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New California health guidelines give live theaters a bittersweet return to in-house shows – Whittier Daily News




Stage curtains may soon be up for shows in California.

But for performance venues, the benefits remain uncertain for now.

Live theater and large music venues have endured more than a year of coronavirus shutdowns, with little or no clue as to when they might be able to perform in front of a live audience. This has recently changed.

On Friday, April 2, state officials released new guidelines on the timing and restrictions for theaters with a maximum capacity of 1,500 people. can accommodate customers inside. That roadmap – which details capacity limits based on California’s reopening levels – came on the heels of state officials who recently announced rules for live outdoor performances.

But much remains unknown.

On the one hand, Los Angeles County, which rose to orange level on Monday, April 5, has yet to announce when or if it will comply with the new state guidelines, officials said on Friday. they wanted to get the final details first. Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments, also did not announce updated health guidelines on Friday night.

And even so, Los Angeles County theater officials said, questions remain as to how much outdoor performances or limited indoor shows will actually help cash-strapped venues in the capital. world of entertainment.

Yet while some sites have said the new guidelines will further complicate their plans to reopen, others have said they offer a silver lining.

“Now we have a way to go,” said Martha Demson, chair of the board of directors of the League of Theater Producers of Los Angeles. “Smaller production organizations are likely to remain closed for a while because 20-30% capacity is not economically feasible.

“But I’m delighted,” she added, “that we are seeing some tips out there and more are coming.”

Demson worked with the Californians for the Arts Task Force, a state advocacy group that is pushing for a clear reopening plan for live outdoor and indoor performances. The task force had urged health officials to allow outdoor scenes in parks and parking lots in yellow level counties.

Last month, the task force made its wish come true. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on March 5 that theater performances and concerts could take place outdoors, at a capacity of 20%, provided only state residents are present and performers are tested. every week. This rule came into effect on Thursday April 1.

And then a day later, the state gave the OK for indoor performances starting April 15th.

Under the indoor rules, counties in the second least restrictive Orange tier, such as LA County, may allow venues to host shows with 15% or 200 people, whichever is less. In the least restrictive yellow level, this capacity would increase to 25% or 300 people. But if all guests are tested or provide proof of full vaccination, those abilities would increase to 35% for the orange level and 50% for the yellow level.

None of the levels allow full capacity indoor shows. That day, under current rules, would not come until health ordinances were fully lifted.

“I think the closer we get to the green zone,” said Demson, “then the county will really lift the restrictions on indoor performance.”

Some people, however, have said they believe the new restrictions will hamper smaller theaters further.

“What I feel right now, as a theater operator, is that I hope the state decides to revise these guidelines as new information is released,” said Beatrice Casagran , founding director of Ophelia’s Jump Productions, at Upland.

“You want people to be safe,” she added. “But the outdoor guidelines were more helpful. These interiors are practically unusable. “

Sarah Weber, executive director of the Association of California Symphony Orchestras, said venues could actually be valuable allies in conditioning people to the new behaviors needed in the midst of a pandemic. Live entertainment producers, she said, are “moving professionals” with logistics and crowd control part of their job descriptions.

“We’re not the problem,” Weber wrote in an email. “In fact, we can be part of the solution. We are an underutilized and vital workforce that could help the state educate people on how to coexist with the pandemic, including learning new behaviors while providing an outlet for joy, fun, hope, entertainment and belonging. “

However, for now, the interior capacity will remain limited.

And for Los Angeles County theaters, the situation remains uncertain. Until county health officials update local guidelines, the best theater groups can do is put on shows outside.

“Once we make a deal with our local musicians union,” Long Beach Symphony president Kelly Lucera wrote in a recent email, before the state announced the indoor guidelines, “we are looking forward to producing small outdoor shows that fit City and State. health orders and safety protocols. “

But capacity limits will make it difficult for some theaters to stay afloat.

At least that’s the case for Musical Theater West, the Broadway musical producer in Long Beach.

“I could do something outside for 20% (of capacity) or 100 people or so,” executive producer Paul Garman said. “If we’re lucky, we could break even. But if people want it, and I think they want it, we’re happy to give it to them.

The other option is the online route. But success with this has been limited, some say.

Christian Lebano, artistic director of Sierra Madre Playhouse, said his theater has attempted to reach audiences online through audio recordings and Zoom performances. But, said Lebano, “it’s just not real theater.”

“We are trying to compete with movies and television,” he said. “And they have so much more money than we do.

“Why not just watch Netflix?”

The Sierra Madre Theater, however, has obtained permission from the city to host a live musical performance of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” at a local park, which Lebano said he hopes can be presented. in June or July. Although at that point, if the coronavirus measures are trending further downward, it could be allowed to host shows indoors with at least half the capacity – and possibly more.

Health officials said last week it was possible 80% of LA County is vaccinated within 12 weeks.

And to survive, say theater operators, venues really need to have full crowds.

Dana Leach, producer / manager of Long Beach Shakespeare, said her group, which performs at Bixby Knolls’ Helen Borgers Theater, have given up on preforming on stage until next year due to capacity limitations. The Helen Borgers Theater has only 48 seats and is expected to operate at at least 50% capacity and continue to sell streaming versions of plays to break even.

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