Seats at Arena Stage, which will now require patrons to show proof of vaccination.
Credit: Darrow Montgomery / file

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On Aug. 5, 13 D.C.-area theaters announced they will require audience members to provide proof of vaccination to attend indoor, live performances. The organizations include major theaters like Arena Stage, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Studio Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and Arlington’s Signature Theatre. Theatre Washington will maintain a running list of all the theaters requiring proof of vaccination on its website.

The rule, which currently extends through December 2021, requires patrons to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19—meaning it’s been two weeks since their last dose—in order to enter a participating theater. The press release mentions verification via physical vaccine cards, but individual theaters are allowed to accept other methods of verification. The theaters’ staff and performers will also have a vaccine mandate. In addition, masks will be required indoors when not eating or drinking. The length of the mandate will be reviewed in October, according to the press release.

The move comes as the delta variant surges in the United States. On July 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended all people, vaccinated or not, wear masks indoors in places with “substantial or high transmission” of the disease. On the CDC’s interactive map, the District is currently listed as an area with “substantial” transmission. More than a dozen restaurants and restaurant groups have announced they will require diners to provide proof of vaccination. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that restaurants, gyms, and other indoor businesses must require patrons to be vaccinated starting Sept. 13. When asked about a similar mandate on Aug. 3, Mayor Muriel Bowser said “I’m going to read all about it, see what they’re going to do.”

Exemptions to the theaters’ vaccine mandate are made for people with medical issues who can’t receive the vaccine, children under 12, and people with “closely held religious beliefs that prevent vaccination.” Any unvaccinated patrons must provide a “timely” negative COVID-19 test (“timely” will be “defined by each venue”) before a performance.

No children’s theaters are on the list. Amy Austin, president & CEO of Theatre Washington, says “how those guidelines are rolled out to those audiences will be different” due to shifting public health recommendations for children, but that “I want them to be sure that they know that there’s ways they can go see shows with their children that is not full of obstacles.” (Austin is the former publisher of City Paper.)

“We will continue to update,” says Austin. “This was a very small list. There were 13 theaters who signed on; we count 90 institutions in the geographical area. So you can expect to see more activity as people make these decisions, depending on when they’re opening, or depending on their institutional decision making process.”

The theaters requiring vaccination are currently:

  • Arena Stage
  • Atlas Performing Arts Center
  • Constellation Theatre Company
  • Ford’s Theatre
  • GALA Hispanic Theatre
  • Keegan Theatre
  • The Kennedy Center
  • Mosaic Theatre Company
  • Round House Theatre
  • Shakespeare Theatre Company
  • Signature Theatre
  • Studio Theatre
  • Synetic Theater
  • Theater J
  • Washington Stage Guild
  • Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Additional theaters with vaccination mandates that were not listed in the Theatre Washington announcement:

  • Olney Theatre Center will require masks, but not proof of vaccination, for its socially distanced outdoor programming that moves inside to a half capacity theater in inclement weather. Beginning in September, indoor performances of The Thanksgiving Play will require both masks and proof of vaccination. Policies will be reevaluated in October.

Theatre Washington partners like the Kennedy Center, Ford’s Theatre, and Folger Theatre were initially absent from the list. All of Folger’s 2021-2022 season in-person programming will be off-site due to venue renovations; in an Aug. 9 statement, the theater says “We will work with our institutional partners and host venues across the United States to determine and announce appropriate protocols to ensure the safety of our staff, patrons, and program participants.”

The Kennedy Center and Ford’s, which both have public and private stakeholders, announced jointly on Aug. 12 that they would both require vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for theater audiences beginning Sept. 1, but that vaccination would not be required to enter public spaces at each venue. The exception covers daytime visitors to the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site and visitors to Kennedy Center spaces like the REACH, the Hall of States, and the Hall of Nations.

Sarah Marloff contributed reporting. This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 12.