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  • Pamela Froman

Standing Room Only Audience and Casting Company

Hollywood is getting back on its feet after the largest shutdown in history – thanks to the lessening of the pervasive threat of Covid-19. But the question remains, how does the industry entertain people safely? What is the first step? The showbiz industry is getting creative.

Standing Room Only Audience and Casting Company has a 35-year history of providing live audiences for television shows. Owner Lisa Garr comes from a background in television, and she understands how a live audience can enhance entertainment. Shows such as Dancing With The Stars or America's Got Talent depend on their fans, and March 13, 2020, was a dark day for Hollywood, as every production began to shut down. Every audience member that comes from Standing Room Only is paid via payroll and covered under the payroll company's workers compensation policy.

Hollywood unions have reached a deal with the studios to restart production and to bring audiences back to various types of shows like talk, game, comedy, and competition in a safe and protected way. This is vital for the industry as live audiences are the lifeblood for these productions. "Performers need audiences and audiences need performers – it's a connection," says Lisa. "The audience is the 5th guest on a talk show and with the right audience, the live feedback is irreplaceable."

Standing Room Only recently provided a live audience of a socially distanced 25 people for the Real Time with Bill Maher Show. For long-standing comedians such as Bill Maher, the audience is essential. Standing Room Only has also worked with the American Music Awards to provide a limited audience for the show and is also providing a socially distanced live audience for Kevin Hart's new comedy show. Standing Room Only also completed a 5-day taping for an MGM comedy show that taped outdoors at the Odyssey Restaurant in Burbank in July of 2020.

How do they keep people safe? It begins with an FDA approved Covid-19 test taken 24 hours before a taping. You have to have a proven negative result to attend the show and the testing happens outdoors. You're also wearing masks, utilizing hand sanitizer and you must have a temperature check. "The environments are very low exposure if not no exposure," says Lisa. "You are safer going to a TV show than walking into an airplane or going to the market in my opinion because everyone has been pretested and you are sitting socially distanced from each other."

Having an audience improves the show overall and connects talent to their fans. They say that laughter is the best medicine, and what do people rely on the most to enhance their mood – entertainment! "Entertainment makes people feel some sense of normalcy again, some sense of laughter," says Lisa. "And that boosts our immune system! It provides a break, a relief, alleviating stress. It provides all of the things that make us healthy."

To help solve the issues of audience safety many productions are turning to hybrid audiences. These shows offer a virtual audience creating video walls that bring people in via Zoom and Skype. It allows fans to participate in their living rooms – and you don't have to travel, you can be anywhere in the world. As well, a small number of live audience members attend the show, typically around 25 or 30 people. This mix is a great solution, combining safety and interaction. "The audiences in these video walls feel like a VIP, everyone has a front-row seat," says Lisa. "When you combine that with the people in the studio that gives the real-time experience for the comedian on stage."

Standing Room Only is expanding from television audiences to relationships with expos, events, movie screenings – both indoor and outdoor, businesses, really anyone that needs to gather people together safely. "It's possible to have community, to have live reactions, to have feedback," says Lisa. "Entertainment is truly essential."

For more information on Standing Room Only, contact lisa@standingroomonly.tv or log onto www.standingroomonly.tv. For more information on Standing Room Only's Covid protocols, log onto www.standingroomonly.tv/covid-19.

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