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COVID-19 protocol: Here's how York County theaters are returning to the stage

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Director Jaci Keagy, center, of Springettsbury Township, looks on as Carly Geiter (Helen Keller), 11, right, of Hempfield Township, and Jack Harman (Captain Arthur Keller), of Spring Garden Township, brush up on a scene from, "The Miracle Worker" at Belmont Theatre in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, July 7, 2021. The show will open Sept. 17, after it was shutdown in March of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rehearsals will begin Aug. 23, with seven of the original 14 cast for the production, including Geiter. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Live performances are returning to York County this fall after local theaters have made adjustments to protocol and technology in response to COVID-19.

At least two theaters upgraded their HVAC systems in order to to ensure better air flow and eradicate airborne diseases. As for protocol, several theaters will not require audience members to wear masks or show COVID-19 vaccination cards.

All of those apply at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts, according to Todd Fogdall, the president & CEO of the Appell Center.

"We are not asking for vaccine cards or other forms of COVID status," Fogdall said. "We are continuing our heightened cleaning procedures, disinfecting the theaters after each show day and maximizing fresh air flow through our HVAC systems."

The Appell Center announced in June its fall schedule, which combines theater, comedy and music acts, including the return of the York Symphony Orchestra to the Strand Theatre on Oct. 2. 

The first show is a performance by musical group The Lone Bellow, slated for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7. Tickets to each of the Appell Center's shows can be purchased at https://appellcenter.org/.

To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Appell Center has upped its cleaning practices and upgraded HVAC systems to provide better air filtration for its audiences. 

Carly Geiter, 11, of Hempfield Township, looks through her character's wardrobe, which she hasn't seen in a year and a half, at The Belmont Theatre in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, July 7, 2021. Geiter will play Helen Keller in the upcoming production of, "The Miracle Worker," opening Sept. 17. The production was a week and a half away from opening in 2020 when all was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Season tickets for the theatre will be available beginning July 15. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Air will  be frequently cycled out to allow for fresher air to be brought into the theater, Fogdall said.

The Belmont Theater is following suit, having recently installed a bipolar ionization system to eradicate airborne diseases, including COVID-19, according to Executive Director Lyn Bergdoll.

While pandemic protocol is ever changing, The Belmont Theater will uphold current state and CDC guidelines for theater guidelines. At this time, neither masks nor vaccination cards will be required for patrons, Bergdoll said.

"We'll see what happens by then, and we'll leave it up to our patrons' discretion," she added. “We wanted to take every possible measure to make people feel comfortable coming back to the theater."

The Belmont Theater will be returning with a season of 11 comedies, dramas and musicals. The first in its season is "The Miracle Worker," which will run from Sept. 17 to 19 and Sept. 23 to 26. 

More:For York County theaters, the show goes online during COVID-19 times

Tickets to each of The Belmont Theater's shows are currently on sale for members. Nonmember ticket sales will launch July 15 at https://thebelmont.org/.

“We want people to feel comfortable coming back," Bergdoll said. “I think it's a great season."

Director Jaci Keagy, of Springettsbury Township, talks the upcoming production of "The Miracle Worker" at Belmont Theatre in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, July 7, 2021. The show, which was halted for a year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic, opens Sept. 17, with season tickets available beginning July 15. Dawn J. Sagert photo

At DreamWrights Center for Community Arts, Executive Director Ann Davis said the theater organization has a lineup of exciting shows to welcome back audiences.

Its first production to return this fall season will be "Company," a musical comedy by ‎Stephen Sondheim. The show will run from Aug. 20 to Aug. 22.

While vaccination cards will not be required for patrons returning to the theater, Davis said mandatory mask wearing is still uncertain.

“Everything changes, so nothing is ‘This is how we're doing it,'" Davis said. "It's case by case, day by day."

In June, DreamWrights organized a production of "West Side Story" — requiring masks for both cast and audience members with 75% capacity.

With more than a month until the theater's next performance, Davis said a lot can change between now and then with regard to particular protocol. 

Tickets for all fall performances are on sale now and can be purchased at https://dreamwrights.org/.

“It's wonderful; it's really great to have both actors and audiences share the joy of live theater," Davis said. “It feels really good to be back together again."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.