Local arts venues are preparing to fully reopen after more than 18 months of uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic and patrons can expect rigid or reinstated safety protocols, even if vaccinated.
Last week, the region’s three major performing arts venues, the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, Arsht Center in Miami and Kravis Center in West Palm Beach made major announcements as performance schedules begin to ramp up for the season.
All three facilities will require documentation of negative COVID-19 PCR tests within 72 hours of attendance, in addition to the wearing of masks. As an alternative, patrons can provide evidence of vaccination, a workaround for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ prohibition on “vaccine passports.”
“The return of live performing arts depends on artist and audience confidence. Many artists are now requesting these types of safety protocols, and our new policy is quickly becoming the industry standard and similar to those being implemented by Broadway theaters, major concert promoters and venues around the nation,” said Broward Center CEO Kelley Shanley in a statement.
The Broward Center and its affiliate, the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, collaborated early in the pandemic with Cleveland Clinic to prepare for eventual reopening, based on current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“As we look to the return of full houses for our 15th anniversary season, we believe this extra layer of precaution, coupled with facial coverings and continued sanitation practices, will keep our guests, artists and staff as safe as possible, particularly given the spread of delta variant throughout our area,” said the Arsht Center’s Vice President of Communications Suzette Espinosa Fuentes in a statement.
The Arsht Center also indicated further details are currently in the final stages of development and will be communicated later this month to current ticket holders and the general public.
Rules for children vary by venue and ticket holders are encouraged to check the centers’ websites for the most recent updates.
Other smaller arts venues that have already opened have reinstated COVID protocols since the rise of the delta outbreak and growing concerns voiced by patrons and performers.
The Foundry in Wilton Manors was among the first to resume live performances more than a year ago with limited capacity, heightened sanitation procedures and mask requirements.
As vaccinations became available, Producer Ronnie Larsen gradually loosened restrictions until a COVID scare arose during rehearsals for his current production, “Sauna.”
One of the original cast members was diagnosed with the virus — despite being fully vaccinated — sending all the actors and Larsen to be tested. Fortunately, none of the others tested positive, but the Larsen resolved to require masks again for audience members in the intimate, 40-seat theater space. Cast members were tested regularly throughout the run.
“It’s really changed my perspective,” Larsen said. “I’m beginning to think this is the new normal, as [the pandemic] keeps going on because people won’t get vaccinated.”
Next door, Island City Stage has also reinstated masks at all performances, even though a large percentage of their regulars have been vaccinated.
The unexpected rise of the delta variant created unique headaches for Symphony of the Americas Executive Director Steven Haines. Last year, the orchestra’s board selected Spanish conductor Pablo Mielgo as their new artistic director, but international travel to the U.S. was banned due to the virus, trapping the maestro in Europe.
And just as an opportunity to finally get Mielgo’s visa processed appeared likely, the embassy in Madrid was charged with handling emergency requests from thousands of Afghan refugees after the evacuation of Kabul.
The symphony recently announced concert dates in October, November and December and Haines is working on contingency plans should Mielgo not arrive in time.
“I’ve spoken with the board and patrons and supporters, and not one person is angered by this. They’re maybe frustrated, but everybody understands the reality of the situation,” Haines said. “It’s not just us. This scenario has been replicated across the country — artists, singers, dancers are all faced with this continuing situation. Six months ago, we thought COVID would be in the rearview mirror, but it’s not. Who knows where we’ll be 60 or 90 days from now … what’s the next step?”
Like other arts leaders across the region who have been confounded at practically every turn, Haines remains hopeful.
“Our patrons want to see and hear their orchestra and we’ll see that it happens,” he concluded.