If there’s one thing that has been getting me through this pandemic (besides quality time with loved ones), it’s entertainment. We’ve all needed a bit of levity in these unprecedented times, and thank goodness that taking a moment to escape into fantasy can be as simple as clicking a button. The entertainment industry has been hard at work to provide audiences with a sense of normalcy, but producing shows in the middle of a pandemic is anything but normal. As a production assistant (or PA) at Dancing with the Stars, I thought I’d walk you through what my not-so-typical day looks like.
As the Dancing with the Stars judges’ PA, my job is to make sure that Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli, and Derek Hough are on schedule and have everything they need for a smooth day. I work closely with our wonderful judge producer to stay on top of meetings, interviews, and anything else that might arise.
The first step of my day is to check in with our COVID officers, who need to verify that your COVID test was negative and take your temperature before they can let you into the studio.
Next, you’re given a wristband, your golden ticket to walk about the building without security tackling you. It’s far from an all-access pass, however: The show divides employees into different “zones” to limit unnecessary exposure between people. If you’re “Zone A”, like me, you are one of the lucky few that can watch the show from inside the stage.
After getting my wristband I head up to Dancing with the Stars’ production office, which looks a bit different this year. You can’t exactly walk around freely or keep your door open as in previous years. Gone are the days of sharing fun snacks in the kitchen or communal coffee pots. Can you imagine touching the same coffee pot as 50 other people now? Nightmare.
Next comes everyone’s favorite part of the day — getting COVID tested! The COVID logistics team has the daunting job of making sure hundreds of people get tested on time to keep production moving smoothly. Without them, we have no show!
Before and after the Dancing with the Stars goes live, my main job is to keep the judges on time for their meetings and interviews. Most of these now take place on Zoom or FaceTime via our trusty iPads. Usually our social media team will also make a socially distant appearance to get some behind-the-scenes content (namely, Bruno and Derek filming TikToks). During the hours leading up to the show I also make sure the judges get their lunches.
Our craft services department (or Crafty, as we affectionately call it) has seen a lot of updates this year to keep everyone safe. Lunches and snacks used to be served buffet style, a concept that sends shivers down my spine now. Again production has come up with a creative solution, packaging our meals and snacks separately and handing them out to-go style. After you get your meal, you have to stay outside in the designated eating /drinking zones until you’re done.
Once it’s time for Dancing with the Stars to start filming, I make sure the judges are settled on stage. Since there are unmasked dancers and judges around, the HMU (Hair and Makeup) and Wardrobe teams and I have to make sure we are wearing face shields and N95 masks for extra protection. Then comes the actual best part of my day — getting to watch the show!
When the day is over we are exhausted, but we’re all proud of ourselves for pulling together and making things work even in the midst of such challenging circumstances. Through all of the changes, live TV is still a fun, very unique experience. I’m so grateful to be working with such a dedicated team. I hope that our appreciation to be back doing the things we love translates to the viewers at home, because it has never felt more important to bring joy to your screens.
To read more Dancing with the Stars behind-the-scenes coverage, you can find Carrie Ann Inaba’s DWTS Diaries here.