While the omicron variant wave forced some local arts groups to cancel events in late 2021 and early 2022, nearly all of the major Houston Theater District arts organizations have lifted masking or proof of vaccination requirements for audiences this past month – following the significant decline of COVID-19 cases in the City of Houston and Harris County.
In a statement by the Alley Theatre, which changed its protocol to ‘masks optional’ on March 9: “The Executive Directors at the Theater District organizations were in communication with each other around updating policies,” indicating information sharing and support within the arts community.
As March continued, arts groups – one after another – began announcing updated COVID policies on their websites or social media, citing guidance from public health experts, government officials, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (A list of updated protocol appears at the end of this article.)
Two local milestones also helped pave the way. On February 24, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner lifted mask requirements for employees and visitors in city buildings, and on March 10, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo lowered the county’s COVID threat level to yellow, signifying a “moderate or controlled level of COVID-19.”
With a recently reported new BA.2 subvariant now in the Houston area, it’s unclear to health officials if that could lead to another surge. The average positivity rate in Harris County currently remains low, under 2%.
For now, audiences have the opportunity to attend spring performances with less restrictions, while arts groups – many of whom have recently announced their 2022 – 2023 seasons – hang onto the hope for a healthier future.
Here’s a summary of updated COVID protocol of the 8 major Theater District arts groups and 3 Houston theater companies that operate their own venues:
As of March 1, A.D. Players no longer requires masks and temperature checks for patrons.
Due to the recent, rapid decline in positive COVID-19 cases in our area, revised union guidelines, and the new CDC guidance regarding indoor masking, we are pleased to announce that masks will no longer be required when attending a performance at the George Theater. We cannot thank you enough for your patience and support during this difficult time and we look forward to seeing your smiling faces once again at The George!Kevin Dean, Artistic Director and Jake Speck, Executive Director
As of March 4, the Houston Symphony no longer requires masks for patrons, though “mask-wearing is strongly recommended for all audience members while inside of Jones Hall.”
Beginning today, Wednesday, March 9, we are pleased to announce that the Alley will no longer be requiring proof of negative COVID test or proof of vaccination to enter the Theatre. Additionally, guests and volunteers will no longer be required to wear a mask inside the Theatre, though anyone is, of course, still welcome to do so.Alley Theatre website
As of late March, Main Street Theater no longer requires masks, but continues to require proof of negative COVID-19 test result or vaccination, for audience members of its MainStage productions at its Rice Village venue.
Due to the intimacy of our MainStage theater in Rice Village, we are erring on the side of caution and continuing to require proof of a negative COVID test or vaccination.
We are prepared to be flexible. We will adjust as the virus and positivity rates adjust. Also, keep in mind that for our MainStage, we operate under an Actors’ Equity Association contract, so some rules they set. Basically, we are re-evaluating before each new production on both our MainStage and Theater for Youth stages.Shannon Emerick, Director of Marketing and Communications
Previously in late February, Main Street Theater lifted mask requirements for its Theatre for Youth productions at MATCH. Proof of vaccination was never required for patrons of that series.
As of March 21, Da Camera no longer requires proof of negative COVID-19 test result or vaccination, while maintaining its mask requirement: “All patrons must wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth at all times, except while actively eating or drinking.”
DACAMERA’s safety policy was recently updated to reflect changing conditions in the community while remaining consistent with the policies implemented by the various venues in which we present performances.Brandon Bell, General Manager
BROADWAY AT THE HOBBY CENTER and THEATRE UNDER THE STARS
As presenters at The Hobby Center, both companies follow the safety protocol of the venue.
As of March 21, The Hobby Center no longer requires proof of negative COVID-19 test result or vaccination, while maintaining its mask requirement: “Currently, all patrons must only wear a mask while inside the building and are required to provide their own mask.”
As of March 25, Houston Grand Opera no longer requires masks for patrons.
Per the latest guidance on COVID-19 safety from the HGO Health Advisory Committee, local health officials, and the Centers for Disease Control, HGO will no longer require masks for audience members, effective immediately, although we continue to encourage their use.
In addition, HGO will remove all previous requirements (masks, proof of vaccine/negative COVID tests) for those attending special events at the Wortham Theater Center, including Opera Ball on April 9, and we will be reopening the Green Room for our spring repertoire.Houston Grand Opera website
SOCIETY FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
As announced in a March 28 email, SPA will no longer implement the same requirements – masks and proof of negative COVID-19 test result or vaccination – at all of its shows.
SPA has revised policies for several upcoming shows, on a case-by-case basis.
We present artists from around the world, each with varying needs and perspectives. Conversations around health & safety differ for them all.
As the situation around Covid has changed, we’ve kept those conversations going. And we have updates.
Please see revised Covid policies below for upcoming 21/22 Season performances. Like our programs, there’s no one-size-fits-all.Society for the Performing Arts
Details can be found on its FAQ page, under Health and Safety.
In an email to Houston Arts Journal, Houston Ballet says it plans to lift mask requirements for patrons in time for its next production, Pretty Things, opening May 20, 2022.
As we are planning to head back to the theater in mid-May, our current plan will include having a mask as an option, not a requirement. However, we will continue monitoring local conditions and updating our COVID policies with guidance from our medical partners, government officials, and the CDC.Angela Lee, Director of Marketing and PR
Updated March 31, 2022, 1:20pm: This article has been updated to include new information provided by Houston Ballet.