‘We’re the ones they... forgot about’: Grand Strand entertainment venues hopeful about reopening

‘We’re the ones they... forgot about’: Grand Strand entertainment venues hopeful about reopening

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - After nearly five months, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is permitting entertainment venues, like movie theaters and performing arts facilities to reopen their doors to the public, as long as they adhere to his safety guidelines.

The governor’s guidelines state that attendance may not exceed 50% of the certificate of occupancy issued by the fire marshal – or 250 persons – whichever is less. It also requires people to wear a face mask or face covering as a condition of admission or participation for the event and maintaining social distancing at all times.

Duane Farmer is the general manager for the Grand 14 Cinemas in Market Commons and he’s on board with all of the governor’s safety recommendations to ensure his customers feel safe.

“We expect you to be able to take your mask off while you’re eating your popcorn,” Farmer said. “We’re doing the social distancing, especially in the lobby and down the hallways, and inside of the theatre. If you have a party of five, you five can sit together. But for another person to sit near you, there would be a three-seat minimum because that would be the six feet distance. And other rows would be roped off.”

Although Farmer is excited to reopen this theater doors, he foresees some challenges for his industry.

Farmer feels many of the theater and event industries were last on the governor’s “reopening party” list and said some of the companies may need “bailout” support” to get back on top, financially.

“Of all the industries, we were the ones they kind of forgot about,” Farmer said. “We have six theaters across North and South Carolina and it’s really hard to think that each one of those were closed without any income, whatsoever. We couldn’t even open up partially. I couldn’t retain my employees, they were all furloughed. Most of these people were doing this to get through schools and help their families out. It’s hard to do that if you don’t have a job for five months.”

Farmer says due to the newer “Blockbuster” movies being pulled from the theaters during the pandemic, their bottom line, might still be impacted for weeks to come.

“If we were to open up tomorrow, it would all have to be retro [movies] that’s been playing on TV during this entire COVID-19,” Farmer said. “People have already been sitting at home watching those and they would like to have something new to watch. It’s really hard to open up and charge your normal prices if you’re just playing old movies.”

The box office manager at “Theatre of the Republic,” Bruce Thompson, said the performing arts theater will be following the governor’s safety guidelines. He hopes when the production shows are back up and running again, more people will be coming back to support the arts.

But Thompson said reopening the curtains after being closed for five months, won’t be as easy as some would hope for.

“In the theatres, I see no more ‘meet-and-greets’ outside after the shows,” Thompson said. “No more backstage tours and bringing people into the costume room to show people a glimpse of our life and what goes on back there. I don’t see any more big groups of people being able to come to support their loved ones. I think the new normal is going to look a lot different from when we were on stage in February in 2020, prior to the pandemic.”

Thompson says the facility is on board with limiting occupancy inside of the building and enforcing people to wear a mask. He said they’ll be going beyond what’s required to ensure social distancing is being enforced and the actors, guests and production crews are safe.

But he said the pandemic hit the arts community hard and after five months of having their stage lights go dark, on top of new safety measures, it could make the performers’ comeback power a bit tougher.

“As actors and performers, that’s our life,” Thompson said. “Our life is on stage and performing in these shows. But there are no auditions, there are no casting calls, if anything is done now it’s going to be digital. I think it’s going to be harder to find work in an industry that we all love and respect so much.”

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