Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Interim Director Lance Himes are working toward reopening the state's performing arts venues, but have not yet officially signed an order to do so.
While they are iron out the details, a statement from the governor reads: "To give arts organizations the opportunity to begin planning for performances, the order will say that interior venue attendance will be capped at the lesser of 15% of their fixed-seated capacity or 300 people, while outdoor venue attendance will be capped at the lesser of 15% of their fixed seating capacity or 1,500 people."
DeWine's office says much of the venue and spectator guidelines will follow those issued in the order for spectators at sports venues. And he has also posted the Responsible RestartOhio guidance for performing arts theaters at coronavirus.ohio.gov.
For patrons, that guidance looks like this:
- Patrons must conduct daily health symptom assessments before each performance.
- Anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms must stay home.*
- The maximum number of individuals gathered in an OUTDOOR venue is the lesser of 15% of fixed, seated capacity or 1,500 individuals. The maximum number of individuals gathered in an INDOOR venue is the lesser of 15% of fixed, seating capacity or 300 individuals. These capacity limits apply unless a venue’s local health department and the Ohio Department of Health approve a venue’s variance plan for a different maximum capacity limit.
- Social distancing must be maintained throughout the venue, and seating must be arranged and assigned to allow for 6 feet in each direction between groups of: (1) No more than four individuals, or (2) Members of one household (i.e., parents/guardians and dependent children).
- Family members should sit together, socially distanced from other individuals/family groups.
- Patrons must wear face coverings at all times except for one of the reasons stated in the Director’s Order for Facial Coverings throughout the State of Ohio signed July 23, 2020 (https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/static/ publicorders/Directors-Order-Facial-Coverings-through out-State-Ohio-reader.pdf) or as it may thereafter be amended.
- No congregating before or after performances is permitted.
It is also recommended:
- The facility/venue should provide facial coverings for patrons who arrive without one.
- Seat patrons at least 12 feet (preferably more) from performers. If necessary, do not allow patron seating in the front row(s) to maintain such distancing.
Other guidance regarding performances includes:
- Conduct auditions, rehearsals and performances outdoors when possible.
- Speaking loudly, singing, and playing some musical instruments may pose a greater risk of airborne transmission of the coronavirus. Consequently, it is recommended to maintain social distancing during auditions, rehearsals and performances, preferably more than 6 feet.
- Perform without an intermission to reduce the number of patrons congregating in the lobby, restrooms, concessions, etc.
Rather than go at this task separately, the three theaters' artistic directors — Blake Robison at the Playhouse in the Park, D. Lynn Meyers at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati and Brian Isaac Phillips at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company — have collaborated to share plans for their coming seasons.
They will follow the same COVID-19 safety measures, including intense cleaning, reduced audience capacity and other protocols. Each production will run longer since keeping theatergoers socially distanced means fewer seats can be made available. Specifics are still in the works, awaiting further guidelines from the state of Ohio and CDC.
All three artistic directors are quick to say that further changes might be needed to ensure the safety of patrons, artists and staff.
“I know everyone has questions. We don’t have all the answers, but we have ideas,” the Cincy Shakes' Phillips says.
Ensemble Theatre's Meyers underscores, “We’ll pull everyone together to be sure we’re being safe for cast and crew. We even have to think about our box office team (who interact with the public). The staff is my family, and we have to protect them.”