With the season officially opened at the Finke Theatre, precautions are in place to make sure live performances can coexist with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in California.
The Finke's season opened Sept. 26 with a performance from duo Gracie & Lacy. The season continues at 7 p.m. this Saturday with October's performer, Tom Wurth, and will continue as the year comes toward a close with a Johnny Cash tribute band in November and Christian indie-rock band Carrollton in December.
Sara Holtsclaw, a representative with the Finke, said the season is going well early on.
"Since we do have a slightly older demographic of people that come to the theatre, we knew that we were probably not going to be able to maintain the same number of season ticket holders as what we have in years past," Holtsclaw said. "We're kind of in line with where we thought we would end up being. So we did see a reduction, but we feel good that it isn't anything more than what we had anticipated."
Holtsclaw said with a few less people coming to the theatre, social distancing in the audience, rather than sticking to assigned seats, is more possible if audience members happen to be uncomfortable.
Holtsclaw said the theatre worked with the Moniteau County Health Center to develop this and other guidelines for safely re-opening; the guidelines also include highly encouraging patrons of the theatre to wear masks if they come to a performance. The theatre also provides hand sanitizer to guests and high-touch areas are disinfected frequently.
Another new change specifically related to the structure of performances is the elimination of intermissions. Holtsclaw said instead, audience members are simply allowed to get up and move around whenever they need to, and the concession stand is open throughout each performance.
With one performance under the belt, Holtsclaw said all these guidelines seem to be working well.
"And everyone that was there seemed very excited to be back doing stuff," Holtsclaw said.
Each season at the Finke is set a year to a year and a half in advance — Holtsclaw is working on acts for the season starting in September 2021 at the moment, for example. She said if anything needs to change with this year's performers, the theatre will work with them to see what can be done.
One of the questions on the grant the Finke receives for performances through the Missouri Arts Council was "What happens if safety guidelines make it so the theatre is unable to put on an in-person performance?" Holtsclaw said in that event, they hope to be able to offer alternatives.
"We hope that doesn't happen, but we're looking to see what we can do to maybe do a virtual performance," Holtsclaw said.
Along with those virtual performances would come, hopefully, "Finke house parties," where people who might have wanted to come to a performance in person could instead get together with friends at their homes in more safely-sized groups to watch the live stream together. The hope, in this case, would be to still aim toward providing theatre-goers with a sense of community they wouldn't get just watching from afar on their own.
Holtsclaw said from the performers' ends, there have not yet been any indications that any of them want to cancel based on the effects of the pandemic.
"If we were to have a performer that says 'We don't feel good about doing a show that's inside,' I think what we would do is — and we would hopefully have enough advance notice about it — look to see, as long as local, state and federal regulations allow it, about finding a substitution performer," Holtsclaw said.
The Finke Theatre's website now includes a tab detailing the theatre's safe re-opening plan, which can be found at www.finketheatre.com/safe-re-opening.html.