Entertainment venues across NC join forces to promote safe reopening

NCDHHS secretary Mandy Cohen briefs media at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via NC Dept of Public Safety

RALEIGH — As North Carolina’s coronavirus numbers continue to improve or remain flat, Gov. Roy Cooper recently said he plans to ease the occupancy restrictions for large outdoor entertainment sites starting Oct. 2nd. The new rules apply to places with outdoor seating capacities of at least 10,000 people, such as sports stadiums and arenas. These venues will be allowed to operate at a seven percent capacity, a severe reduction from previous numbers, which the governor says will still allow attendees to adhere to the recommended six feet of social distancing.

The announcement is great news for outdoor sports and other large spectator events, but what does the new guidance mean for indoor entertainment venues such as theatres and concert halls? At this point, not much unfortunately since under the state’s current phase 2.5 regulations, indoor performing arts venues are still restricted to no more than 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors. This includes concerts, Broadway shows, comedy shows, conventions, trade and consumer shows, and large-scale meetings. Yet a new statewide group called the NC Live Coalition is paving the way for when these venues are given the green light to reopen, making sure they do so in the safest and most effective way possible. 

The NC Live Coalition represents 25 major venues across the state in an effort to create and promote procedures and best practices that will make it safe for staff, artists, and fans to attend live events as soon as they are allowed to resume. The safety plans, which include cashless transactions, venue disinfection, staggered arrival times for entering, routine temperature checks, limiting touch points all over in all areas, and the creation of safe back-of-the house or backstage environments will be posted on each member organization’s website. “By re-opening our facilities, we will do our part in not only re-opening North Carolina’s economy, but more importantly, providing the human interaction and common experiences we crave,” said an NC Live Coalition spokesperson.

Taken collectively, members of NC Live hosted thousands of events for millions of North Carolinians across the state last year alone. Coalition members include: Asheville’s Harrah’s Cherokee Center, ExploreAsheville.com Arena, and the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, Charlotte’s Blumenthal Performing Arts, Bojangles’ Entertainment Complex, the Charlotte Convention Center, the Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre, Fillmore Charlotte, PNC Music Pavilion, and the Spectrum Center; Durham’s Carolina Theatre, the Durham Convention Center, and the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC); Fayetteville’s Crown Complex; the Greensboro Coliseum and its Piedmont Hall, the new Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts; Raleigh’s Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Koka Booth Amphitheatre, the PNC Arena, the Raleigh Convention Center, Red Hat Amphitheater, and The Ritz; and Winston-Salem’s Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, among others.

“By re-opening our facilities, we will do our part in not only re-opening North Carolina’s economy, but more importantly, providing the human interaction and common experiences we crave.” — NC Live Coalition

DPAC, like the rest, remains closed to the public but sent out a recent “DPAC Looks Forward” email to season ticket holders promoting their involvement with the NC Live Coalition. “We’re continuing to plan for and add new events for when we reopen, but until then here are ways to connect and keep DPAC close…we are proud to take part in the NC Live Coalition that is helping bring live entertainment back across North Carolina.”

A steering committee of advisors is helping craft many of the coalition’s policies. These advisors are some of the industry’s top professionals in the areas they represent. Additionally, NC Live consists of a wide array of State and municipally owned institutions, universities, professional sports teams, and arts organizations. “NC Live was formed to provide the state with public assembly industry input, to provide recommendations to safely reopen the State’s public assembly facilities due to the challenges generated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” a spokesperson says. “It is our objective to identify the industry’s best practices, so North Carolina’s facilities can properly implement and reopen safely and responsibly at 100% capacity. Our intent is to make these recommendations clear, concise, scalable, and sustainable.”

The coalition’s best practices plan pulls from guidelines provided by the Federal, State, and local government, the CDC, Public Health organizations, and related Sports and Casino Commissions. The entertainment, sports, and facility management industries also offered input. Heather Strickland, Executive Director of the Raleigh Little Theater, which is not one of the groups involved with NC Live, says she is thrilled to see a group like this put forward best practices and guidelines that the entire arts community can reference and incorporate into their day to day operations moving forward. “For us, the question isn’t if we’ll be allowed to reopen but rather when so when that time comes, it’s great to see everyone making an effort to adopt safe, clean protocols in the long term even when the pandemic is over.”

The Raleigh Little Theater as well as the Theater in the Park are two smaller local venues that also remain closed to the public. Strickland says the Raleigh Little Theater will resume production when they are able to turn a profit from ticket sales and draw a decent sized audience. They might host a children’s show in November at their outdoor amphitheater and limit the audience to around 50 guests. Theater in the Park will resume normal in person shows in February 2021 assuming things go smoothly across the state. “We’re taking our cues from other theaters,” says Brent Simpson, Managing Director. “We’re all in this together and we know we’ll get through it.”