WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — With the winter season approaching, there are questions about whether the high cases of COVID-19 in Florida will have an impact on tourism.
The Palm Beach Dramaworks announced Wednesday they are postponing the start of its 2021-2022 season out of an abundance of caution.
The shows were scheduled to begin in October but will not be delayed until December.
Officials said the decision was made for the health and safety of its customers, artists and staff.
"With the COVID-19 Delta variant taking its toll in Florida, it seems obvious that the most prudent thing we can do is delay the start of the season," Producing Artistic Director William Hayes and Managing Director Sue Ellen Beryl said in a joint statement.
The decision to keep this theater dark was not easy.
"I think it's too dangerous here in Florida. ... I mean it seems to be the epicenter," Beryl said.
Beryl said social distancing in the 218 seat theater is impossible for actors and the audience. Also, they can't check for vaccinations under orders from the governor.
"We do get the question every time they call us to renew their subscription, 'Are you going to require masks? Can you ask for vaccine status?' Beryl said. "Many of our patrons are up north right now, and theaters up north are asking for proof of vaccine, but we cannot do that here."
The delay for Palm Beach Dramaworks is allowing more time for work to install a new air filtration system for the theater.
Hayes and Beryl said they recognize there could still be anxiety for customers returning to shows in an indoor environment.
"As eager and ready as we and our patrons are to return to the theatre, we also recognize that people have become uneasy about participating in an indoor, communal experience at this moment in time," the statement said.
Because of the postponement, the runs of each production will be shorter than usual.
The reopening is now set for Dec. 3 with the world premiere of "The People Downstairs."
"We're still going to do all five shows we promised our patrons," Beryl said.
Nearby at the larger Kravis Center, organizers said they still plan to reopen with shows in October. However, tourism officials admit Florida is taking a hit with national publicity.
"Groups and meetings are not returning as quickly as we thought they would, and that’s a portion of the visitor base we really look forward to having in the fall and coming into season," said Glenn Jergensen with the Tourism Development Council for Palm Beach County.
Beryl worries that many people will delay their trip to Florida amid the surge in COVID-19 cases.
"Just speaking to some of my board members, there is a reluctance right now for people to be coming back to Florida too soon, so they are also waiting," Beryl said.
Beryl hopes shows can at least start in December providing the pandemic eases off from the current level of cases.
PALM BEACH DRAMAWORKS' REVISED 2021-2022 SCHEDULE
THE PEOPLE DOWNSTAIRS
By Michael McKeever
Dec. 3 – Dec. 19
By John Cariani
Jan. 14 – Jan. 30
By Bruce Graham
Feb. 18 – March 6
By Lynn Nottage
April 1 – April 17
THE BELLE OF AMHERST
By William Luce
May 20 – May 29