NORWALK — After six months live indoor professional theater has returned to Connecticut with Music Theatre of Connecticut’s production of Becky Mode’s “Fully Committed,” running through Sept. 27.
The evening was going to be an enjoyable, if unique, experience.
Music Theatre of Connecticut, or MTC, is one of three theaters in the country that has been approved by their state, the CDC, and the stage actors’ union Actors Equity Association. The other two being Weathervane Theatre in Whitefield, New Hampshire, and Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vermont.
Traditionally, MTC would sit 110 people, but with current COVID-19 restrictions for indoor venues the theater can only hold no more than 25 people in the house of the theater. With the inclusion of two ushers, there are 23 seats available for purchase, about 21% capacity.
Before arriving at the theater there are several items to be sure to have ready. One is obviously having a mask on and be prepared to wear it for the duration of your time inside the theater.
The other is be sure to have a printout of your ticket or have it available on your mobile device.
As I approached the theater with my girlfriend, an usher was standing by outside to greet us. He reminded us of information that was provided online, that the theater is seating its audience in three phases based upon where you’re seating. The closest comparison is almost like being seated on an airplane. For the 8 p.m. curtain, the house right side of the theater was seated at 7:30 p.m., center of house seated at 7:40 p.m., and house left seated at 7:50 p.m.
Us being on the house right were among the first in the theater.
The usher had an electronic forehead thermometer and took our temperatures before we could go in. Anyone with a temperature over 100.4 would not be admitted. The device was probably a little too far from my head as my temperature read 92.8, so that could have been done a little more precise.
Once inside the building we waited in a queue where everyone is spaced six feet apart, as we waited for the second usher to seat us by party.
Be sure to have a pre-show beverage at home or at a restaurant before coming in, as concessions are currently not being sold.
When it was our turn to be seated, we were led into the theater and brought to our seats. The usher asked us if we needed to use the restroom. MTC is currently only using one restroom for all guests and is only allowing one patron in at a time while others wait in a queue in the rehearsal room next door, so if you can go before you arrive, it would likely do everyone a service in getting the show started on time.
MTC has also set a policy that once the show starts the restrooms will be closed.
The theater was at capacity Saturday night, 23 audience members with two ushers. Seated groups were significantly separated from each other. I felt adequately isolated from the rest of the audience and at no point did I feel like I was being encroached by other guests. Even if people wanted to get closer to other guests, most of the unused seats were covered to prevent people from sitting in them and ushers politely asked guests to return to their seats if they were standing and talking with other people who weren’t a part of their party.
Though “Fully Committed” is less than 90-minute long, when you factor in the wait time inside before the show begins and then waiting to be ushered out of the theater after, and any potential delays for the show to start, wearing a mask that long may be a tad tedious for some people, so be sure you have one that is comfortable and won’t make you sweat too much.
The atmosphere in the theater was casual, and the audience appeared to be engaged with the play. Not having a full house, though, does take away from some of the atmosphere as “Fully Committed” is a very funny play and Matt Densky gave an overall solid performance as the beleaguered Sam, a struggling actor who has been left on his own fielding the reservation line for an upscale restaurant in New York City. It would have been great to hear the hearty laughter of a full theater.
If you’re not ready to come to the theater yet, MTC is offering an alternative way of viewing the performance.
Kevin Connors, MTC’s executive artistic director, co-founder, and director of “Fully Committed,” said that for every live performance 87 tickets will be available for purchase to watch the show from home while the show streams live. So far, he said, MTC has been selling on average about half their online tickets while three of the four live performances sold out.
“We’re not allowed to sell more total seats than there are seats in the house,” he said.
“It’s been a journey,” he said. “I’m feeling really good.”
Connors said that the first live performance, a Friday night preview on Sept. 11, was “very emotional.”
“We closed the doors here Friday, March 13 in rehearsal for ‘The Buddy Holly Story,’” he said. “We haven’t had the public in here until Friday night.”
“Even though we’re obviously limited by phase 2 of the re-opening,” he said, “just to get open again, I think is a dramatic thing for us.”
Connors said that the audience was very supportive and cooperative the whole weekend.
“Everybody is so happy to be back, which was really a great thing,” he said. “I think in these crazy times that everybody who’s been here felt like they needed to be here. Everybody’s on their own comfort level right now, and that’s great. They could have watched it from home, but they really wanted to be here.”
A common concern with indoor events is the building’s ventilation system, but Connors said that MTC has changed their HVAC’s filtration system with MERV-13 filters, which Connors said recirculates the air at a rate that all the air in the space is replaced in about an hour’s time.
He also said that the theater is thoroughly cleaned after every performance.
“We use an ultraviolet system that kills everything in its path,” he said. The same ultraviolet light hospitals use to sanitize hospital operating rooms, he said.
Actors Equity Association is fielding over 100 requests from theaters across the country to reopen.
Connors said that the union wanted to know their protocols for their employees to ensure the actors would be protected.
“AEA is looking after the actor’s experience,” he said.
Densky and anyone he has contact at the theater will be tested every week and Densky is also required to wear a mask when he isn’t on stage, he said.
Densky is also not allowed to meet anyone while inside the theater, Connors said.
“The process with Equity was interesting,” he said. “I think there’s a perception that there’s an adversarial relationship between producers and Equity. I’ve been doing this for 34 years. We’ve always had really great (union representatives).”
He said it took about four or five conversation exchanges over the course of about six weeks to get approval from the AEA.
“We were working together to get to a place where they felt comfortable with the actors being here and we felt comfortable with the protocol,” he said. “In their defense they’re figuring it out as we go too. We all are.”