Whoever coined the adage "the show must go on" never anticipated the coronavirus pandemic. For two months, Long Island theaters have been dark and when they'll reopen is still anyone's guess.
When that time finally comes, it may not be the same old song and dance for anyone looking for a pick-me-up by seeing a live musical production onstage. Elbow room may no longer be an issue if the seat next to you is empty, and a mask, typically only needed in a theater for the star of "The Phantom of the Opera," may become a required accessory for everyone.
Those are just a few of the scenarios theater owners are looking at once the government officially gives them the OK to raise the curtain. Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director of Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, says he and managing director Vivian Koutrakos have had extensive discussions about seating arrangements, such as going every other row or leaving some seats in used rows empty.
"We have various ideas and plans, but until we see what the state guidelines are, we just don’t know," he says. "Obviously, the safety of our staff and patrons is at the forefront and we will be guided by what is prescribed."
Jack Krieger, Deputy Mayor of the Village of Patchogue and a member of the board at Patchogue Theatre, fully anticipates a reduction in seating at the venue, which can accommodate nearly 1,200 people. “So even if our capacity is cut in half, we still have a 600-seat theater,” he says.
Sanzel expects that front of house staff manning the box office and refreshments will be required to wear masks and gloves and sanitizing stations will be set up throughout the theater. "We will also be hiring someone as a full-time maintenance supervisor to deal with the cleaning and sanitizing of the building before and immediately after every performance," he adds.
The Argyle Theatre in Babylon may have an advantage over other theaters in dealing with these issues. “When we opened ‘Cabaret’ on March 12, we had a bizarre trial run for this because we had four performances that had 50 percent capacity. We had audience members spread out. Employees wore gloves and some had masks on,” says Dylan Perlman, who co-owns the theater with his father, Mark.
But it's not going to be all about theater patrons. Safety precautions will be equally important for actors and directors adds Dylan Perlman. "Things people weren't thinking about before, such as how many touch points props have to go through, and costumes have to go through and microphones have go through now have to be considered," he says. "Everything has to be sanitized and we'll be sanitizing in the dressing room and backstage area."
Northport's John W. Engeman Theater is also mulling its reopening plans, though nothing specific has been decided. "We are looking at all options as to how to safely reopen," says producing artistic director Richard Dolce. "Since theaters will be among the last businesses to be allowed to open, we will have time to closely monitor what other companies are doing."
"Sister Act," Engeman's spring production, was postponed until later this year. The theater plans to present its full 2020-21 season of shows once it does reopen. Likewise, The Gateway in Bellport also plans to present its full summer lineup, although the theater has postponed its season start twice.
Argyle also plans to reopen with the slate of shows it had scheduled for its third season, with season 2 holdover "Cabaret" as its first offering.
"We have this beautiful set," Dylan Perlman says, "and this beautiful show that is just waiting to be seen again."