Concert venues and other arts spaces will be allowed to open as early as October 8 in Connecticut, following a surprise announcement by Governor Ned Lamont last week. Shuttered since March in one of the states hit hardest by the pandemic in its early phases, some organizers plan to open as soon as possible, with others holding off to plan their return safely in greater detail.
Venues will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity, including indoor venues, according to the plans for Phase 3 released by Gov. Lamont. Previously, outdoor venues had been capped at 25 percent of capacity, with indoor venues closed entirely. Social distancing and hygiene requirements are also in place for reopening, designed to limit the possibility of super-spreader events as the cold and flu season joins the ongoing coronavirus pandemic with temperatures dropping.
“It can’t be a nightclub. People aren’t going to be able to get up and dance,” said Director of Government Affairs and Special Projects Tommy Hyde. “All the rules would be in place. But if they have a stage and they want to put a bunch of chairs together six feet apart, if they follow the general rules plus whatever else we come up with, they would be able to do that.”
Guidance in greater detail for venues interested in reopening is expected to be issued by the state this week.
Connecticut, due in large part to its proximity to early epicenter New York and a large number of residents who work or travel through the city regularly, was an early center of COVID-19 transmission. At its peak in April, the state was averaging nearly 1,000 new cases per day – with a population of just 3.5 million. The state also saw a tremendous spike in fatalities attributed to the virus, spiking to over 200 on April 20th before tapering off to an average of below 3 for all of August and September. Despite the dramatic reduction in deaths, the state still stands as the fourth-highest rate of deaths per capita due to the virus, with 1,262 per million residents – behind only New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts.
With reopening now a possibility, venues are scrambling to decide whether or not 50 percent is enough to justify the resumption of performances. Infinity Hall, which has two medium locations in the state, plans to reopen as soon as possible.
“Now that we know that we can be at 50% capacity, socially distanced and wearing face masks… now we have something to work with,” co-owner Tyler Grill told the Hartford Courant. “In Norfolk, we’re going to have to get a little bit more creative because of the space restrictions, but our goal is to do shows in both venues this fall.”
Many other venues maintain that is impossible to operate with any measure of profitability with even 50 percent of capacity allowed. And still others simply aren’t sure yet.
“We literally just began a series of meetings discussing winter and beyond. We were pretty convinced that indoor performing arts venues would not open until summer or fall 2021. We started to adapt our ever evolving plan around that idea. With this new news, we will take a step back and give it hard thought,” says Tracy Flater of Playhouse on Park. “[Fifty percent capacity] is not sustainable. We would not cover the costs of our mainstage productions as we have them planned now. Could we consider some lower cost shows, with little to no production value? Possibly. It’s too soon to know what we will do. We want to approach this in a practical and safe manner.”
Live Nation, which operates many of the larger venues in the state including the XFinity Theatre and Oakdale Theatre, did not respond to a request for comment on its plans for the Courant.
Still, the decision by authorities in one of the earlier hard-hit states bodes well for the reopening process. New York, evidenced by the recent decision by the Met to keep its doors closed until September of next year, still may be a ways away, but their neighbors to the east allowing performances to resume is promising for those who eagerly anticipate a return to normalcy amid the pandemic.