As the number of COVID-19 infections continues to rise, despite readily available vaccines, entertainment industry sites once again fear for the future of their businesses. Indoor gathering spaces for tens or hundreds of people remain a high risk for the virus to spread.
And so many of these entertainment venues in Pennsylvania are starting to set COVID-19 safety requirements even stricter than those recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. The main one is to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test, before entry.
For Todd Fogdall, president and CEO of the Appell Center for the Performing Arts in York, the decision came from an effort to determine “what do we need to do to move our business forward, in these times of great unknown and uncertainty ”, for both their employees and their customers.
“It was a number of things,” Fodgall said. “It was watching the start of the Delta variant and the impact of that, and our ongoing conversations that we had. “What do we need to do for our staff, our artists, our audience members? And at the same time, we had artists come up to us and say, “This is what we’re going to need for us to do in your venue.”
Singer Ben Folds, for example, was scheduled to perform at the Call Center in August, but is one of many artists who now require all members of the public to show proof of vaccination. Fogdall estimates that at least one in four touring artists coming to the Call Center ask for the same.
In recent weeks, vaccine requirements have also been put in place by artists such as Jason Isbell, who performed in Harrisburg as part of the University of Harrisburg Summer Concert Series, and artists such as Maroon 5 and the Jonas Brothers for their concerts at Hersheypark Stadium.
Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, which operates Hersheypark Stadium, the Giant Center and the Hershey Theater, does not have a policy requiring that guests be vaccinated or test negative. But a spokesperson for Hershey Entertainment said the company will work with each touring show to comply with their policies if they wish to require guests to be vaccinated or tested.
More and more sites are making vaccine requirements their general policy.
More than 30 theaters in Philadelphia this week said visitors must now show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. New York’s Broadway theaters, which reopened this week, now all require proof of vaccination.
The big concert promotion companies Live Nation and AEG Presents demand the same from their venues or festivals audiences. And the same actions are being taken nationally, from Minnesota to Arizona.
Fogdall said the concert with Ben Folds may have been postponed to a date after the company was ready to demand vaccines for each show. This policy came into effect on September 15th.
“It was definitely a big eye-opener for us,” he said. “And if we don’t institute these kinds of policies, they will be canceled or events will have to be rescheduled. And we in the performing arts industry, and our audiences, are very tired of rescheduling events. It is not a very solid business model.
Harrisburg’s three theater companies – Theater Harrisburg, Open Stage, and Gamut Theater – all have instituted their own vaccine requirements for clients. The same goes for the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.
“We wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could, to do our part to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Alison Reed Fry, director of marketing and administration at the Harrisburg Theater. “And so looking at Broadway, as well as other local theater groups and the community at large, we thought it was the right move to help protect everyone.”
Fry added that as a community theater, the Harrisburg Theater board and staff felt that “we need to make sure that we are actually protecting the community.”
The same vaccine requirements apply to the staff and volunteers of the Harrisburg Theater and the Appell Center.
Some exceptions exist at almost all sites – usually for people too young to get the vaccine or for those with weakened immune systems. A negative COVID-19 test is usually the alternative available to these people. And in almost every indoor setting, some version of a mask requirement remains, either for the unvaccinated or for the general public except for eating or drinking.
As with all COVID-19 mitigation measures, the issue is likely to continue to divide along partisan political lines. But so far, Fry said, Theater Harrisburg audiences have largely reacted to the new rules with relief. Supporters of the vaccine requirement so far outnumber those who oppose it.
“I received a lot of very positive feedback from the community thanking us for protecting everyone,” she said. “Very little negative feedback. Really, it was a very positive reinforcement of why we made this decision.”
At the Call Center, Fogdall said that “it was pretty much a washout” in terms of the positive and negative response.
While a small number now refuse to attend and have requested refunds, an equal number said the new requirements convinced them to purchase tickets when they were previously unsure.
“When we first announced this, there were definitely some vocal members of our patronage who weren’t happy with the politics,” Fogdall said. “We have also heard positive comments and very favorable comments. People say, “Well, it gives me a lot more confidence to attend and spend two hours sitting between 500 and 1,000 other people. So we’ve heard a lot from both.