People sitting in a movie theater wearing masks and spread apart

How To Reopen Indoor Entertainment



TOPLINE Movie theaters and indoor concert venues should be operating at limited capacity with six feet between all customers, and everyone—employees and patrons—should be wearing a mask.

MORE FROM FORBESThe Insider’s Guide To Reopening America

  • “I wouldn’t be caught dead inside a movie theater if not everyone was wearing a mask,” says Dr. Robert Wachter, professor and chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. The same goes for an indoor concert.
  • Indoor concerts have the potential to be more harmful than movie theaters, as screaming, singing  and heavier breathing caused by dancing means more virus particles could be released via airborne droplets.
  • Be smart about when and where. If there is an uptick of coronavirus cases in your city or town, stay home.
  • Make sure you stay six feet apart from other patrons, whether in line  or in your seat.
  • Say no to the popcorn and slushies. Eating and drinking requires taking your mask off, which increases your exposure to and ability to spread the virus.
  • Owners and operators should ensure everyone is wearing a mask at all times. They could also temperature-check customers before they enter.
  • Communication is key. Movie theaters and concert venues should let customers know how they plan to keep patrons  safe through social media; this will make people feel more comfortable and keep the venues accountable. “Your operations are your marketing,” says Patrick Corcoran, vice president of the National Association of Theatre Owners. “If you are doing it right, people will feel confident about coming back.”
  • Take advantage of customers’ newfound flexibility. With more people working from home now than ever, customers have greater control of their schedules. Theater owners can take advantage of weekday showtimes—a traditionally unpopular movie-going time—to make up for lower capacity.
  • Use ticketing apps to avoid the physical interaction of collectors handling your paper tickets.
  • When ordering food or drink, ensure it comes in a closed container; even popcorn buckets and beer cups should have lids.
  • Keeping clean is for the safety of both customers and employees, so make sure workers are well-trained, comfortable with new protocols and have access to protective equipment, such as masks and gloves.

Bruce Wheeler, general manager of the Capitol Theatre and Garcia’s in Port Chester, New York, says the combination of selling merchandise and a federal loan from the Paycheck Protection Program have helped keep his theater afloat during the pandemic. Since bars will reopen before theaters, he suggests streaming past concerts in the bar areas of venues to keep people entertained.And if concert-goers can’t see shows at the venue itself, a live-stream of an audience-free show can be a good way to make up lost income and help out musicians. “These days the main way and in some ways the only way that artists are making a living is touring and performing,” Wheeler says. “They have a food chain attached to them—lighting techs, guitar techs, business managers, record labels, publishers—-all along that food chain there’s been a major interruption.”

If both employees and fellow patrons aren’t wearing masks, it’s best to return home. Social distancing of six feet is the minimum, and virus transmission could increase with speaking, singing and dancing, so if the venue is too crowded, you should get out. 

Matinees, morning movies and more: With limited capacity meaning fewer tickets sold, theaters may open up more showtimes throughout the day to recoup some money or stream live concerts that you can watch from home. Have a few hours between Zoom meetings? Catch a flick or tune in for a set!

Coronavirus Resources for Exhibitors (National Association of Theatre Owners)

Operational Toolkit for Businesses Considering Reopening or Expanding Operations in COVID-19 (Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security)

 Cinema In Crisis: Inside The Fight To Reclaim America’s Movie Night (Forbes)

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