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The lights are turning back on at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts—and they’ll be shining on a different patron experience for arts-lovers.
After being shuttered for more than 18 months and waiting to deliver on $27 million worth of tickets patrons chose to hold onto, the DCPA—which brings touring Broadway shows, professional theatrical productions, classes, and other immersive arts experiences to the multi-theater downtown complex—recently issued new requirements for anyone attending its shows. As of October 1, all patrons 12 and older must show proof of vaccination or complete an exemption form and provide proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of the performance start time—requirements that apply for children under 12, too. And everyone must mask up, no exceptions.
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“Our audiences told us they wanted this,” says Janice Sinden, DCPA president and CEO. “We participate in [an ongoing series of] national audience surveys; we get the national data and our subscribers’ data. More than 90 percent of our subscribers who responded to our survey said they’d be more likely to return to our theater if we had these policies.”
Her team also got input from Denver Arts & Venues, the city agency that manages many of Denver’s cultural assets and gathering places, including the complex’s Boettcher Concert Hall (home of the Colorado Symphony), Buell Theater (which hosts touring Broadway shows and other large-scale performances), and Ellie Caulkins Opera House (where the Colorado Ballet and Opera Colorado perform).
Anyone attending these venues must abide by the rules, says Ginger White, the agency’s executive director. “We felt like we should have a consistent, campus-wide approach for those resident companies, which is helpful for patrons and for staff as well.”
But just how the front-of-house staff will implement the requirements was still under discussion as of the last few days of September, at which point the DPCA and the Arts & Venues teams were figuring out just how to make it all work, White says. “[We’re looking at] how are we going to manage the lines and the checking, especially when we have many of the houses open and going?” The DCPA’s first test will be The Improvised Shakespeare Company’s show, which opens on October 6 and runs through the month in the 213-seat Garner Galleria Theater.
Sinden says she expects a good turnout as the season progresses. “I think we’re seeing some pent-up appetite for live theater,” she says. The center has already surpassed its modified goal for Broadway subscribers, and it sold about $2 million worth of tickets in the first four days after announcing a batch of four shows—which the CEO describes as “pretty good.”
Still, she understands why some would-be patrons might be disappointed by the guidelines, even as others are pleased. “I think people are tired,” she says. “They feel like, ‘I just want to sit in a theater and feel normal again.’ ’’
No word yet on when that might happen (at least not the way it was pre-pandemic). Neither Sinden nor White identify an endpoint to the requirements, though they both emphasize that their teams are having ongoing conversations with Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. “I don’t know of any benchmarks that these arts organizations are looking at [to roll back the COVID policies], and we haven’t talked about it in our calls,” White says. “Right now, it feels like we’ll know it when we see it.”
For now, the center has adopted a liberal return or exchange policy for patrons who’ve been holding tickets and waiting for the reopening. Same goes for those who purchase tickets but decide they can’t attend performances for any reason. The aim is to encourage patrons to stay home if they are not feeling well or if they test positive.
“Our goal is to be patron-forward,” Sinden says. It remains to be seen what happens with the aforementioned $27 million in tickets theater enthusiasts held onto during the pandemic—a sign Sinden sees as a vote of confidence. “People weren’t uber-panicked that we’d shut down,” she says. “People said, ‘Hold my ticket. I’ll be back.’ ” And as the glow of the theaters brightens, that’s just what she’s hoping to see.