NJ Live Venues Can Reopen — But Will They?
Indoor venues for live performances can open their doors to the public on Friday.
But don't expect theaters to have something live and indoors for you to see anytime soon.
For any site that plans to reopen, the audience would be capped at the lesser of either 25% capacity or 150 people. Social distancing and face masks will be required, as the Garden State continues to limit the transmission of COVID-19. Gov. Phil Murphy made the announcement Monday on social media and at his regular coronavirus briefing for the media and public.
"This certainly shows progress, but I believe a good number of theaters aren't really thinking of reopening until sometime in January," said John McEwan, executive director of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.
There are many other factors to consider when working toward a real reopening, McEwan noted — rehearsal safety, for example, and the needs of unionized workers in the industry.
The crowd cap also wouldn't make financial sense for venues, even smaller ones.
"At a capacity of 150, it's going to be very difficult to schedule much that is going to be profitable," said Ed Kirchdoerffer, general manager of Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. "And it may not be the greatest experience either for somebody on stage to have a pretty empty theater."
Kirchdoerffer said the 25% limit may give the 1,319-seat venue a chance to experiment with new types of programming, such as films or lectures. With that move, the theater can test new safety features on a smaller scale.
Since shutting down in March, venues throughout the state have developed enhanced protocols meant to keep patrons and staff safe — not only in the theater itself, but in the lobby, bathrooms and concession areas. Outdoor performances, subject to weather conditions, have become an option for theaters with available space.
New Jersey Performing Arts Center, located in Newark, has already announced that live performances will not resume until 2021. For now, NJPAC is running five to seven virtual shows a week, according to executive producer David Rodriguez.
"We will beta test some socially-distanced programs beginning in November," Rodriguez said. "We just want to make sure that people are safe, because all we need is to have a number of people contract the virus in one of our live venues, and that will set us back months."