Local live theaters set to welcome back audiences as early as next month


HONOLULU (KHON2) — While Broadway in New York City won’t reopen until at least June of 2021, some local theaters are looking to welcome back audiences for live performances as early as next month.

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At Diamond Head Theatre, drive-in performances have helped to keep ticket sales going, but they’re hoping to bring the crowds indoors.

“Going forward we’re doing what we’re calling a pandemic adapted performance series,” said Deena Dray, Diamond Head Theatre executive director. “And we’re doing it show by show, because we just never know what tier we’re going to be in or how many people we’re going to be able to have in the theater.”

The theater’s Christmas show will be opening on Dec. 4 with limited seating. Only 113 people would be allowed in, a fraction of their full capacity.

“We’re doing groups of two, so people have to sit in pairs,” said Dray. “We’re socially distancing, and then we’re doing about 25 percent of our capacity,”

Dray added that they are testing how people feel about watching a live show indoors. On Friday, the theater let in about 80 people to watch a 45-minute show. Masks had to be worn the entire time.

“Afterwards we said, ‘How did you feel? Did you feel comfortable? Did you feel safe?’ Everybody was overwhelmingly positive about the experience.”

Deena Dray, Diamond Head Theatre Executive Director

For other theaters, they are hoping to attract guests with virtual performances.

Hawaii Theatre is planning a 2021 lineup online that includes the Beach Boys and Las Vegas act, Piff the Magic Dragon.

“(We have) all sorts of incredible programs that now we’re in the process of converting to a nearly an all-digital format,” said Gregory Dunn, Hawaii Theatre President and CEO. “We still have some of the shows scheduled in case we can reopen, but as of right now, we’re looking at each one of them on a case by case basis.”

Reopening will depend on where City and County of Honolulu restrictions are at the time.

He said the cost to operate the theater stands at about $100,000 a month. To help keep afloat, they have also been renting out the theater space to groups for production.

“It’s been a good opportunity for the theater to pivot, and not look at ourselves just as a performing arts venue, but also as a production facility to help people that want to get online and want to stream content.”

Gregory Dunn, Hawaii Theatre President and CEO

Kip Wilborn, Manoa Valley Theatre executive director, said their theater season has been delayed to September of 2021. Manoa Valley Theater is also going the digital route for the bulk of 2021, showing music, comedy, plays and musicals on their website.

He said they will be working to expand their digital platform to bring in revenue because live shows are costly and limited seating may not make up the difference in costs.

“If you’re budgeting and planning on having an average of, let’s say, 60 percent, ticket sales, and then suddenly the most you can get in the house is 30 percent. That just doesn’t work. You can only do that for so long,” said Wilborn. “But what I do know is that we can provide digital content. And so that seemed like the only option at this point.”

For now he’s asking for the community’s support.

“We’re going to need places where we can walk away from all the cares that we have and for that time that you’re sitting in that seat, watching that performance, that’s your whole world and we’re going need a lot of that. So support the arts.”

Kip Wilborn, Manoa Valley Theatre Executive Director

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