Multiple Sacramento performing arts venues say they’re not going to open just because they’re allowed to under new California rules.
State guidelines for indoor live performances that took effect this week impose capacity limits and direct guests to wear masks and sit six feet apart when they attend events. Audience members are being asked to refrain from yelling, booing and singing.
Buck Busfield, producing artistic director of the Sofia, home of the B Street Theatre, says they’ll open the curtains “when the public tells us they’re ready to come.”
“Because for us to open for three or four weeks and have light to no attendance is just impractical,” he said. “We’re going to reopen once and do it correctly, and we want to reopen quickly with bigger houses rather than having all that expense and just having a few people there.”
The new state guidelines allow for live, indoor performances in counties in the red, orange and yellow tiers. There are capacity restrictions, which vary depending on the size of the space and whether the venue chooses to ask patrons for vaccination records or negative COVID-19 tests at the door.
The new rules are as follows:
Venues with a capacity of up to 1,500 people:
- Red tier: capacity is limited to 10% or 100 people, and capacity increases to 25% if all guests are tested or show proof of full vaccination.
- Orange tier: capacity is limited to 15% or 200 people, and capacity increases to 35% if all guests are tested or show proof of full vaccination
- Yellow tier: capacity is limited to 25% or 300 people, and capacity increases to 50% if all guests are tested or show proof of full vaccination.
Venues with a capacity of 1,501 and above:
- Red tier: testing or proof of vaccination is required, and capacity is limited to 20%.
- Orange tier: capacity is limited to 10% or 2,000 people, and capacity increases to 35% if all guests are tested or show proof of full vaccination.
- Yellow tier: capacity is limited to 10% or 2,000 people, and capacity increases to 50% if all guests are tested or show proof of full vaccination.
These are the first guidelines for these kinds of events since the state banned live performances in spring 2020. Gov. Gavin Newsom warned that live shows would be one of the last activities to return as shelter-in-place orders eased.
So theatres have been shuttered and thousands of performers and stage crew members remain out of work. While some companies have adapted to virtual and outdoor performances, many have been biding their time until it’s safe to welcome audiences back.
At the CLARA, a Midtown arts center with a small auditorium available for rent, executive director Megan Wygant says it will be a while until they put up a show. She says for the groups she works with, an audience capacity of 25% wouldn’t allow them to sell enough tickets to cover the cost of the performance.
The new state guidelines require additional cleaning protocols, which means more supplies and staff time. There are also special rules about ticket-checking, entering and exiting the theatre, concessions and other parts of the experience that would likely require additional employees on hand.
“I’m seeing a lot of dollar signs to make things safe at a diminished capacity,” said Busfield with the Sofia. “It just doesn’t pencil out yet. It will, we’re very confident it will. But right now, it doesn’t.”
Julia Heath of Harlow’s, a Midtown concert venue, said via email that reopening at reduced capacity is “absolutely not financially feasible.” She said her organization is looking at a Sept. 1 reopening date. In the meantime, they’re creating new safety protocols and considering events exclusively for people who are vaccinated.
“Most venues have been bleeding more than $1000/day in overhead costs while shuttered,” she wrote. “It will take years to dig out of the financial devastation we have endured over the past 13 months.”
Heath is also involved with the California chapter of the National Independent Venue Association. They are pushing for state funding to give grants to help independent venues with economic recovery. The group will hold a letter-writing campaign next week.
The city of Sacramento says it acknowledges that reopening the arts scene will take an economic investment, and they’re working with local venues to identify needs and help business owners apply for grants through the federal Shuttered Venue Operators program.
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