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Theaters and concert venues reopen in Anne Arundel County with limited capacity and social distancing requirements

Anne Arundel County residents will have many more entertainment options this weekend than the past six months of the coronavirus pandemic as movie theaters and performance venues prepare for reopening Friday with limited capacity and required social distancing.

“Everybody is so ecstatic. We are so excited just to start selling tickets again and reopen our doors,” said Rams Head On Stage spokesperson Royal Bundy. “(Live music) is our lifeblood.”

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The county has delayed these reopenings as officials attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Indoor activities are considered one of the higher-risk endeavors, according to health officials. The venues are all adapting differently to protect visitors and may require different restrictions.

At Rams Head, Bundy said the seated venue would open at about one-third capacity, allowing just 100 people to see the three shows they have scheduled this weekend. Tables will be placed at least 6 feet apart, and at least 12 feet from the show. For the Friday and Saturday shows, the stage will be protected by a rented Plexiglass screen, that Bundy hopes to make permanent.

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At the movie theater at Arundel Mills mall, a special technology will ensure reserved seats are appropriately spaced, said Cinemark spokesperson Chanda Brashears. To cope with fewer movies being released, they are showing a host of “comeback classics,” including Mean Girls, Harry Potter and Jurassic Park, among others.

Moviegoers can select a regular theater ticket, or reserve a private screening of a new or old movie for a group of up to 20 people, Brashears said. Tickets for both types of showings are available online.

Maryland Hall has opted to keep its indoor venue closed, for now, but will hold a “front stairs concert” on Oct. 2 in which the building’s front stairs will act as the stage, and guests can sit with their households on the front lawn, said spokesperson Katie Redmiles. Guests will have their temperature checked upon arrival, and at all the venues reopening, will be required to wear a mask except when eating or drinking in their seat.

Redmiles said the organization is eventually planning to move to indoor performances, but hope to stay outside for as long as the weather allows.

Still, some businesses aren’t able to open Friday, even with the seven-day notice from County Executive Steuart Pittman’s office. At the Annapolis Shakespeare Company, Donald Hicken said they were thrilled to learn they were allowed to open, but their work requires months of preparation.

“It’s not like we can just turn the sign from closed to open,” he said.

At the end of October, the theater will begin rehearsals for its Christmas program, which will begin showing after Thanksgiving. Hicken said the theater will be limited to 50% capacity when they do open for live performances again, and patrons will be required to wear masks. Rehearsals will be limited to small cast groups until very close to opening night. Actors will be required to wear masks during rehearsal, he said. They won’t wear masks during their live performances.

“This has just been a devastating deprivation and to have those restrictions lifted is very exciting,” Hicken said. “It gives us a chance to get back to what we love to do.”

When theaters were required to close in the early days of the pandemic, the company was about three weeks into rehearsals for “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.” Hicken said all the actors and technicians and designers were contracted, so they were let go.

But they are adapting, he said. On Oct. 5, the Annapolis Shakespeare Company will begin filming a version of Macbeth to be available for schools to use in their curriculum, and they shifted the planned production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream to next summer. This season, instead of producing seven shows, they will produce four, and they have specifically selected shows requiring smaller casts, Hicken said.

At Compass Rose Theater in Annapolis, Founding Artistic Director Lucinda Merry-Browne said she has no live performances planned until September 2021.

“Certainly according to the guidelines we could reopen, but what we don’t want is to put anyone’s health in jeopardy,” she said. “When you put all those people in a room together, you are really taking a risk.”

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There’s also a financial risk associated with putting on a show, she said.

It can cost a theater upwards of $25,000 altogether for a show that runs between four and six weeks, Merry-Browne said. Because of the risks associated with gathering and the nature of the virus, she said they aren’t certain they would be able to sell enough tickets to make it make sense.

She hopes that the virus will be more under control a year from now, and the theater will have found a permanent home by then. Starting in November, the company will live stream some smaller shows every other month. The first one will be “Same time, next year,” a romantic comedy by Bernard Slade with only two actors, she said.

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