More than a dozen Boston-area theaters, including the Huntington Theatre Company and American Repertory Theater, will require patrons to present proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to attend indoor performances, the group announced Thursday.
They will also require ticket-holders to wear masks. The new policies go into effect immediately and will remain in place through Oct. 31, when they will be revisited.
Separately, the Boch Center, which operates the Wang and Shubert theaters, is enacting a similar proof-of-vaccination or negative-test policy, effective Sept. 14. However, the Boch Center will require only unvaccinated patrons to wear masks.
All told, 15 area theater operators or producers have adopted the new policy, which applies to theater staff, audiences, and artists (though they won’t be masked while performing).
“One of our responsibilities is to provide the absolute safest possible environment for those people who want to return to something of a normal life,” said Michael Maso, managing director of the Huntington, which returns to live in-person shows on Aug. 27 at the Calderwood Pavilion with its season opener, “Hurricane Diane.” “It’s part of our civic responsibility, because clearly the vaccine is the only true solution to the situation.”
The new policies mirror those adopted by theaters across the country. Broadway owners and operators announced similar measures late last month, and theater blocs in Chicago and Washington, D.C., have recently followed suit.
Locally, a handful of live music venues have announced similar measures, including The Sinclair, The Middle East, and Club Passim, all in Cambridge, and City Winery in Boston.
The Boston-area theater group adopting the new policy includes the Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Central Square Theater, the Front Porch Arts Collective, the Gamm Theatre in Warwick, R.I., Gloucester Stage Company, Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse in Vineyard Haven, Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Moonbox Productions, SpeakEasy Stage Company, and Wellesley Repertory Theatre in Wellesley.
The group said it expects other theaters to join them in coming weeks.
“We’re listening to the science, and the science is that if you are going to do anything indoors, the safest way to do it is with vaccinated people and with masks on,” said Catherine Carr Kelly, executive director of Central Square Theater in Cambridge and co-vice president of New England Area Theaters, a regional association of midsize theaters. “It would be much easier if the state had requirements, if we weren’t striking out on our own, so being unified seemed critical.”
The decision comes at a particularly fraught moment in the pandemic, as the Delta variant drives case counts higher, while Governor Charlie Baker has so far left it up to local leaders to enact restrictions. (On Thursday, Baker announced a vaccine mandate for some 40,000 state employees.)
Locally, the question of whether Boston should require proof-of-vaccination for theaters, gyms, indoor dining, and other venues has become a divisive issue in the city’s mayoral race. While Acting Mayor Kim Janey is requiring city workers to get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing, she’s taken heat from other candidates for not implementing tougher measures at public venues.
Meanwhile, a survey sponsored by ArtsBoston of some 2,500 people who regularly attend local arts events has revealed significant support for greater restrictions at indoor shows. The survey, conducted this month, found that 80 percent of respondents said a proof of vaccination requirement would make them more likely to attend events, and half said they would return only to venues that require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
In addition, the survey found that 40 percent of respondents aren’t ready to return indoors immediately.
Those are troubling figures for an industry that has bet heavily on the fall season after being shuttered for the past year and a half.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to limit the pandemic, because I’m worried it may shut down our business again,” said Josiah A. Spaulding Jr., chief executive of the Boch Center. “We want to do everything we can to keep people safe.”
Even so, a variety of theater operators with later opening dates said they weren’t ready to introduce new requirements.
At the Citizens Bank Opera House, executive director James Jensen noted that the first performance there this fall, a touring production of the Broadway musical “Hadestown,” doesn’t arrive until Nov. 2.
“We’re engaged in conversations about the prospect of requiring proof of vaccination and the logistical elements that would be involved, but no firm decisions have been reached yet,” Jensen said via e-mail. “We’ll be paying close attention to the experiences and best practices developed by our colleagues at those other venues and letting circumstances evolve a bit more before making definitive decisions on the policies.”
At ArtsEmerson, whose first indoor show opens Nov. 12 at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, Wayne McWorter said the organization would announce any updated policies in the coming weeks.
“We want to take time to think more deeply about the implications of any new policies,” McWorter, senior director of marketing, communications, and audience services, said in a statement to the Globe.
A variety of other venues, including the Wilbur Theatre and Symphony Hall, said they continue to monitor the situation but aren’t ready to announce any new policies just yet.
The group of theaters enacting the new policies said they would accept vaccination cards, photos of cards, or digital vaccine records as proof. Specifics may vary among individual theaters, but at the Huntington, for example, a negative test must be taken within 72 hours before a performance.
”We’ve all been told to expect changes and surprises and surges and declines,” said Maso. “So we’re prepared, we think, to move forward safely and responsibly, and with great art.”