Independent Western New York theaters like North Park Theatre and Aurora Theatre plan to keep operating after the state announced a ban on groups of 500 or more people, starting Friday afternoon.
In efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new regulations Thursday focused on limiting mass gatherings.
North Park Theatre Program Director Ray Barker said as he understands the statement, they can still have crowds of up to 500 people in the theater.
“One of the nice things about having a large auditorium is that it makes social distancing possible,” said Barker. “I know that theaters have encouraged people to sit in an auditorium apart from one another so that there's no risk. As you know, at least as of this afternoon, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Erie County, but we have lots of capacity to give us extra precaution.”
Given the concern for public safety, Barker said he doesn’t believe they will see large crowds, anyways.
“I think given everything that's going into in the media right now, people are going to be staying home and that will have a financial impact. We need to be prudent. We need to keep calm. We need to listen to the scientific advice,” Barker said.
The movie industry in general was already postponing films. For Lynn Kinsell, owner of Aurora Theatre, all of these rapid changes are adding to the ambiguity during difficult times.
“It started early today being notified Peter Rabbit 2 would not be coming out for the Easter season, which would have been a great hit for that holiday,” said Kinsell. “Shortly after that then being notified that Paramount has pulled the opening of A Quiet Place: Part II which we were really anxious about. We've already had tickets sold for a lot of people that are very excited about coming out to see that movie. And then in the middle of the afternoon, being notified of the governor's rulings about changing the venue capacities.”
A Quiet Place: Part II was shot in East Aurora and others parts of Western New York. A new release date for the film has yet to be chosen.
The Aurora Theatre seats about 600 people. Kinsell said they will cut not only the capacity to 300, but the staff’s hours in half as well.
“There is definitely a safety issue and we all have to be concerned and personal hygiene is number one, and making sure to cleanliness, just that very important,” she said. “It’s just a little scary right now, as a small business owner and owner of a small theater.”
Both Kinsell and Barker believe if people stay cooped up at home for a long period of time, they’ll eventually be looking for something to do outside of the house.
“Of course we pride ourselves on our cleaning to begin with. And I think we have regular practices which are in place which stand as well, including the cleaning of surfaces and having all the antibacterial products available for our cleaning staff to use,” said Barker. “I think we're all being asked to be extra careful. But not everything is going dark. And I think for, at the moment, we're listening to the scientific advice and what they tell us and we can still at least as of this moment, have screenings.”
“I recall a time when we had the big snowstorm and had six, seven feet of snow, and a road you couldn't drive here in East Aurora and it was the opening of one of the installments of Hunger Games (movies). And I had to open it was our part of our contract and I was amazed people walked,” said Kinsell. “They came to the movie and they couldn't wait to get out.”
The current statewide total of confirmed Coronavirus cases has reached 325 across 14 counties. As additional testing capacity is increased throughout the month, Kinsell said they will do their best to weather the times.
“I talk to other businesses here in East Aurora, restaurants, and they're seeing people aren't coming out,” said Kinsell. “So it's really kind of scary from a small business standpoint where we can't endure this for very long.”
In other arts entertainment, Shea's Performing Arts Center have cancelled nighttime shows for now. Alleyway Theatre has canceled performances of Scotch and Madness and The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes.