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These two Utah theaters adjust after actors test positive for COVID-19

Many comments left on the Hale Centre Theatre’s Facebook page show excitement over being able to return to the theater and support the arts after a three-month shutdown. But many people have also expressed hesitation — especially regarding the theater seating to capacity.

People wait for the start of Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” on opening night of the new Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. The theater has temporarily closed its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.
People wait for the start of Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” on opening night of the new Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. An actor in the theater’s current production of “Mary Poppins” recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY Cast members tied to two Utah theaters recently tested positive for COVID-19.

A week after the Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy opened its production of “Mary Poppins,” an actor tested positive for COVID-19 on July 8, the theater confirmed Monday with the Deseret News.

And The Hale Center Theater Orem, which reopened mid-June, posted on Facebook that it has delayed its production of “Little Women” because a cast member — and potentially that actor’s partner, who is also in the cast — contracted COVID-19. The theater was informed on July 10 of the COVID-19 cases.

Theaters respond

Both actors at the Hale Center Theater Orem — who are currently quarantined — believe they were exposed to the virus during a “private function unaffiliated with the theater,” HCTO wrote in a Facebook post Saturday.

“While our casts have been rehearsing separately, and the affected individual was masked and socially distanced while at rehearsal, out of an abundance of caution, we canceled rehearsals when the initial exposure was reported,” the theater posted. “We intend to have the entire cast tested for COVID-19, and are looking into doing so now. We are delaying the opening of the show until we can confirm that it is safe to continue.”

The theater said in an email to the Deseret News that testing has begun and that it hopes to have test results before the weekend. The Hale Center Theater Orem will resume its production of “Little Women” when it can confirm “cast members are comfortable and healthy,” according to the email sent Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the actor involved in Hale Centre Theatre’s “Mary Poppins” production was last in the building on July 2, and began experiencing symptoms on July 6. The cast member believes they contracted COVID-19 from a family member who tested positive on July 7.

The Hale Centre Theatre recently posted a comment on its Facebook page that said based on discussions with the Salt Lake County Health Department concern for exposure exists within 48 hours of symptoms.

Since the cast member hadn’t entered the Hale Centre Theatre building since July 2, the Salt Lake County Health Department determined that “no contact tracing was necessary,” according to Mark Dietlein, the theater’s president and CEO.

“There has not been any impact on the theatre or anyone working there,” Dietlein wrote in an email to the Deseret News. “The actor has been at home recovering with ‘mild flu-like symptoms.’”

Dietlein added that all roles at the theater are double-cast so the double has since been filling in for the sick actor. He reiterated that the actor’s COVID-19 diagnosis “has had no negative impact on the theatre whatsoever.”

“HCT has and continues to work closely with the state and county health department,” Dietlein wrote. “We follow their guidelines completely. By doing so, this situation has been handled appropriately. The county health department carefully reviewed our safety guide as well as the theatre building prior to reopening and has reaffirmed to us as recently as last Friday that there is no need to change anything in our COVID-19 Safety Guide.”

People wait for the start of Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” on opening night of the new Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. The theater has temporarily closed its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.
People wait for the start of Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” on opening night of the new Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. An actor who is part of the theater’s current production of “Mary Poppins” recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Safety measures

The Hale Centre Theatre opened its doors on June 26 after 106 days of being closed, the Deseret News previously reported. The theater’s production of “Mary Poppins” began July 1. In a previous interview with the Deseret News, Dietlein said the reopening has been “smooth as silk.”

“There’s such joy with the patrons being able to be back to the theater,” Dietlein said. “After what everybody has been through, just kind of a real hunkered-down situation, I think people are just feeling so relieved that they can get back to doing the things they love.”

While the performers don’t wear masks, the theater has made adjustments to ensure proper distancing between the actors and audience. Physical distancing is also enforced in front of restrooms, concessions and other locations where lines typically form.

Patrons, however, are required to wear masks from the time they enter the building through the time that they leave — a stipulation that allows the theater to currently seat at full capacity, Dietlein said. Additionally, with reserved seating in place, a theatergoer is able to be notified if a patron who sat nearby contracted COVID-19.

According to the most updated state guidelines — which the Salt Lake County Health Department confirmed with the Deseret News — indoor venues like the Hale Centre Theatre that are in the low-risk “yellow” phase and don’t exceed 3,000 seats can fill every seat as long as wearing a mask and reserved seating is enforced.

Many comments left on the theater’s Facebook page show excitement over returning to the theater and support the arts after a three-month shutdown. But many people have also expressed hesitation — especially regarding the theater seating to capacity.

“I still have reservations about putting people shoulder to shoulder in your theatre- mask or no mask,” one theatergoer wrote. “I hope for the safety of all who choose to go see shows and those performing. Wishing the best, but concerned.”

“I love that you are open, however, I don’t know how you can feel good about sitting patrons shoulder to shoulder,” another person wrote. “I love your theatre, I do not want to miss shows, but even with a mask, it is difficult to feel safe sitting shoulder to shoulder in a theatre filled to the capacity. “

In an earlier interview with the Deseret News, Dietlein reiterated that patrons who are part of a high-risk population, or feeling compromised or sick, should not come to the theater.

“We just have to stress the fact that there is individual responsibility on the part of everybody who’s hoping and does attend, that they do so with full knowledge of their health and their willingness to comply with all of the health regulations — especially the wearing of the mask,” Dietlein previously told the Deseret News. “That’s extremely important to us. And if they’re not willing to adhere to that, then they need to wait.”

For additional safety measures the theater has enacted, visit the Hale Centre Theatre’s website at hct.org.

When the Hale Center Theater Orem resumes its production of “Little Women,” current safety measures in place include requiring staff and patrons to wear masks at the theater (including during the performance); a one-seat buffer between parties in the audience; no patrons in the front row to maintain distancing between the audience and performers; and staff and actors having their temperature checked each day, according to an email sent to the Deseret News.

For more information, visit haletheater.org.

COVID-19 cases in Utah

In recent weeks, Utah has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, although Monday marked the first time in six days the state confirmed fewer than 600 new cases, according to the Deseret News.

Kaysville’s Hopebox Theatre shut down at the start of July when six people tied to a production tested positive for COVID-19. And the rise in the state’s cases led the Grand Theatre in Salt Lake City to cancel three productions at the end of June.

“I think there’s probably a pretty low chance that anybody would’ve gotten sick, … but too many of the cast were just too scared to continue,” Seth Miller, the Grand Theatre’s artistic and executive director, previously told the Deseret News. “We didn’t want to put anybody in a situation where they’re coming some place five days a week where they’re terrified to be there.”