The show must go on in a COVID environment

By Sgt. 1st Class Josephine Pride - November 9, 2020
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The sounds of the cymbal and drums fill the auditorium as the lights begin to encompass the stage at Eisenhower Hall Theatre. The sound of the guitar joins in with the drums as Matt Mulhare runs on stage to grab his guitar and play along with the band.

“How are ya’ll doing tonight West Point?” he asks as he begins singing along to the music.

Mulhare, along with Travis Denning, were both the opening acts for Platinum artist Riley Green during the “We Stand Together” concert held for the U.S. Military Academy Corps of Cadets at West Point, Sept. 11.

“It was important to put on this concert for the Corps of Cadets because right now they are probably more quarantined than anybody in the country right now,” Green said. “It’s been great just to give back to people that are doing so much for us and the sacrifices they make being away from their family and friends.”

The planning for the concert began during the summer after Green performed during a virtual concert for the Class of 2020. During the Q&A session after his performance, the class requested he come to West Point to perform live and he promised he would work to make that happen.

“They (Riley Green’s team) did not want to let COVID or anything prevent him and his team from coming to do this concert, especially after they learned cadets were on campus and couldn’t leave,” Aundrea Matthews, cultural arts director for the Corps of Cadets, who has a doctorate in philosophy said. “He was determined to keep his word to our cadets so we worked months to figure out a way for him to come and perform.”

The academy’s Directorate of Cadet Activities’ Cultural Arts Department began developing a plan to host a live concert at West Point. With the challenge of COVID-19 still a large factor, several precautions had to be put in place to prevent a potential spread of COVID-19.

“Based on mitigation strategies West Point was using to bring the Corps back, I just took that strategy, tweaked it a little bit and developed our playbook for the theater,” Matthews said. “We used the NCAA guidelines and combined them with our own mitigation strategies and then I added in a couple of other additional tasks because they are artists.”

The established mitigation strategies involved having Green and his team be tested within 72 hours before they arrived at West Point. The traveling team was also confined to the tour bus as they made their way up to New York through a designated route with established stops from Tennessee.

“We made sure they got here in enough time so they could set up, load in, perform the concert, load out and be out of New York City within 24 hours,” Matthews said. “They couldn’t stay in New York City past 24 hours so we had to get them back on the road as quickly as possible.”

Several safety measures were also put in place backstage, such as masks worn the entire time, socially distancing and hand-sanitizing stations. The theater only held 25% capacity to allow enough social distancing among the cadets in the audience.

“At 25% capacity, we were able to have about 1,100 cadets inside the theater. Overflow in Riverside Café could hold another 120,” said Matthews.

The concert was advertised to the Corps of Cadets through the Brigade Tactical Department and the Brigade Morale, Welfare and Recreation officer. Signs were also advertised in the Cadet Mess and shared on the internal Cadet MWR Instagram page.

“When the sign-ups opened up that night, within a few minutes we already had over 600 cadets sign up,” Class of 2021 Cadet Stavros Pappas, Brigade MWR Officer, said.

After the cadets signed up, the tickets were individually distributed and checked again by ushers at the doors before they took their seats. Every third seat in the auditorium was marked off to ensure social distancing between cadets.

“We actually logged where every person was sitting in the auditorium just in case there was an outbreak,” Pappas said. “As weird as it sounds, spreading people out actually spread the energy. Instead of having a thousand people condensed up front, it spread that energy throughout the entire auditorium.”

For singer Mulhare, giving back to the Corps of Cadets was very personal to him since he grew up just 35 minutes up the road in the small town of Florida, New York. This was his first big show opening for a major artist, and the show being at West Point brought it all full circle for him.

“The experience of everything was just incredible,” Mulhere said. “I’ve been coming to West Point my whole life to watch football games, hockey games, everything.”

Class of 2021 Cadet David Weaver felt the concert was much needed to boost morale around the academy. Since Green was also his favorite country artist, him performing was an added bonus.

“Even though you couldn’t see it from the masks, we were all singing along. The morale shift was night and day,” Weaver said. “Everybody left that concert happy.”

Now that the stage has been set to hold live concerts in a COVID environment, Eisenhower Hall Theatre plans to host more shows in the near future.

“Not only was this concert done to raise morale and promote wellness for the Corps of Cadets, but we also, being the second largest presenting theater in the state of New York, wanted to make sure we implement the right strategy to do it,” said Matthews. “We wanted to show that you can have a live concert, you can have fun, you can practice PPE and social distance and it be a healthy entertaining experience. That is what we accomplished with this concert.”