guide

Here’s a handy guide for Hoopla teachers about safety checks and teaching tips during physically-distanced times. We’ve made this post public so other improvisers and groups can also use it if they find it helpful.

This guide is based on the following:

>> Hoopla’s Full Risk Assessment
>> Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s Guide for the Performing Arts

The overall aim is to make sure Hoopla’s improv workshops are safe while still being fun, friendly, sociable and playful.

We’re aiming to not only keep improv fun while physical distancing is still in place, but to make it more fun than it ever was before!

We’re improvisers, we can adapt, and there is no reason why safety and fun have to be mutually exclusive. We believe it’s possible to still emotionally, socially and playfully connect at a distance and in fact that could be one of improv’s major new purposes after lockdown!

Main Actions

These actions have the greatest effect on lowering the overall risk:

  1. Limit the chances of anyone with Covid being in the room.
  2. Keep physical distancing in place throughout the class.
  3. Use set smaller groups.
  4. Ventilation.
  5. Cleaning and hand hygiene.

1. Limit the chances of anyone with Covid being in the room.

Before the class starts:

  • Students and teachers to be regularly emailed before and throughout the course reminding them to not come if they, or a member of their household, have any signs of symptoms such as:
    • High temperature or fever.
    • A new, continuous cough.
    • A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.

Before people enter the room:

  • Teacher or Front of House (FOH) to ask each person on arrival if they have had any of the following symptoms:
    • High temperature or fever.
    • New continuous cough.
    • A loss or change in taste or smell.
  • Teacher or FOH to perform a temperature check (equipment issued before class).
  • Teacher or FOH to perform a smell check (in development).
  • Please note we should still be friendly and welcoming during this! Yes, it’s an odd way to start a new course and may feel awkward, but doing these things greatly reduces risks and means we can all have fun once we are in the workshop.

During the class:

If people do appear ill in class (fever, ongoing cough) then we do have to be assertive and ask them to leave for the rest of the session, for the greater good. If this happens we will follow up later and give them an online workshop alternative.

We also need to subtly ask people to cover their mouths (with elbow) if coughing, or again asking them to leave if it is a frequent cough.

2. Keeping physical distancing in place throughout the class

Current UK Government physical distancing advice is 1 metre + and WHO advice is 1 metre, however Hoopla is going to stick to 2 metres this season to be on the safe side.

Before the class starts:

  • Please check your room number is the same as expected and stick to your room number, as people will have been emailed room number in advance so they can find it quickly and avoid overcrowding around reception area.
  • Check your room is clearly sign posted and if not put up a sign or ask reception team to fix. This is to avoid overcrowding in shared areas by making sure students can find class.
  • Please arrive early to get chairs for your class (ask at reception if at Theatre Deli as rooms are cleared of everything unless asked for on arrival).
  • Set out workshop audience with 2 metre gaps between chairs, so using full width of room and possibly sides, and maximising floor space. People’s chairs stay the same throughout the evening.
  • Check people are finding your class OK as they arrive.

Announce at start of class:

“Welcome everyone! We’re going to start with the safety chat so you know what the boundaries are and what’s in place, so we can then go on to focus on having fun. As you’ve already probably noticed you’re sat further apart from each other than is normal for an improv workshop. We are physically distanced but we can still be playfully and emotionally connected. In fact, to help that please can you look around the room and wave hello to each other.

While current Government guidance is a 1 metre + physical distance we are largely aiming for a 2 metre physical distance in this class to be on the safe side.

This might feel awkward at first, but we’ll get used to it as the class goes on and before you know it we’ll be having fun with improv. You’ve all been doing physical distancing for months now, so you’re already naturals.

If at any point you are worried about distancing or anything else please do let me know, that’s always more important than the temporary existence of an improv scene or game.

Remember 2 metre is just the minimum distance, it’s not the only distance. We can enter the stage from all the way across the room. We can use the whole space. In fact the ability to connect emotionally across a distance and to bring fantastic stage craft to improv is one of many fantastic skills that are going to be developed more than usual over this course.

As I’m teaching I will sometimes explain how the game used to be played, before we work together to find the version of the game that works during physical distanced times.

You are also going to be in set smaller groups throughout the class, rather than regularly changing groups. But remember we are actually one big supportive team and to help that please can you look around and wave hello to each other.”

During the class:

  • All games and exercises to be kept at 2 metre distancing or more.
  • If games are direct face-to-face extra care to be taken that 2 metre distancing is in place or even increased.
  • If you are unsure of distancing or if the game becomes at risk of being more like 1m+ distancing then face coverings should be used during that game.
  • Remind people of physical distancing if they becomes too close, but in a friendly Hoopla way and with a helpful nudge into an alternative offer to help the scene continue.
  • Limit the number of people who are on stage at any one time to ensure it isn’t too crowded and noisy.
  • Use a buddy/small group system (see below).

Buddy system groups:

Instead of constantly changing partners/groups for games it is currently advised to have set small groups that stick together for the whole evening. For instance based on where people are sat on arrival you can group them into teams of 3-4. They will then play all games with that same team throughout the evening. They could start by chatting, getting to know each other and giving themselves a team name and (physically distanced) entry move.

On future weeks the group line ups can change.

Teachers can encourage each group to support each other to prevent an “us and them” competitive attitude popping up.

Although it means there is less interaction between the whole group (due to Covid safety reasons) it does mean people form stronger bonds with their smaller group over the evening.

At the end of the session each buddy system group can reflect on what they got from each session.

Key exercises that help make physical distancing still fun and emotionally connected:

  • Scenes where one person starts on stage involved in an activity and the other person enters from a much larger distance than normal. For instance when we were running improv in parks we had one person on stage exploring a desert and the other entered from across a field 100 metres away desperate for water. The exercise can experiment with how people physically enter, what emotional offer they make when entering the room and more. The exercise helps people to have fun with the increased distance rather than feeling trapped by the new limitation. They can explore the effect of a character making an entrance and the audience experiences how much we see from a character just by how they use the space.
  • Emotional connection at a distance. Actors play the most emotionally connected scene they can but at a very large physical distance. The director gives them a strong relationship and emotional situation as a suggestion, and from across the stage (or other areas) they play the scene with the same emotional intensity as if they were right next to each other or even holding each other. Has the surprise side effect of making improv look AWESOME as improvisers suddenly appear very confident and have emotional connection across the stage, similar to a larger scale West End production.
  • Commedia. There’s loads in Commedia dell’arte regards characters playing emotional scenes at a distance, as it came from a time of being performed outside in noisy market places so the actors had to become good at having emotional connection seen at a distance. For instance two lovers see each other in the woods, they walk towards each other as if they are about to embrace, but at 3 metres it all becomes too much and they run away from each other declaring their love will never be allowed!
  • Lots more ideas at https://www.hooplaimpro.com/fun

Every game has a physically distanced version!

Everything has a physically distanced version! You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In class you can think “what exercise would I usually do next for this situation?” and explain the normal version to the class. Then together you can work out the physically distanced alternative.

Other adhoc examples and teaching tips for physically distanced games:

  • If everyone walking around the room at once is likely to be too busy you could have half the class playing the exercise first followed by the other half, or use the buddy system groups. This also means people get to make observations on the exercises from outside.
  • If everyone in a circle (like many of our warm up games) means physical distancing is compromised you could play with half the group followed by the other half.
  • If a circle game involves running through the middle of the circle or swapping places in a chaotic way we could instead run outside the circle to avoid overcrowding.
  • Clapping games (for instance Danish Clapping) can still be played but with people clapping at a distance.
  • If people would usually build something with their bodies almost connecting (for instance The Machine, A-Z, Piece of Cheese, I’m a Whisk) we can still do that but with people separate and using our imagination to see how they would connect together.
  • 8 things/Hot Spot etc we would usually take it in turns to jump into the middle of the circle with everyone around supporting. Instead we can stay in our spot on the circumference of the circle but jump in the air to demonstrate “jumping in”.
  • In long-form tags could be replaced by audible edits of people just saying from off stage “we transport this character to mission control.”

Scene drift:

If a scene starts drifting across the room it may be because one improviser wants to be further away while the other one has a different understanding of 2 metres and keeps getting closer. Pause the scene and ask the improviser who keeps getting closer to instead move further away and explore the overall space, othewise it becomes a cat and mouse game and the scene drifts across the stage.

3. Use set smaller groups

Instead of constantly changing partners/groups for games it is currently advised to have set small groups that stick together for the whole evening. For instance based on where people are sat on arrival you can group them into teams of 3-4 (and a maximum of 6). They will then play all games with that same team throughout the evening. They could start by chatting, getting to know each other and giving themselves a team name and (physically distanced) entry move.

On future weeks the group line ups can change.

Teachers can encourage each group to support each other to prevent an “us and them” competitive attitude popping up.

Although it means there is less interaction between the whole group (due to Covid safety reasons) it does mean people form stronger bonds with their smaller group over the evening.

At the end of the session each buddy system group can reflect on what they got from each session.

4. Ventilation

Before the class:

  • All air-conditioning units have already been set up by venues to be using external air intake instead of recycling areas.
  • Hoopla have also spoken to each venue to check outside windows can be opened.

On arrival:

  • Open windows to ensure there is external air coming into the venue.
  • For Theatre Deli you’ll have to ask reception staff to do this.
  • You can also open doors into rooms, if noise levels allow this.
  • Any problems with being able to do this please phone Steve at Hoopla immediately.

After class:

  • Please phone Steve at Hoopla immediately if there have been any problems with this, so we can fix for future workshops.

4. Cleaning and Hand Hygiene

Before the class:

  • All venues have increased cleaning of all rooms and surfaces.
  • All venues have increased gaps between bookings to enable cleaning to happen before and after classes.
  • Students and teachers regularly emailed remind them to wash hands before and after class.

On teacher arrival:

  • Wash your own hands (and throughout evening).
  • Familiarise yourself with hand sanitising stations around venue and immediately contact reception if they are missing.
  • Put a hand sanitiser in your classroom (we’re supplying teachers with their own stash, please don’t move the venue’s own ones).
  • Check toilets are clean and have soap available, if not please contact reception.
  • Check your classroom is clean, if not please contact reception.
  • Please spray any surfaces you are worried about (we’re supplying teachers with anti-viral spray).

As students arrive:

  • Point out hand sanitising stations.

At end:

  • Wash hands.
  • Spray any surfaces that have been touched in your room.
  • Return chairs to reception (if required by venue).
  • Any problems with cleaning or hand hygiene please immediately phone Steve at Hoopla so we can improve things in time for next class.

5. Other Things

Masks

Mask use will be mandatory in the communal areas of Theatre Deli and other large rehearsal venues, but not in the actual classrooms themselves, this is to avoid transmission between different groups where physical distancing can not be guaranteed.

Similar to dance classes, exercise classes, gyms, adult education, bars, restaurants, offices and cafes we have instead introduced physical distancing and other safety measures as opposed to mandatory masks in our classes.

However if games are likely to be at 1m+ as opposed to 2m then masks must be worn. Also if people want to wear masks they are allowed.

Track and Trace

This is already covered by people signing up online, you don’t have to do anything else and they don’t have to sign on arrival they just have to let reception know they are with Hoopla and go straight to room. This is to stop crowds forming at reception.

Floor Markings

We aren’t using floor markings as we feel the setting out of the audience chairs already displays distance and that the decreased class size enables distancing to take place, and people are already quite used to physical distancing from real life.

Pub

Hoopla cannot be expected to be responsible for other venues after the official class finishes. So while students may independently choose to go to the pub together after class please let them know that Hoopla’s official teaching and responsibility ends when the class finishes and we aren’t responsible for external pubs and businesses. This also means that pub trips should currently be led by students instead of teachers.

Feedback

Please escalate any concerns you or your students have immediately to Hoopla’s training management (Jessie Rutland or Steve Roe). This is best done immediately after the class so we can fix things the next day.

 

The new job of the improv scene will be to follow safety guidelines while devising new ways to make things fun. We’re sure the improv scene will rise to the challenge.

Yes improv at a distance is possible.

Yes it will be fun!

 

More info:

>> Safety in classes

>> Safety in shows

>> Full booking flexibility

>> Improv at 2m is still fun!

>> Hoopla’s full risk assessment

>> Government guidelines for performing arts

 

 

 

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