Bringing dozens of ensembles involving thousands of performers and a massive, dynamic summer tour back to life after a forced hiatus of more than a year is no easy feat; but more than 20 Drum Corps International-affiliated groups from across the country are enthusiastically planning to take the field this summer—if positive public health trends continue and professional advisors and consultants confirm all necessary guidance that it is safe to do so.

“The easiest thing for us to do would be to stay dormant and cancel all summer activities again this year,” said Dan Acheson, DCI CEO. “We’ve instead opted to explore avenues for safely restarting and have invested wisely in gathering comprehensive information and creating a detailed action plan for a safe return. We now have such a plan in place, which will continue to evolve as the environment warrants. We are enthusiastic about the prospects of providing outstanding – and safe – opportunities to our performing groups in the summer of 2021 and to all those who will take the field in their ranks, as well as those in supporting roles.”

Since the start of the pandemic, DCI has paid close attention to the numerous public health and safety issues which would affect participating ensembles, their members, and the organization itself.

“As we continue to proceed with cautious optimism about the current trajectory of statistical trends relating to effective treatment and prevention of the COVID-19 virus, we have turned our attention and focused all of our resources to provide a safe environment for reengaging the remarkable performers, instructors and support teams who desire to be a part of the Drum Corps International experience this season,” said Acheson.

Acheson continued, “We owe it to these young adults to provide them with every opportunity to thrive in the pursuit of their personal best, with newly adopted policies and procedures designed to ensure their safety without compromise. Although we realize that the situation is constantly changing and there is a risk that a severe downturn could require us to abandon our 2021 plans, we are moving forward with the confidence that a team of extraordinarily talented and highly qualified professionals are guiding the decision-making process to minimize exposure to risk and to maximize every opportunity for success. We are looking forward to once again creating the greatest stage in marching music, and to doing that this summer!”

Here’s how DCI will help participating organizations to safely navigate the return to a fulfilling—albeit abbreviated—summer of outstanding educational and performance opportunities:

TRTF Calls the Shots

Last fall, the Drum Corps International board of directors empanelled the “Tour Restart Task Force” (TRTF) to provide ongoing research and guidance for the safe return to performance activities. A multi-disciplinary team of highly qualified medical, legal and public health experts along with other healthcare, logistics, risk management and administration professionals, the TRTF has published a continually-updated set of recommendations based on the latest available scientific data and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

The focus of the TRTF is to assist participating organizations in the planning and execution of their respective pandemic protocols, keeping safety at the forefront of a successful return to rehearsal and performance activities later this year. Beyond all else, the mandate is to keep members, staff, employees, and volunteers healthy and safe and to avoid the risk of inadvertently creating adverse outcomes.

One of the first tasks of the TRTF was to create a set of “minimal viable conditions” which would be acceptable for an in-person restart, based on a number of factors including infection and hospitalization trends, new case trends in event locations, access to affordable and readily-available testing, interstate and intrastate quarantine orders, vaccine access, rollout and efficacy, sanitation/disinfection, group size restrictions and other public health requirements and best practices. The policies and recommendations continue to be updated as the best available science evolves and the pandemic dictates.

Since establishing the minimal viable conditions, the task force continues to refine definitions and clarify specific approaches to vaccination requirements, testing options and contact tracing protocols within the unique requirements of drum corps’ standard operating procedures. Considerations include vehicle seat assignments, housing and sleeping arrangements whether in a hotel room or in a school gym or other large area, and other characteristics unique to life within the ranks of a touring drum corps.

Corps Safety Managers – Defining a New Role

New for 2021 will be a corps-designated Safety Manager for each participating organization, who will serve as the primary point of contact on all matters of health and safety between the corps and the DCI headquarters during the various phases of the abbreviated summer season. This will include the period of preparation prior to arrival for training camps, as well as during those weeks of rehearsal, on into the tour and post-tour activities. These officers will also oversee the successful implementation of their multi-tiered, corps-specific plans.

Guidelines include guidance on self-sequestration prior to departing for “move-in” day, as well as pre-travel testing requirements, considerations while traveling to a corps location, potential need for quarantining when staying with the corps during training camp, testing during and after encampment and input on day-to-day lifestyle and hygienic functions such as showering, food preparation, nutrition and meal service.

“Bubble” Life on the Road – Highlights of a Different Look for 2021

Although the scope of travel for participating groups will be considerably less than the standard 10,000 mile adventure of previous summers, the need to pay attention to fine-line details are arguably at an all-time high.

DCI officials know that the drum corps touring lifestyle doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to the simple creation of a true ‘bubble’ as we’ve come to know the phrase from other sequestered environments. Although the corps will spend the first portion of the summer in a relatively stable and controlled environment, the days leading up to their arrival in Indianapolis pose unique challenges. Their goal is to thoroughly address potential vulnerabilities and provide guidance and resources to assist the corps with the successful planning and execution of procedures to effectively mitigate these challenges. Special attention will be paid to local and regional differences in mandated guidelines and regulations. Cooperation and situational awareness will be key components to a safe and successful summer.

Training sessions for tour policies and procedures will commence this spring so that each corps can manage their teams and address questions and concerns prior to arriving at their training camp locations.

Testing protocols for corps performers, instructional staff and support personnel will be implemented to ensure that everyone participating in and traveling with the corps is provided with weekly Rapid Antigen COVID-19 tests during the training period and for the duration of the tour. DCI has secured the thousands of tests necessary to perform this function at a per-test price that is very manageable for the participating ensembles.

Masks will be a way of life.

– Corps will be strongly encouraged to recruit volunteers and support staff who can serve for the entire duration of the season, reducing the risk of having someone bringing an illness into the group.

– Bus travel is the backbone of the drum corps touring model. Corps are working with motorcoach operators to ensure that sanitation, cleaning and sanitization of the vehicles meets or surpasses the CDC and American Bus Association (ABA) industry guidelines.

– Additional operational guidelines have been created for truck operators, food and grocery pickup drivers, potential rideshare situations, as well as staff and performers utilizing air, rail and ground transportation. “Quarantine vehicles” will be established as necessary within a corps caravan.

– The longtime tradition of sleeping in school gyms and simply heading outside to the practice field will be different and in some cases will be replaced in part this year by a shift to more use of hotel and dorm rooms and other creative solutions which meet health and safety guidelines. In many circumstances, rehearsal facilities may not be adjacent to lodging. Each circumstance will be supported by separate guidelines covering specific operational areas such as setup, distancing, sanitation and hygiene.

Laundry facilities will be screened and reserved in advance in order to ensure compliance. Special arrangements will be made whenever possible to minimize contact between corps personnel and members of the general public.

– Full corps trips to big box stores will be minimized. Individual corps will create plans for acquisition of essential supplies to minimize exposure to risk. Corps personnel will be required to remain on-property while at housing sites and show sites and will not have the opportunity to depart or participate in other activities.

Post-performance interaction with family, friends and other performers will not be possible for this summer. Performers and staff will not reenter the stadium after performances. Family members, fans, alumni and sponsors will not be permitted in “backstage” areas. This includes parking lots, warm-up zones, corps entry/exit gates and tunnels.

– Pre- and Post-performance “huddles” will be eliminated, and will be replaced by socially-distanced corps meetings when necessary.

Additional time will be budgeted for logistics before, during and after rehearsal and performance sessions.

Food service operations will also increase sensitivity to interpersonal interaction beyond the traveling group. Whenever possible, delivery services and curbside pickup will be utilized and strict PPE and washing/sanitizing procedures will be required.

Enhanced handwashing options will be incorporated into mealtime routines and schedules adjusted accordingly. Hand sanitizer will be provided in addition to required hand washing.

– Management of touring drum corps food service staples such as the ubiquitous “PBJ Station” and “Drink Stations” will be reimagined, as the self-serving of food and beverages will not be permitted. Social distancing and use of masks will be enforced while waiting in line during mealtimes. Group jug washing stations will be replaced by individual sanitizing kits and procedures which will be explained to members by their respective corps safety teams.

\"This list shows just a few of the elements which demonstrate that the unique 2021 season will undoubtedly be filled with challenges, but also with opportunities,” Acheson said. “The later start to the 2021 performance season will certainly help us to ramp up to an exciting summer over a period of months, ensuring that our relentless focus on safety is guiding every aspect of the restart plan.

– Audience members will also be a part of the safety plan. As the summer performance schedule draws nearer, ticket holders will receive the most up-to-date information and guidelines as determined by local, state and federal agencies, as well as individual stadium requirements.

Acheson continued, “We’re looking forward to a memorable and extraordinary summer for all the right reasons, and we have every expectation that everyone involved will do their part to help Marching Music’s Major League™ to restart with renewed enthusiasm this summer… along with an eye toward the exciting lead up to our 50th Anniversary season next year.”

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