Guest Post From Elizabeth Huddleston, Board President
In recent weeks, ACT has had many questions and comments about our Covid policy at the theatre. We thought it would be helpful to outline for our community what our Covid policy is and how it was created.
First, the Board of Directors and the staff at ACT take safety very seriously, and that is why we have established parameters that have gone above and beyond what is required at the state and local level. With input from our dedicated and conscientious staff, the Board has been working assiduously on this policy – a work in progress and constant review – since July 2021, when we were first preparing to reopen our doors for the first production of Clue in October. Our board and staff brought varying opinions to the table, so we considered multiple factors and possibilities.
The first thing we did to ensure safety was to require vaccinations of all cast, crew, and volunteers, because these persons would have frequent and up-close contact with one another at rehearsals as well as performances, and actors would be removing their masks while on stage. For the audience, we kept to what was the state and local policy at that time: all audience members would be masked while inside the building, and masks must be covering the nose and mouth. We went a few steps further: for our Mainstage Season shows, we offered plays that did not have an intermission, so the audience would not be mingling in the lobby. We did not offer concession sales, so the audience would not be removing their masks while eating/drinking. We blocked off the first row in the theatre to further distance the performers from the audience. We also sold tickets in pairs that were spaced out 6 feet from the next pair of seats. This meant we only sold half of our capacity, but we believed it was the right thing to do to ensure social distancing.
We posted our Covid policy on the website the first week of August, and persons purchasing tickets were reminded again of the policy. Our first production of Clue was quite successful. We nearly sold out all performances at half-capacity, persons kept their masks on, and social distancing of the audience was maintained.
Prior to our next production of Fight Girl Battle World, we learned that many patrons were still choosing not to attend our productions because we were not requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test result of the audience members. Because ACT is working to be inclusive of our entire community – including those who have been vaccinated and those who haven’t been vaccinated – we proposed a “hybrid model” that would continue to offer performances that did not require proof of vaccination or negative testing, but we would also offer performances for our Mainstage Season shows that required proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. The ACT Board discussed and voted for this hybrid model at our December Board meeting, and we thought it was the best resolution for the most people in our community. Our policy didn’t change – all audience members were still required to wear masks and socially distance inside the building – but we added 2 performances to every weekend (half of our performances) of Mainstage Season shows that had the additional requirement of showing proof of vaccination OR a negative Covid test. We also maintained half-capacity and no concessions to minimize contact between audience members. We do not profit from productions with half capacity, but we believe it is important that the theatre arts continue to provide entertainment via the stage to our entire community.
The mission of Asheville Community Theatre is to provide entertainment, enrichment and education through the practice and celebration of the theatre arts.
The vision is for the theatre to be an integral part of the community.
ACT’s mission and vision statements are to serve our entire community … not just part of it. As you have seen at the national level, there is great divide in our country (as well as our town and neighboring communities) between those that have received vaccinations and those who haven’t. There are persons that want everyone admitted to our theatre to have their vaccinations or be tested to enter our theatre, but there are also many others in our community who demand their rights to medical freedom of not having a vaccine and that their confidentiality be protected. ACT strives not to become political or divisive in any way, and we also strive to provide entertainment to our entire community. ACT would like to build a bridge between these and other divides and be a place where all community members feel welcome and safe. This is what “inclusivity” is to ACT … being available to our entire community and not just some.
The ACT Board of Directors and staff recognize that our Covid policy will not please everyone, but we believe it is the fairest policy for the most people in our community, and we believe it continues to provide safety and protect our community. At this writing, Covid restrictions are relaxing across our state and county, and indoor masking is no longer required, but we chose to keep our stricter policy in place at least through April 3rd. We will continue to discuss and monitor whether or not changes are needed.
I hope this helps explain our policy and the stance we have taken. I know I speak for all of us when I say we look forward to the time when restrictions are no longer needed, and we can enjoy theatre as we have known and loved it at ACT for over 70+ years.
Dr. Elizabeth Huddleston
ACT Board President