Houston’s performing arts scene is ramping up again in 2022 as COVID-19 numbers continue to decline in the region.
With numbers down, local arts organizations are opening their doors to wider audiences and lifting mask and testing requirements for audience members. Brandon Weinbrenner, the associate producer and casting director at Houston’s Alley Theatre, said the Alley lifted its mask requirements in hopes of putting more people back in theater seats.
“If wearing that mask for two hours is uncomfortable for you, and then you decide not to go to a show, that’s a real downer,” Weinbrenner said.
As of Monday, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Houston was 3.2% according to Texas Medical Center data. That’s down from 4.1% the prior week.
Weinbrenner said the Alley Theatre’s audience numbers were hit hard by the pandemic, particularly during the peak of the omicron variant in January. Regular subscribers sometimes forgot to attend plays because they got out of the habit of going to the theater, he said.
Stages Houston also saw an audience decline due to COVID. Katie Maltase, the managing director at the theater, said the arts program lifted its mask and testing mandates this week as well, hoping to open access to the theater and reignite the connection between actors and audiences.
“Actors are getting the reaction, and (are) able to see the faces of the people who are responding to their work,” Maltase said.
Still, Maltase said the theater is cautious about the future and continues to monitor COVID numbers and health protocols.
That’s something Rebecca Udden, the artistic director at Houston’s Main Street Theater, is also keeping an eye on. Main Street Theater is now mask optional, but Udden said their main stage near Rice Village still requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to attend shows.
The stage has very little physical distance between the actors and the audience, and Udden said she doesn’t want to be caught off guard if another variant pops up.
“If one of the actors catches it, then the show shuts down,” Udden said. “We’ve been very lucky so far. We’ve been able to produce since last summer and not have to cancel any performances, but that could change in the blink of an eye.”
On Tuesday’s Town Square with Ernie Manouse, Theatre Under the Stars artistic director Dan Knechtges said he’s looking forward to having performances without COVID-19 shutdowns.
After a tumultuous year with frequent uncertainty due to COVID, he said he hopes things will continue to improve with the pandemic.
“It’s a lot of hurdles to jump over, but we keep jumping,” Knechtges said. “Hopefully the hurdles move farther apart and disappear.”