Sioux Empire Community Theatre plans in-person season with COVID-19 precautions

It's A Wonderful Life - A Live Radio Play will show at the Orpheum Theater Center from Dec. 1 to Dec. 13. The play is suitable for all ages.

The show must go on.

The Sioux Empire Community Theatre is starting its 2020-2021 season Dec. 1 with a showing of It’s a Wonderful Life a Live Radio Play at the Orpheum Theatre, 315 N. Phillips Ave. 

Live performances will follow a COVID-19 precaution plan approved by an infectious disease specialist and advised by 3M experts, said Robin Byrne, executive director of the Sioux Empire Community Theatre.

The organization took weeks to arrange the plan and adapt practices to a theatre setting, adhering to CDC guidelines and keep guests as safe as possible.

“We’ve gone above and beyond,”  Byrne said. “The plan took care of the cast and crew as much as it took care of the audience.”

The COVID-19 precautions start before guests even come in the door. If tickets are purchased ahead of time, guests funnel into the auditorium one way, with box office ticket purchases entering another way.

All guests are required to social distance. When people exit the auditorium, they’re required to continue walking in a one-way set up through the side aisles. Bathrooms will be limited, there will be no intermission for the about 90-minute show and, when the show is over, guests will be escorted from their seats one row at a time.

As for the risk of the coronavirus among crew members, Byrne said actors will be socially distanced on stage for the Christmas show. There are also only six actors playing multiple roles, which also helps mitigate the possible spread of the coronavirus. There will be two actors for each role as well, in case one actor falls sick.

Actors on stage will be at least 18 feet away from the audience to allow for even more social distancing between people.

Masks will be required of all audience members, but not actors.

“We decided to go ahead with the season despite the threat from the coronavirus because it presents us with an opportunity to set the standard for safety at live events and to encourage others to raise the bar too,” Byrne said.

The plan was approved by Fernando Bula Ruda, a doctor of infectious diseases at Sanford Children’s Hospital, Byrne said. The organization also partnered with 3M officials to help advise workflow issues inside the building. 

With so many precautions in place, auditorium seating has been reduced from 680 to 200 people to allow for social distancing between parties. This change dramatically affects the ability to meet profit for the season, Byrne said.

But it’s a risk he’s willing to take.

“We felt we should put the show on regardless of whether or not it makes a profit because we feel you need to provide people with something to do,” Byrne said. “You need to keep the audience and actors engaged.”

Other shows planned for this season include The Music Man, Beauty and the Beast and Footloose.

It’s A Wonderful Life a Live Radio Play is based on the classic Frank Capra holiday movie as a live 1940s radio broadcast. The show will run through Dec. 13.

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