ST. GEORGE — While many state and regional theaters, including the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City and the Smith Center in Las Vegas, have closed due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of Tuacahn Amphitheatre’s summer season is still uncertain.
On the outdoor theater’s website, in a post dated May 1, it is announced that the summer season of Broadway-style shows will be opening July 11 with some changes. The original season was set to feature Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “Annie,” however “Annie” was rescheduled to take place in the fall in the Indoor Hafen Theatre.
That said, a recent survey sent out to Tuacahn subscriber’s asking how likely they will be to attend a summer show this year cast doubts that the season would be going ahead on the July 11 date.
Tuacahn CEO Kevin Smith said that in order to have been able to open by the July 11 date, they would have needed to begin rehearsals Wednesday, which did not happen. However, he remains hopeful they will have a summer season and the organization looks to make announcement regarding their decision next week.
On May 12, the Utah Shakespeare Festival announced that it would be canceling its 2020 season due to myriad obstacles surrounding COVID-19. Chief among the obstacles was a decision by the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), the union of professional actors and stage managers, that it would not be extending contracts to professional theaters until their new safety protocols are written and implemented.
This also puts Tuacahn’s season in jeopardy since the association has made it clear they will not be sending union members to shows, particularly in areas where cases of COVID-19 are rising, without an approved and comprehensive safety plan put in place.
In a recent statement from the Actors’ Equity Association sent to St. George News, the union said it is concerned about the state of the pandemic in Utah.
“The surge of COVID-19 cases in Utah in the weeks following businesses starting to reopen is deeply troubling,” Gail Gabler, western regional director of Actors’ Equity Association, said in the statement. “This increase is a sobering reminder of why we must let science guide our decision making and safety plans before theaters open and we go back to work. Equity is continuing to work closely with our public health consultant, Dr. David Michaels, to find a safe path for Equity members to return to work.”
In response, Smith said that Tuacahn has been working diligently and in good faith with the association on a weekly basis and they have compiled a now 37-page safety guide addressing every health and safety concern they could think of to protect their cast, crew, staff and patrons.
Smith added that they have also been working closely with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, Ivins Mayor Chris Hart, St. George Mayor Jon Pike and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in developing the safety protocols, all of whom are supportive of their opening.
The guide is so thorough, Smith said, that they have been asked to share it with multiple performing arts organization as a standard for how to reopen theaters during COVID-19.
“I feel like we’re on the 1 yard line with them (the Actors’ Equity Association),” Smith said. “We are almost there to where we are going to announce that we will have those equity contracts in hand.”
Smith said that is has been encouraging to know that nearly all of the equity members who the theater had offered contracts to – 24 of the 26, Smith said – had been communicating closely with the union and hoping to be able to go to work at Tuacahn.
Addressing Utah’s rising case numbers, Smith said that it is a concern and that they, as a business, are not going to do anything that would harm their community, cast or staff. He hopes that as people in the state practice appropriate health and safety measure they will see the numbers go down.
In addition to encouraging proper hygiene with signage throughout the amphitheater, Smith said they have added additional exits and entrances and plan to practice social distancing within the theater. Smith also said they have not ruled out the possibility of taking patrons’ temperatures. Masks will be encouraged but not mandated, but Smith said that could change based on recommendations from the health department.
“We want to do this safely, and we think we can,” Smith said. “We’re not giving up; we owe it to our cast and our community and to our actors.”
When asked how refunds and the theater’s ticket protection program will come into play in the event of cancellations, Smith said the ticket protection policy acts as a rain check for shows that get rained out or for patrons who are unable to make it to a show they hold tickets for due to illness or other circumstances. In those cases, patrons would be offered credit toward another show at a future date.
Smith added that they would certainly be accommodating to patrons who may be experiencing illness during this time and would exchange their tickets no problem. Patrons who are feeling ill or are experiencing symptoms are asked to stay home.
“We’re going to accommodate people because of their concerns,” Smith said.
Patrons will be offered refunds to shows that have to be canceled or postponed, and about 17% of ticket holders for this season’s shows have been refunded, Smith said, adding that nearly 80% of patrons have not asked for refunds which has been really encouraging.
Moving forward, though they are not entirely out of the woods with Actors’ Equity, Smith hopes to salvage the summer season and believes they can bring a lot of joy and laughter to the community.
“We hope that our season does go forward,” Smith said, adding that there may be a few more adjustments but he believes they will be moving forward.
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