Will COVID safety protocols survive at local theaters?

As local laws no longer require masks and proof of vaccination, what will happen to the policies that have protected audiences and performers?

Editors’ note: DCMTA’s recent editorial urging the continuation of COVID safety policies in local theaters — “Now is no time for theaters to quit mask and vax requirements” — has had an overwhelmingly positive response. We follow it with this report on what theaters in the DMV are planning to do. And we invite readers who wish to express their opinion or share more information to do so as a comment below.

Now that Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser has lifted the mask mandate, with businesses no longer required to have patrons and staff wear masks beginning March 1, 2022, and proof of vaccination no longer required in entertainment venues, there’s obviously plenty of concern about COVID in the area.

Both Virginia and Maryland lifted their statewide mandates several months ago, but some local jurisdictions still require mask-wearing, though that’s likely to change soon as well.

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Still, just because masks aren’t required legally and vaccination statuses don’t need to be checked anymore, it doesn’t mean DC-area theaters are just going to drop the safety protocols that have been working for them and keeping audiences and performers safe.

Edgar Dobie, the executive producer at Arena Stage, notes there are no plans to change that theater’s masking or vaccination protocols, which have been in place from the start of the season and were instituted to keep all patrons, staff, creatives, and volunteers protected.

“We will still require proof of full vaccination — a physical card or electronic representation — and masks while in public spaces within the Mead Center,” Dobie says. “Since the start of the pandemic, we have worked closely with advisors from GW Hospital Emergency Medical Faculty Associates, who guide our safety plan. We have been, and continue to be, mindful of compliance with not just local regulations and CDC guidance but also all collective bargaining agreements for actors, directors, choreographers, and musicians.”

If the advisors at GW change their guidance while remaining consistent with local and union requirements, only then would Arena Stage adjust its plan accordingly.

That holds true for Studio Theatre as well, as the DC venue continues to require that all patrons, staff, and artists who enter the building wear masks and be vaccinated. Throughout the pandemic, Studio has looked to local, federal, and union guidelines to help shape its in-house safety precautions.

“We are paying attention to local changes to these regulations and will make adjustments to our policies as we determine it is safe to do so,” says Studio’s executive director Rebecca Ende Lichtenberg. “We understand the desire to return to pre-pandemic theater and see that things are beginning to open up, and want to be thoughtful about how we do that so we don’t put anyone at undue risk.”

As the public health impacts of COVID-19 continue to trend in a favorable direction, and as government and union officials update their guidelines, some theaters are considering following their examples, so things could change by late spring.

Laura Giannarelli, board president for the Washington Stage Guild, has been happy with the way its guidelines have let the theater safely navigate its first two shows of the season.

“Specifically, we will maintain our requirement that all guests to our theater wear masks and show proof of vaccination at the door,” she says. “We are following AEA guidelines in doing so, in addition to complying with our landlord’s health and safety requirements.  Our landlord — Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church — is firmly committed to maintaining the vax and mask requirements and is unlikely to relax their requirements for the immediate future.”

While Giannarelli plans to reevaluate monthly, she admits the rest of the season will likely maintain the mask and vaccine mandates for the protection of the audience and company.

Alyssa Sanders, producing partner for Avant Bard Theatre in Arlington, notes that the theater operates out of a county facility — Gunston Arts Center Theater Two in Gunston Middle School — so it must follow county mandates.

“Should the county change its policies, Avant Bard’s producing partners will take in the new information and make decisions accordingly,” Sanders says. “For now, all patrons must show proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours before the performance they plan to attend. All patrons must wear masks and no concessions will be sold at performances.”

Signature Theatre is participating in the unified COVID-19 safety requirements in partnership with Theatre Washington and many area theaters and will assess the policies moving forward.

“As in the past, this coalition will look at guidance from local jurisdictions, the CDC, and our partner unions (such as Actors Equity) when making any decisions,” says Jennifer Buzzell, director of marketing at Signature. “We will also look at what other live entertainment venues are requiring as well as what our audiences want. Research we are doing with our audiences shows that the vast majority of them want to continue mask and vaccine mandates.”

GALA Hispanic Theatre also is maintaining its COVID-19 safety policy, which requires masks and proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test within 72 hours of showtime. If a change occurs, GALA will let patrons know on its website.

Some theaters have been noncommittal about their plans and others admit that they are wavering on what to do come March and April, with a couple not willing to comment about what their actions might be once the mask mandate ends. One even noted off-the-record that it would probably start allowing maskless entry very soon.

We all hope that COVID rates continue to decline and no new variant takes hold, but jumping the gun on changing what has been working in theaters just doesn’t seem like the most logical move right now.

Stay informed on theaters’ latest safety protocols on their websites, which most update weekly or whenever there’s a change.


  1. I would like to see the vaccination/booster requirement and mask mandate continue through the 2021-2022 season. If it doesn’t, it is unlikely my husband and I will attend the theatrical productions we have scheduled nor buy tickets for plays we yet desire to see.

    • I agree, 110%. Thank you. I am sure that many people are aware that even the fully boosted are often developing long-term, dangerous complications. Even while a person might only get a sore throat or a cough, many are going on to have significant heart problems and other problems with vital organs. There is so very, very much information being given each day that it is easy not to hear or read about these other problems that are affecting many people. Heart problems and long-term chronic health problems are happening to many folks. I hope that all of us will protect each other and ourselves.

  2. My husband and I will not be returning to DC theatre’s until masking requirements for the fully vaxxed are removed.

    Those who feel unable to remove their masks should certainly continue to wear them.

    We are in our 70’s, my husband’s a doctor and virologist, and we are certainly capable of making our own decisions at this point, now that DC’s mask requirements are lifted. Currently, our theatre dollars are being spent in the UK.

  3. If I were running a business which forced 28 percent of the public to take a $100 test before each visit, I would make damn sure I was following the latest valid science, and even cite that science, and not just “do what the other theaters are doing” or “what the majority of our audience wants.” That’s just virtue signaling. The unvaccinated are no more likely to spread COVID than the vaccinated; that’s been known for quite some time. If your audience doesn’t know that, educate them. That’s what arts organizations are always saying they do, right? I have no doubt that if your audience wanted to keep out Black people in the civil rights era, or Jews in early 1900’s Germany, all of you would have happily gone right along with that too. Maybe Joshua Harmon can write a play that will shine a light on what you’re doing to people.

      I will not attend any venue that requires proof of vaccination. I had it with my 90 year old mother and we both recovered fine within a few days without any jab.

  4. Mandates in theatres make no sense at this point now that vaccine requirements are lifted in the DMV. If you go out to eat in a restaurant in the DMV, then you are sitting in a room full of maskless people of unknown vaccination status. So why do you need to be vaccinated to sit in a theatre, where people aren’t eating or drinking? Unless people who attend performances are so afraid of getting a covid infection that they aren’t going out to restaurants, then this useless policy needs to be removed. It’s especially harmful to the messaging about the vaccine. It implies that vaccination is not enough to prevent a bad case of covid. The whole point of it is that it does, in general, reduce severity of infection. So if you’re worried about the virus, go get the vaccine and stop insisting that everyone around you is vaccinated too when you’re at a theatre. You can’t do that in restaurants, grocery stores, post offices, sports venues, places of worship, your workplace, public transportation, airports, museums, or nearly anywhere else.

    It was nice when art used to be the place that boundaries were pushed, not strictly reined in, in contradiction to the rest of people’s lives.


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