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Chicago movie theaters and performance venues can reopen under new guidelines

Movie screenings, plays, concerts and other indoor performances can resume with strict capacity limits.

Zach Long
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Zach Long
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When Chicago enters Phase 4 of its reopening plan on Friday, June 26, museums, zoos, restaurants and bars will be able to allow guests to come indoors under strict capacity guidelines. But for those starved for live entertainment, the bigger news is that performance venues will also be able reopen—and that includes movie theaters, performing arts spaces and music venues.

The city has released new guidelines for performance venues and movie theaters, requiring employees and attendees to wear face coverings at all times (except while eating or drinking while seated), decommissioning rows of seating to provide spaces between groups of attendees and limiting capacity in each indoor space or room to 25 percent of its original capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer.

According to guidelines provided by the city, movie theaters will need to restrict attendance to no more than 50 people per theater, rearrange seating to ensure six feet of distance between groups of attendees and encourage guests to go directly to their seats after purchasing a ticket and concessions. Theaters will be thoroughly cleaned after each screening and screening times will likely be staggered to prevent large groups from forming in the lobby before and after showings.

During a press conference, deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development Samir Mayekar stated that the reopening of performance venues only applies to those where an audience can be seated. "For those small independent venues where there's only standing capacity, we are still continuing our dialogue with them," Mayekar said. "They will not open early in Phase 4, but that dialogue will continue." That means that small venues without permanent seating like Hideout or Subterranean won't begin reopening on Friday.

Performance venues will only be able to seat 50 people per room, though a venue may allow multiple gatherings of 50 individuals in a single space if those groups are separated by floor (a balcony, for example) and have access to dedicated entrances/exits as well as dedicated restrooms. Staff and attendees will be required to wear masks (unless they're eating or drinking while seated), but performers will not need to wear a face covering while onstage, though they will need to wear one while backstage.

With organizations like the Lyric Opera and the Joffrey Ballet recently canceling performances for the remainder of 2020, it remains to be seen if theaters and performance spaces decide to resume shows. The significantly reduced capacity could make it exceedingly difficult to stage concerts or plays while turning a profit, unless audiences are willing to shell out for more expensive tickets. Stay tuned for more information on live entertainment throughout the city, as venues begin releasing details about their future plans.

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