Theatre Washington, an organization that represents and supports many theaters in the D.C. area, announced Tuesday that 35 locations have decided to extend their vaccine and mask requirements through April 30, despite local jurisdictions dropping a majority of their indoor COVID-19 restrictions. The group says it will review these policies on a monthly basis.
In collaboration with the Rockville-based research firm Limelight insights by Shugoll Theatre Washington conducted a survey of about 2,100 local theatergoers to gauge how comfortable they are with attending shows without mask or vaccine policies. Shugoll and Theatre Washington conducted the survey over three days in mid-March. The group says it selected subscribers and single-ticket purchasers from eight mid-size to large local theaters to represent the area’s audience members. These theaters included: Arena Stage, Imagination Stage, Olney Theatre Center, Round House Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Signature Theatre, Studio Theatre, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.
Overall, audience members surveyed were opposed to lifting the COVID-19 policies until this summer — specifically, June through August. “Since June is the traditional end of the theatre season in the D.C. area, and August is approaching the launch of a new season, these are logical months to make a change,” Mark Shugoll, the project’s director, said in a press release.
Just over half (53%) of theatergoers said they were opposed to dropping the mask mandate in theaters at the end of April, and less than half (49%) said they are likely to attend live shows if masks aren’t required. More than 75% of respondents said they felt “very negatively” about getting rid of the vaccination requirement and about the same number said they’d like to see a booster shot requirement to enter theaters.
Amy Austin, CEO of Theatre Washington, says the single-ticket buyers surveyed were people who recently saw a show — capturing, she hopes, the opinions of people who are actively participating in live theater.
“After two years of severe disruption for production and theaters, we want to be able to take into consideration real data as opposed to speculation about what audiences are thinking,” Austin says.
When asked how theater workers’ opinions factor into these decisions, Austin says, “You have to take both into consideration.”
“These statistics indicate that theatre-goers are concerned about attending the theatre this spring without a mask requirement,” Shugoll said in a statement. “But as the dominoes fall to eliminate mask requirements in other areas of entertainment, theatres may be hard-pressed to continue this policy much beyond the end of April.”
Currently, most local theaters require audience members, staff, and performers to show some proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test from within 72 hours and require mask-wearing, except while dining. In January, the theater alliance extended these policies through March.
Patrons are encouraged to continue checking each theater’s health and safety websites for specific guidance: