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The City Journals

COVID-19 health protocols play leading role in final 2020 production at Harman Theatre

Nov 05, 2020 01:45PM ● By Darrell Kirby

By Darrell Kirby | [email protected]

The old show business adage that the show must go on was in play in October at Harman Theatre in West Valley City. 

Despite a significant increase of COVID-19 cases in Salt Lake County and rest of Utah last month, the theater’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” took the stage as scheduled—with plenty of measures in place to protect cast, crew and audience members. 

Temperature checks, face masks, and social distancing were the order of the day for auditions, rehearsals and all the way through the final performance of the comical murder mystery on Oct. 26.  

“Quite a bit is different,” said “Arsenic and Old Lace” director Josh Richardson. “When we had auditions and callbacks, we kept everybody spaced apart, kept everybody seated at least 6 feet apart in the room to minimize contact.” 

Once the cast was chosen, rehearsals were conducted each day with masks on. “It was a bit of a pain,” Richardson admitted. But the wearing of face coverings turned out to have an unexpected benefit besides protecting the health of the actors. “You have to practice being even louder than you normally are and enunciating even more clearly than you normally do.” Those efforts were carried over to maskless performances in front of live audiences. 

Restricted theater capacity led to audience numbers ranging from as few as 13 people to more than 40, for which the cast was somewhat unaccustomed to performing. “We do have to push a little harder because we want every audience to go away with the same quality production as if we had a full house,” said cast member Karen Chatterton. 

She and her husband and fellow castmate Galen Chatterton said the play’s actors developed an unprecedented closeness off the stage, in large part because they encouraged and looked after each other to make sure everyone avoided the virus, which would have ended the play’s run if anyone contracted it. 

“I’ve never been in a cast quite like this one. The camaraderie is phenomenal,” said Galen, a veteran actor whose performing career started when he was 4 years old on a kids show on local television in the early 1950s. 

Harman Theatre took a number of precautions to ensure the health and safety of theatergoers. 

The 600-seat theater was capped at 25% capacity and groups of guests were seated at least 6 feet apart every other row. Ticket sales were done entirely online, there were no will-call ticket pickups or concession sales, the lobby, stage, and backstage areas were thoroughly sanitized between shows, and just entering the building required patrons to have their temperatures checked by tablet-like infrared scanners, which could also detect if a person was wearing a face mask. 

“We have not had any issues,” said Melanie Budge, marketing and communications manager for West Valley Arts, the nonprofit city program that runs Harman Theater and the Utah Cultural Celebration Center.                   

Richardson, the director, says despite the health protocols and circumstances the likes of which he and the nearly two dozen cast and crew members have never experienced in a production, “people are having a great time, the cast is having a good time. It’s good to have some of the things that we had before as cultural and community experiences go.”

“Arsenic and Old Lace” was the second and final production of the year at Harman Theatre. “Footloose” was slated to run from mid to late March, but the onset of the pandemic shut it down after just four of a planned 12 performances. 

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