A drive-in event is seen here put on by the Civic Theatre. Nelson’s only movie theatre is moving back toward having audiences inside. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

A drive-in event is seen here put on by the Civic Theatre. Nelson’s only movie theatre is moving back toward having audiences inside. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

LARGE POPCORN, EXTRA BUTTER: Reopening the Civic Theatre

Eleanor Stacey on how audiences will safely return to the theatre

by Eleanor Stacey

Nelson Civic Theatre

Last week, B.C. unveiled its multi-step plan to reopen our province in the wake of COVID-19, working towards getting things back on track for all of us. For us at The Civic Theatre, this was a big announcement — we have now been closed for more than six months straight, resulting in a loss of more than 90 per cent of our earned income for the current fiscal year.

Thanks to support from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, Columbia Basin Trust, Vancouver Foundation, BC Arts Council and our community of members and donors, we have weathered this extenuating circumstance better than a lot of nonprofits and businesses alike. That said, we are not emerging unscathed either. We have an accumulated deficit growing as we approach our July 31 fiscal year end, and need to restock and clean to welcome audiences back into our space.

While full of unprecedented challenges, the past year has also brought with it all sorts of great developments for us as well. The addition of Reo’s Video, our drive-in movies, the Rural Arts Inclusion Lab, the Civic’s artist residency program, and the new Kootenay Regional Film Commission are all projects that were borne under COVID-19. Some were planned, others incidental, but all impacted in their design and production by the physical distancing necessary in our time.

Today, there remain so many unknowns. If the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to go down, the province can take its next step in the reopening plan on June 15, which would enable us to open our doors to audiences of 50 people at a time. We hope that things will continue to go well, and we’ll be back to our full capacity of 306 seats by July 1. There are a lot of variables that will contribute to what is possible and when. In the meantime, we are preparing for all the possibilities so that depending on what is permitted, we will be ready. Our new private “bubble” screenings for audiences of two, up to six and up to 10 people are one such new introduction. Seeing as we are only allowed 10 audience members in our space at a time right now, it is the best choice we can make.

Like all businesses affected by COVID-19 closures in our province, we’ve had to be patient. We’ve done our best to be compliant and respectful, knowing how hard the Provincial Health Office has had to work to ensure the safety of our communities through these difficult times. That said, it’s been difficult to stand by in silence when our sector (cinemas and other performing arts venues) have been closed the longest. It makes us look like places that are less safe than others that have been permitted to operate at varying levels and capacities over the last year.

The truth is that there have been no cases of COVID-19 in cinema audiences in Canada. Movie theatres, with our cathedral-height ceilings and spacious seats, our capacity to steward people through our lobbies, and our quiet, forward-facing seated audiences are ostensibly among the safest kinds of indoor spaces one can imagine.

I am hoping that this conversation about what denotes a safe space from COVID-19 will be behind us all soon. In the meantime, it is simply a pleasure to welcome our patrons back into our theatre in small groups to start, and our whole community again soon. We look forward to seeing you at the movies!

Eleanor Stacey is the executive director of Nelson Civic Theatre Society.


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