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As theaters reopen in Reno-Sparks, new audience requirements emerge

Three actors on a stage. The woman on the left is wearing a fur coat and holding a cocktail while the woman in the center is staring at the man to her left, who has a weapon strapped to his belt.
Taylor Wilson
Actors onstage for Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Company’s production of A Nightmare on Taylor Street: Wet and Screaming.";

The COVID shutdown impacted many local businesses and organizations. After 18 months local community theaters are finally flipping on the stage lights again and kicking off new seasons. However, as the doors reopen, there are some new audience requirements. KUNR’s Kevin McCray reports.

 

Annalize Sanders of Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Company: Howdy, howdy. How y’all doing tonight?

Patron: Good, how are you?

Sanders: I just need to see your IDs and proof of vaccination before I let you in.

I am at Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Company in MidTown, Reno. It’s opening night for their new show. A small table is stationed just outside the front door, where proof of covid vaccination is being verified by Annalize Sanders.

All the local theaters got together and decided as a collective unit to require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test. These new requirements went into effect last month.

Doug Mishler is managing artistic director of Restless Artists’ Theatre in Sparks.

“I think we are all unified in the idea that everybody’s going to have to be vaccinated,” Mishler said. “You’re going to have to show us the card.”

With the new requirements in place, I asked Sanders what responses have been like.

“So far, everyone has been super cooperative, which is nice,” she explained.

However, not everyone has been so positive, according to Doug Mishler.

“One guy reacted with, ‘Oh, you’re tyrants,’ but that's all he said and he left. Well, ok, fine, but maybe it’ll make five other people say, ‘Oh, it’s safe. Let’s get back to normal, as normal as we can. We’ll wear a mask and all I have to do is show them the vaccine card.’ ”

Dennyse Sewell is executive director over at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Reno. She explains that this is not a unique requirement; similar actions have taken place throughout the country in various industries. In fact, this is already old news for Broadway, which made a similar announcement back in July.

“Implementing that policy here in Reno does not carry the assumption that all of our patrons read the same trade publications that we read. It may be surprising information to our patrons, whereas, for us, we have made our peace with it; we understand this is just what’s happening,” Sewell said.

Although local theaters are reopening, there is no certainty about being in the clear. New variants are still popping up, and there is only a guess as to what local government reactions could be. Joe Atack is producing artistic director of Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Company. He elaborates on the financial risk behind the decision to reopen.

“The most dangerous position for any theater company to be in is, you know, you’ve spent all the money on production, you’ve contracted people to work--actors or stage managers--and then you can’t open or you have to close, still having already incurred the vast majority of production costs. That’s where it gets really tricky. It’s like this weird, gray area that exists, which is that it actually becomes more sensible not to reopen,” Atack explained.

The alternative, remaining shuttered for an undisclosed amount of time, was not a more attractive option. After all, what is a theater without an audience? Holly Natwora, operations director of Bruka Theatre in downtown Reno, explains the importance of a live experience.

“It’s magic. It’s a one-time only deal. Netflix, you can watch that film over and over and over, and it’s never going to change; the performance is going to be the same every single time. Theater is a one-time-only deal,” Natwora said. “You are only going to have that audience together that one time. You are only going to have the actors in that frame of mind that one time, and you don’t get that sitting alone in your living room with your Netflix.

Despite that magic, theaters remain worried about whether or not the audience will return. At Good Luck Macbeth, where I recently attended the opening of their new play, not only did an audience show up, but they showed up with enthusiasm.

Kevin McCray is a former on-air host at KUNR Public Radio.