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Some DC entertainment venues planning to reopen indoor performances with new pilot program

D.C.'s Mayor Bowser is offering a monthlong pilot program to six venues to offer restricted indoor live performances.

WASHINGTON — Some D.C. venues get to offer live indoor performances for the first time since the pandemic started — thanks to a new pilot program Mayor Bowser announced on Friday.

The co-founder of GALA Hispanic Theatre, at least, is excited.

“The important thing is to employ our artists and really bring our community some joy," co-founder Rebeca Medrano said.

GALA is one of six venues offered the opportunity to reopen restricted indoor performances for the month of October.

The others include City Winery, Pearl Street Warehouse, The Kennedy Center, The Hamilton and Union Stage.

As some of the first to close and last to start reopening, entertainment venues have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

“It’s been a rough road planning and unplanning and planning again, and shuttering and paying some artists part-time, and we kept all the staff on just wondering when we’ve been able to reopen," Medrano said.

She said they've used the shutdown as an opportunity to prepare the venue for reopening, renovating their landmark dome, and updating the HVAC system with a city grant.

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As the GALA gets ready to reopen for a performance on October 28, there are a series of strict rules issued by DC that venues have to adhere to:

  • Sell or distribute tickets in advance of the event;
  • Have a maximum of fifty (50) persons, including attendees, performers, staff, and all other persons in the venue;
  • Reserve seating with individuals or groups (of no more than six (6) persons) seated at least six (6) feet apart;
  • Place seats at least 30 ft. from the stage if there is live singing; otherwise, the seats must be placed at least 20 ft. from the stage;
  • Require that guests remain seated during the performance, only leaving as necessary;
  • Ensure good ventilation;
  • Clean the venue and restrooms in accordance with your plan;
  • Maintain a one-way flow of attendees and staff;
  • Enforce that, if indoors, the performance must be less than three (3) hours in duration;
  • Require the performers to be at least six (6) feet apart and wear masks when not performing;
  • Inform your employees of the COVID-19 protocols you have put in place, including a mask or face covering policy and any applicable leave policies;
  • Maintain records of all individuals who are in the building during the event;
  • Follow all requirements for food retail operations in the District;
  • Post signage of your mask or face covering guidelines and physical guides or signs of your social distancing policies; and
  • Inform any individual who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 to not attend the event.

With the 50 person max, Medrano said they'll only be offering 25 tickets, or 9% of their capacity ... which begs the question: is it still worth it to reopen?

“I think it is," she said. "I think it’s necessary, not financially, I think spiritually, emotionally for our community … there’s not a lot of Spanish speaking content out here and there’s a huge Spanish-speaking community.”

Medrano said they'll be implementing a number of other safety precautions when they open, including temperature checks for everyone, max capacity of 15 people in the lobby, staff will be wearing masks and gloves, patrons must wear masks at all times, and they've moved the bar to the parking garage outside.

Union Stage is also preparing to reopen in October.

The Director of Operations Lana Mahmoud said they plan to offer 35 to 40 tickets at -- they hope -- eight to 10 performances. She said they've decided to cut back on staff in an effort to leave more spots open for patrons and will be operating with about 1/5 of their typical staff members.

Right now, Mahmoud said they are trying to find bands who are willing to perform — made difficult by the fact that practically no bands are touring at the moment.

She said they too will be implementing temperature checks and social distancing measures.

A spokesperson for Pearl Street Warehouse said they are in talks with the city to see what could work best for them.