Are Theatres Safe?

by Jillian Carter

A lot of people have been asking me what it’s like to go back into theatres in the middle of a pandemic. Is it scary? Am I afraid?

Honestly, no. It’s a lot less scary than going to the grocery store or the gas station. In the past month, I have been to shows at the Lied Center for Performing Arts, Beatrice Community Players, and the Lofte Community Theatre. Lincoln Community Playhouse has also opened an indoor show, but I haven’t been yet! Each time I have felt completely comfortable, and this is coming from someone who is taking the coronavirus seriously. All my children are taking advantage of remote schooling or homeschooling, and I work from home. We use grocery delivery services as much as possible and always wear masks in public. I am doing everything I can, within reason, to keep my family safe. But I still go to the theatre.

Theatres are, by far, safer than anywhere else I have gone in public since the onset of COVID-19. Let me explain why.

Theatres in our area have to submit incredibly detailed reopening plans to the health department, explaining exactly how they are going to keep everyone in their buildings safe. They take into account all the information and suggestions available from leading experts, including the CDC and other scientists. They then make a plan that goes even further than all the suggestions.

The common features of every one these plans include social distancing and required face coverings. Some plans also include one-way traffic, temperature checks, and other precautions. Social distancing means that seats bought together are still grouped together like normal, but six feet away from any other groups. Some theatres are leaving entire rows empty, while others space differently. Community Players in Beatrice has cardboard cutouts of famous and local theatre personalities in empty seats! Face coverings are enforced 100 percent, with no possibility of entering or remaining in the building without one. Each theatre I have been to (including the Lied Center) has senior staff at entrances, ready to intervene should there be an issue.

Performers are not wearing masks, but remain far away from the audience. Some theatres have taped lines onstage that show the performers exactly how far back they must stay to maintain a considerable distance from those in the front row of seats. Others have moved seats back so that performers can use the entire stage and still maintain ten feet of distance from the audience. 

All of these safeguards combine to make theatres some of the safest places to be during the pandemic, thanks to the hard work and dedication of our theatre community.

Of course, there are risks every time we leave our homes, mask or not, distanced or not. Everyone has to make the right decision for themselves and their loved ones. However, theatre is an important part of my mental health, and that of so many others. Creative outlets and endeavors are something that can make people feel safe, included, and free. These are feelings that are hard to come by in this current climate, but I find them at the theatre.

Theatre is a place where everyone is supposed to feel safe. That means something new now, but it’s still true.

Jillian Carter is a local playwright, actress, and director, as well as the managing editor of Appearing Locally. A busy mother of four, she works as a role play consultant for the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and runs the Angels Theatre Company Play Writing Collective.

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