Editor's note: This story has been updated with COVID protocols from Stages theater.
When it comes to COVID-19 protocol for the fast-approaching fall season, Main Street Theater Executive Artistic Director Rebecca Udden pulls no punches. “I just couldn’t sanction having a bunch of unvaccinated people in our theater because if they’re unvaccinated they will probably pull their mask down too.”
This sentiment combined with the theater's small space that puts people in close proximity regardless of the upgraded ventilation system, positioned Main Street as one of the first companies in Houston to announce that unvaccinated or untested patrons would not be welcome in their spaces. Additionally, the company announced that mask mandates will be in effect throughout the performance.
With the Delta variant still raging and almost all theaters in Houston now selling tickets for shows programmed in the next two months, no doubt many patrons have been anxiously waiting to assess the policies of various companies/venues before pulling out their wallets and committing to an in-person show.
The Hobby Center got its policy out early and ahead of everyone else. As of October 1, the venue will require proof of vaccination or proof of a recent negative test and masks must be worn. This means that TUTS programming at the venue will follow course, but the touring show, My Fair Lady, which is now playing, is not covered by this policy.
As for the city’s smaller companies, many are still working details out, while others, like 4th Wall Theatre Company, have just finalized their plans.
This included moving up a show in their season so they could open with an intermissionless offering, lessening the opportunity for audience/staff interaction during the show, and limited seating to allow for social distancing. And yes, 4th Wall will require masks and proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test.
To make the decision even more complicated for the companies that are still trying to nail down their own policies, there is the fear they could lose funding from the state government if they require proof of vaccination or a negative test to attend a show. While this wouldn’t be a serious blow to some companies, this could have a bigger impact on smaller theaters already hurting from losses due to COVID.
If the State decides to go after companies for their COVID policy, Udden says Main Street is prepared to stand its ground. "If it means giving back our grant, then we'll do it. We don't get a huge amount, so that's possible for us. But from what we hear, evidently, they aren't enforcing it."
Speaking of enforcing, there is also the issue of who will be policing each company’s policies and making sure they are being followed, before and during the production.
A quick reach out to critic colleagues in Toronto and London has returned many reports of patrons removing masks during productions without any repercussions or venue oversight.
4th Wall Theatre Company Managing Director Tim Richey believes that audiences in Houston will do better. “Whether it was our Summer Shakespeare Intensive or the reading we just had, our audiences are coming in and following the rules”, says Richey. “People are just happy to be there and they don’t want to blow it for everyone.”
It's important to remember that each company has its own rules when it comes to COVID protocols and that those rules can change at any time. But to help you figure out who is doing what so that you can make an informed decision about the shows you may attend, here is a company by company breakdown of what is presently required for a night in their theater.
Please contact each theater directly if you have further questions or need more information. Here are their statements:
The Hobby Center/TUTS
As of October 1, all patrons ages 2 and older will be required to show either proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or proof of vaccination, and photo identification. Patrons ages 18 and older must bring a photo ID that matches the name on the proof. Guests younger than age 18 without ID must be accompanied by an adult with proper identification. Test results and proof of vaccination must meet the following criteria:
Patrons who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (at least 14 days after final dose of Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson) may bring proof of vaccination as a substitute for a negative COVID test result.
The final vaccination date must be 14 days or more, prior to performance date.
Either the original vaccination card, a printed copy of the vaccination card, or a digital copy of the card, and a photo I.D. must be presented on arrival. Patrons must bring a printed copy of the negative COVID-19 test results which matches the patron’s photo I.D.
Both PCR tests and antigen tests are acceptable. The results must have been performed by a third party, such as a lab. At-home tests will not be accepted.
Negative PCR test results must be dated within 72 hours prior to attending the event. For example, if your event is on a Friday, the date of your test results should be between Tuesday and Friday.
Patrons who choose to take a rapid antigen test must obtain results within six hours of arrival. The results must have been performed by a third party, such as a lab. At-home tests will not be accepted.
Requires proof of negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours or, alternatively, proof of vaccination for all guests 12 and up attending performances and events at the Alley Theatre.
All guests will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to the performance. Both PCR tests and antigen tests are acceptable. The results must have been performed by a third party, such as a lab. At-home tests will not be accepted. Guests can show either paper or electronic documentation (including photo of negative results).
Guests who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (at least 14 days after final dose) may bring proof of vaccination as a substitute for a negative COVID-19 test result. Guests can show either paper or electronic documentation (including photo of card).
In order to streamline entry, the Alley encourages guests to use the Bindle App, a secure, easy-to-use digital pass for entrance to the Alley Theatre. Bindle securely stores your self-attested negative test status or vaccination record and creates a QR code for fast-pass access to the Theatre.
Alley Theatre requires all guests to wear a mask covering nose and mouth at all times while in the theater building, except while actively eating and drinking. Alley Theatre will provide complimentary masks to guests who forget to bring one. If guests choose not to wear a mask, there will be no admittance to the building and a refund will be processed.
We will continue to monitor the situation closely as the health and safety of our audience, artists, and staff remain our top priority. We will be advising patrons of our specific policies closer to the opening of our 2021-2022 Season in October.
Update 3 p.m. 9-17-21: These rules become effective October 1, 2021.
Upon arrival at The Gordy, patrons will be required to show proof of negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to the performance. Both PCR and antigen tests are permitted. The test must have been performed by a third party testing site. At-home tests will not be accepted. Test results may be presented via paper documentation or via photo on a mobile device.
Patrons who are fully vaccinated (at least 14 days after final dose) may present of proof vaccination instead of negative COVID-19 test results. Proof may be presented via paper documentation or via photo on a mobile device.
A photo ID will also be required for all patrons 18 and up.
Documentation must be presented upon arrival at The Gordy in order to enter the building.
Masks are still required for all patrons, regardless of vaccination or test results.
Main Street Theatre
Patrons will be required to wear masks and show their vaccination card or negative COVID test result (within 48 hours) prior to entering the theater. Photocopies or a photo on your phone of medical records will be accepted.
The Ensemble Theatre
The Ensemble Theatre will be requiring all patrons attending Ensemble Theatre artistic programming in the facility to have their temperature taken upon entry, wear their masks at all times while in the building and social distance.
Ensemble does not mention any requirement for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.
There will be limited seating to half capacity and no concessions for the first show of the season.
4th Wall Theatre Company
All guests are required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test obtained within 72 hours of the event in order to enter the theater. Alternatively, you may show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination for entry into the theater.
Acceptable forms of proof for a negative test include: a dated copy of the results in either printed or digital format (a photo on your phone will suffice). Both PCR and antigen tests are acceptable. The results must have been performed by a third party, such as a lab. At-home tests will not be accepted.
Acceptable forms of proof for full vaccination include: the original vaccination card or printed or digital copies of the vaccination card (a photo on your phone will suffice).
All guests must wear a mask properly to enter the theater. Masks must be kept on for the full duration of the performance. 4th Wall staff and ushers will also be required to wear masks.
4th Wall has reduced audience capacity to accommodate extra space between separate parties.
We will be making final decisions on our protocols at our board meeting at the end of September
Classical Theatre Company
Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test will be required for patrons 12 years and older before admittance to the theater is permitted, and masking will be enforced throughout
The first show in the season will run without an intermission, limiting the audience's close interaction with members of the public. There will also be a socially distanced seating arrangement in the house, selling only half the capacity.
Dirt Dogs Theatre Co
Final decision to come after a board meeting next week.
Patrons to our show will be required to wear a mask, and strict cleaning procedures will take place twice every night to better ensure the safety of our patrons and staff.
Mildred's does not mention any requirement for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.
The company has suspended indoor performances until further notice but are presently performing an outdoor, masked, socially distanced format show.