GREENSBORO — When Josh Groban performs Oct. 2 at the new Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts, he will require full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test for those attending during the ongoing pandemic.
That’s not the case so far for other upcoming shows at the new downtown venue, including the touring Broadway production of “Wicked” that opens Oct. 6.
The 3,023-seat Tanger Center — and the Greensboro Coliseum complex that manages it — requires audience members to wear masks.
But they do not have a blanket policy that requires audience members for every show to present proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test.
They leave that decision to each show’s event organizer.
That does not sit well with some Tanger audience members, who want proof of vaccination or a negative test to be required for all performances at the venue.
Some have written letters to the editor in protest.
“Why is the Tanger Center leaving it up to the individual shows to make this call?” Steven Loch of Greensboro wrote in a letter recently published in the News & Record. “Shouldn’t they be taking the initiative to ensure, to the best of their ability, the health and safety of all parties?”
Rita Layson of Greensboro wrote in a letter published this week that she would drive instead to shows at the Durham Performing Arts Center. DPAC announced that it will require a full COVID-19 vaccination or negative test to attend shows for ages 12 and up, going into full effect by Oct. 4. Folk rock duo Indigo Girls implemented it for Saturday’s show.
DPAC General Manager Bob Klaus explained the venue’s decision in late August, when DPAC became one of the latest entertainment venues to implement the rule.
DPAC cited the delta variant’s spread through North Carolina as the reason behind the new requirements.
“We’re confident this is the best path forward for our guests, our visiting shows and their casts, crews and performers, plus all of the valued staff and volunteers at DPAC that help in hosting the superstar shows we present,” Klaus said in a news release at the time.
So far at the Greensboro Coliseum complex, acts requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours prior to the event will be the Counting Crows on Tuesday at the White Oak Amphitheatre, and James Taylor for his Nov. 19 concert with Jackson Browne at the coliseum.
Rhiannon Giddens required it for her Sept. 2 show at Tanger. Each audience member had to show to security proof of full vaccination or a negative diagnostic test within 48 hours before the concert.
“Getting vaxx’d (or taking a test if there’s a reason you cannot or will not vaccinate),” Giddens said at the time, “was the only way I could justify gathering people together and not being afraid I was creating a spreader event.”
Mayor Nancy Vaughan points out that the city and Guilford County require masks indoors, including the Tanger Center and coliseum venues.
Each venue has had at least one public complaint about some audience members not wearing masks. One complaint was aired in a letter to the editor published in the News & Record and another was from a council member.
As for vaccine passports, Vaughan said, “Without a state mandate, we may have a legal issue changing the conditions under which performers sold their tickets if they did not require a ‘vaccine passport’ at point of sale.”
The city has installed a state-of-the-art air purification system in some buildings, including the Tanger Center, Vaughan said.
She noted that touring Broadway productions are not currently requiring vaccines or negative COVID-19 tests for admission.
Andrew Brown, public relations manager for the coliseum complex, pointed out that the touring production of “Wicked” is currently playing in Charlotte. Proof of vaccination or a negative test is not required for Charlotte performances, Brown said.
Broadway shows in New York do require that, however — for audience members, performers, backstage crew and theater staff.
For “Wicked” at the Tanger Center, the tour will not allow food or beverages in the theater. Thus, no patrons will be eating or drinking during the performance. Masks must be worn in the seating area throughout the duration of the show, Brown said.
The Tanger Center surveyed its 17,400-plus Broadway season subscribers in regard to their vaccination status. More than 93% of those responding indicated they were fully vaccinated, Brown said.
Brown also noted that, over its first 20 days, the Tanger Center has hosted nine performances for a total attendance of more than 19,000.
“The feedback we have received to date has been overwhelmingly positive regarding the venue, the quality of events, our staff and the health and safety protocols that are in place,” Brown said.
Those include promoting vaccinations and face coverings, instituting contactless entry and a variety of cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
Several blocks away at 310 S. Greene St., the Carolina Theatre will implement vaccination or negative test requirements starting Oct. 1.
It will require proof of full COVID-19 vaccination, or negative viral test within 72 hours before attending or participating in an event there, for everyone age 12 and above.
Reaction to the requirement has been “mostly positive,” said Brian Gray, Carolina Theatre executive director.
Gray said that he discussed it with those who have tickets on sale already, as well as major clients such as Community Theatre of Greensboro and Greensboro Ballet, ahead of time.
One performer canceled because of the new policy, Gray said. “It was a YouTube performer that was catering towards a younger audience. The promoter felt that they didn’t want to chance seeing if the parents would want to deal with the testing.”