The State Theater of Havre de Grace will open Friday with a double feature of the 1997 film “The Fifth Element” and the indie horror picture “Fear of Clowns II,” as the State is one of a number of entertainment venues in Harford County beginning to hold events indoors as Maryland continues to ease restrictions on gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re just ready to get back in the groove,” owner Jared Noe said recently.
The State Theater opened for business in January in a building at 325 St. John St. that was home to a movie theater when it was built in the 1920s. Noe had to shut down in March because of the pandemic, however.
Maryland entered Stage Three of its coronavirus recovery process Sept. 4, allowing movie theaters and other entertainment venues to reopen; venues can host 50% of their seating capacity or a maximum of 100 people for an event indoors.
Venues for outdoor events can host 50% capacity or up to 250 people, plus retail stores and houses of worship can increase their capacity from 50% to 75%, according to Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement.
Noe and his staff have booked a full weekend of entertainment at the State, in addition to the movies Friday night. Saturday will be an evening of stand-up comedy, headlined by Erik Escobar, and KISS tribute band Cold Gin will perform Sunday afternoon. The lineup of upcoming events at the theater, as well as outdoor shows at Laurrapin at the Boatyard off of Water Street, is available on The State Theater of Havre de Grace page on Facebook.
Patrons will find a number of safety features to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in place when they visit the State. They include temperature checks at the door, requirements to wear masks and observe social distancing, reduced seating, hand sanitizer, as well as some procedures in place before the pandemic such as prepackaged food and single-serving drinks.
“From the start, we were always doing good health and hygiene,” said Noe, who along with his staff undergoes testing for COVID-19 on a regular basis.
Noe also runs a production company, Suited Four Inc., which is based at the theater. He has, during the shutdown, been producing concerts held at the theater and broadcast live online to raise money for many local nonprofits. He described the livestream shows as “extremely successful” in terms of raising money for community organizations.
Noe noted that many musicians have been out of work during the pandemic and are experiencing mental health issues over not being able to perform.
“Some of these guys, that’s what fuels them — that’s their life,” he said of playing music.
He and his staff are “basically just trying to establish what a new normal is for a theater” and put procedures in place so they and other venues can keep operating should another pandemic happen.
“It’s crazy to think we’re going to abandon live entertainment and sports,” Noe said.
The nonprofit Havre de Grace Arts Collective, which manages the Cultural Center at the Opera House downtown, has been putting on weekly “Dinner and a Show” livestream concerts during the pandemic.
Operators plan to continue online events and outdoor events such as drive-in concerts at the Havre de Grace Community Center this fall — the Odyssey Band of DC is scheduled to perform during a drive-in concert next Friday, Sept. 25. Online youth programs also are being organized by artist Laura Numsen.
Patrons will be welcomed back inside the city-owned Opera House — which underwent a $4 million renovation from 2015 to 2017 — with performances by the Bel Air Dance Academy Oct. 2 and 3.
The dance shows will happen before a live audience in the Opera House theater and be broadcast online at the same time, according to Rebecca Jessop, executive director of the arts collective.
“We’re beginning to experiment and come inside the building, and see how it works with our COVID plan and adhering to the state mandates,” she said.
Safety measures are similar to those at the State, such as reducing available seating in the Opera House’s second-floor main theater from 201 to 91, plus there will be hand sanitizer and requirements to wear masks and maintain social distancing.
“It’s very exciting to finally be able to work within the facility again, and to bring entertainment and culture to the community,” Jessop said.
She noted that the Opera House had been “absolutely closed,” but the current period is “an exciting new stage after, as we like to say, a very long intermission.” More information about events is available at the Opera House website, where people can purchase event tickets.
APGFCU Arena remains closed
The APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College, which has been a key venue for sporting events, concerts and multiple community gatherings since its opening in late 2012, will remain closed for the time being.
The Bel Air campus is closed for the majority of classes and other activities for the fall 2020 semester, which started in late August. The college is in Stage 2A of its reopening plan for the fall, but officials plan to move to Stage 2B for the winter and spring 2021 terms, according to HCC spokesperson Nancy Dysard.
“The majority of students and employees continue to operate in an online-only environment, and no community events will take place on our campus this Fall,” she wrote in an email.
Some outdoor events for students have been successful at the college, though, such as a Welcome Back Drive-Thru Event with more than 150 participants, according to Dysard.
College officials “are looking forward to hosting events in the APGFCU Arena when the College reopening plans allow,” she stated.
Under Stage 2A, students and staff can come to campus on a limited basis for activities that are hands on and cannot be completed online. Anyone visiting campus must pass a health screening first.
Stage 2B allows the scope of hands-on and face-to-face activities on campus to expand once officials determine there is no indication of COVID-19 spreading on campus and sufficient safety measures are in place to prevent the spread as more people visit, according to a report by HCC’s Taskforce on Reopening Campus.
“Harford Community College plays an important role in the region as the center for arts & entertainment, community events, sports and conferencing,” Dysard wrote in her email. “The College is taking every precaution as we bring our students back to campus, and our event operations will do the same.”
Church concert series
St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bel Air, which was a hub for more than 50 community groups' meetings prior to the pandemic, has been hosting an outdoor concert series, Classic Rock Reflections, on the church campus since late May.
Classic rock tribute bands perform each Saturday, and the Rev. Blaise Sedney, the church pastor, “shares a message that links the lyrics to our Christian faith journey,” according to a church web page on the concerts.
Church officials plan to host the outdoor concerts through the end of September and then will discuss with members whether they want to continue the series indoors as the weather gets cooler, according to Sedney, who said at least 100 people typically attend each concerts.
“The performers all love it, because they’re able to perform,” and “very few” venues are currently open, the pastor said Monday.
“The outside is very comfortable [for concertgoers] because they can sit so far apart and be in their family groups and enjoy the evening,” he added — food trucks also are available during the concerts.
There is a question as to whether the shows will be as enjoyable for audiences if they move inside and must follow COVID-19 safety measures, such as wearing masks and limiting crowd sizes to 100, according to Sedney, who noted that “it gets tricky with the whole COVID situation.”
A number of community music groups practiced and performed — some even recorded music — at the church prior to the pandemic, as St. Matthew’s 600-seat sanctuary was designed with top acoustics, according to the pastor.
Many groups have canceled performances scheduled for later this year at the church, but the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra is slated to hold its fall concert at St. Matthew in October. The orchestra typically performs at Bel Air High School, but Harford County Public Schools has closed its buildings for most in-person activities for the first semester of the school year.
The audience for the orchestra’s shows will be limited to 100 people, and the group will hold multiple performances so many people can see the musicians, according to Sedney.
Community groups also are coming back to the church for meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Scout troops. People either meet inside and wear masks and observe social distancing, or they use the church’s outdoor courtyard in good weather.
“Some nights, we have a lot of activity down here,” Sedney said.
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Editor’s note: The date of a drive-in concert by the Odyssey Band of DC at the Havre de Grace Community Center has been changed since this article was published. The new date is Sept. 25.