THEATERS, INDOOR ART VENUES CAUTIOUS IN THEIR REOPENING
The California Department of Public Health announced last week that indoor theaters and concert venues in the Bay Area will be allowed to reopen April 15, but expect many venues to remain in the first act this month.
Although fans of the arts are itching to return to live events, putting on a show requires time and preparation and shows may not resume in Vallejo until May.
Renay Conlin, the executive director of the Vallejo Community Arts Foundation, said the first live event scheduled at the Empress Theatre (that isn’t livestreaming) is an outdoor event on May 15 featuring David Sikes, the bass player from the group Boston.
The Empress hasn’t had a live event for over a year due to the pandemic.
“Live-streaming is OK but it’s never going to be the same as having a live event,” Conlin said. “The communication between the audience and the performers can’t be duplicated. It’s just this great feeling that everyone is sitting and watching something together. It’s not the same experience when done in a live stream and I can tell you all the actors I know feel the same way.”
Meanwhile, the State of California announced Tuesday that all restrictions on indoor venues could be eliminated June 15 if vaccination progress continues and other guidelines are met.
“I’ve been very encouraged with the June 15 date set by Newsom to reopen California,” Conlin said. “We’ve been closed for a year and this has just been devastating for the arts community. Not just the actors, but the stage hands, the video people, the sound people, the stage
managers, the people doing makeup and costumes. It’s been really, really devastating.”
Still, some arts organizations applauded the move, while still keeping their eyes set on reopening much later in the year or in 2022. That’s especially true for theater companies, which typically need months of planning and preparation to put on a major show.
“We’ve been hesitant to book performances at this moment because we don’t want people sign a contract and then have to cancel that contract due to COVID-19,” Conlin said. “So we’re really hoping to have events over the summer and into the fall, but nothing is booked and ready to go for April.
“We’ve had a lot of actors and people in the arts community take on other jobs, whether it be at a Home Depot or Walmart, in order to pay the bills and make things work for them,” Conlin continued. “However, I know that the majority of them would leave those jobs in a heartbeat if it meant they could come back and do what they’ve been doing all their lives.”
Conlin said that some actors would need time to come back as many of them have told her they are out of practice. She also said whether or not a venue decides to start putting on an act depends on a few factors, including the tier associated with that county.
Solano County is currently in the red tier. On April 15 venues would welcome in-state visitors only, have to have a weekly worker testing program, have all tickets delivered digital in advance, have a pre-designated eating area (no eating/drinking in seats), have seats six feet apart and have a maximum occupancy of 100 people or 10 percent capacity.
A venue can have 25 percent if all guests are fully vaccinated or tested.
If Solano were to move to the orange tier, a venue would be able to have 15 percent capacity or 35 percent if all guests are fully vaccinated or tested. In the yellow tier, venues can operate at 25 percent — or a maximum of 300 people. The capacity increases to 50 percent if guests are tested or show proof of full vaccination.
For larger venues, with a capacity of 1,501 or more: Testing or proof of vaccination is required for any site located in the red tier, and capacity is limited to 20 percent.
“It’s tough and what tier we are in would change the equation,” Conlin said. “But if we’re only allowed to have a certain amount of people then it is really tough because we need to cover the costs of the performers and ticket sales don’t often cover that if it’s 25 to 50 percent capacity. I was disappointed to hear we were staying in the red tier for now and I certainly hope people pay attention to the guidelines soon so we can reopen.”
Possible vaccination cards could be used for entry into live events, something Conlin said she’s OK with. She also said she is sending out a survey to people asking what changes should be made when people return to theaters.
“Obviously we should continue to social distance, but do the volunteers need to wear masks?” Conlin said. “Do the other audience members need to wear masks? “
And what about testing? “I heard in some place in Europe they are testing everyone involved in the show before each show, but that can be expensive and can take a lot of time,” Conlin said. “We’ll have to have that discussion when the time comes.”
Bay Area News Group writer Jim Harrington contributed to this story.