ACT, TOO: Regional theaters inch closer to raising curtain on live performances

One of the two stages at Vintage Theatre at 1468 Dayton St. (Courtland Wilson/ Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | In the wake of seemingly endless stage show cancellations in recent weeks, two of the biggest theater purveyors in Aurora still plan to move forward with their respective seasons this fall, though limited capacities and newly implemented health measures will undoubtedly alter how fans of the stage attend live performances.

Both The Aurora Fox and The Vintage Theatre are expected to roll out their seasons this fall, though exact details are still weaving through the city approval process, the heads of both companies told The Sentinel.

Helen Murray, executive producer at the city-owned Aurora Fox, is currently working with the city to create a master planning document that will dictate what theater will look like in the city later this year. Murray recently submitted the document to city staff and is expected to make final edits later this month. Once the document is finalized, the Fox will reveal the shows that will comprise its upcoming season — an announcement that’s typically made at the theater’s annual gala at the beginning of May.

“The Aurora Fox is going to keep going,” Murray said in a recent phone interview. “I’m optimistic we’ll be able to open this fall.”

Both the Fox and the Vintage have been closed since the coronavirus pandemic careened into American life in mid-March and upended all plans for public gatherings.

Murray’s optimism comes despite the recent announcement from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts that the regional juggernaut plans to cancel the entirety of its 2020-2021 season. That follows confirmations of other prolonged cancellations at even larger theatrical epicenter: Broadway shows have been nixed through Sept. 6, and London’s West End will remain shuttered until at least early August.

Across the metroplex, some regional theaters remain closed while others are slowly adapting to the new age of public gatherings. The Arvada Center remains closed until further notice, as the PACE Center in Parker rolls out a bevy of programs and a drive-in series held in the parking lot every Friday.

But Aurora’s slightly smaller theaters could play to producers’ advantage, according to Vintage Executive Director Craig Bond, who said fewer seats at his location on Dayton Street equate to a higher chance of financial stability while audience numbers remain capped.

“We were always a smaller hall,” Bond said. “So even if it’s a third full, basically on paid tickets it’s much easier for us to try to break even than it would be for a 2,000-seat capacity theater when they can only have 50 people there.”

The Vintage has rejiggered the remainder of its 2020 season — the theater typically operates on a calendar schedule instead of the more traditional fall to spring model — substituting headier shows for lighter fare with smaller casts.

Bond said his loose plan is to cap the capacity of his two stages, the larger of which can accommodate up to 145 people with the smaller holding 67 patrons, at 50 and 20 people, respectively. The schedule will also be shifted to only allow one show to run on any given night. The theater often runs two shows concurrently on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

The Fox is expected to operate on a similar model, enacting a temporary hiatus on all shows at its smaller black box stage. Like the Vintage, the Fox is expected to  continue virtual cabaret performances available online for the foreseeable future.

Murray said the theater’s ticket vendor has already developed a tool that will allow tickets to be sold in socially distant bundles so so-called quarantine pods can remain together, but separated from other patrons.

“It allows each sort of quarantine bubble to stay bubbled,” she said.

Unlike the Vintage, the Fox is an equity theater, meaning it is required to offer rates and stipulations set out by the Actors’ Equity Association, a national labor union for more than 50,000 live-theater workers across the country. Last month, the group released a statement and guidelines that suggest theaters should not reopen until the virus is “under control, with effective testing, few new cases in the area and contact tracing.”

Murray said she is aware of the union’s guidelines but said the labor group is one of many with workers she has to accommodate — both before and after the coronavirus hit.

“It’s not my job to just take care of equity artists,” she said. “Everyone that comes through our doors needs to be afforded the same safeguards.”