WATERVILLE — Those who love the performing arts will go to great lengths to attend live shows during the COVID-19 pandemic, even vowing to suit up in hazardous materials gear or full personal protective equipment, if that is what it takes.

Such is the case at the Waterville Opera House, where Executive Director Michelle Sweet says patrons are excited a full season has been scheduled for 2021-22 after the facility was closed for more than a year.

They want to see the opera house succeed, are sending messages of support and willing to follow strict safety protocols, according to Sweet.

Michelle Sweet, executive director of the Waterville Opera House. Photo courtesy of Waterville Opera House

“It’s really been uplifting to get those kinds of comments,” she said Monday.

Last Friday, the band Femmes of Rock performed after more than a year’s postponement because of the pandemic, with 552 tickets sold. The show had been scheduled for March 13, 2020.

“They were the first show that was canceled last year,” Sweet said. “We had staff at the airport to pick them up when we made the decision to pull the show. It was, oh, so long ago now.”

Two weeks ago, the 810-seat opera house hosted its first live performance since the pandemic began. Almost 700 tickets were sold for that show, Blues Traveler.

“It had been 500 days since our last concert,” Sweet said, “for a venue that typically hosts 100 events a year.”

At 7:30 p.m. Friday, the Neil Simon play “The Dinner Party” is scheduled to open and be the opera house’s first full-stage production since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We have six performers who have been working together very diligently the last two, 2 1/2 months,” Sweet said. “We finally got them on stage for the first time last night and out of the rehearsal hall. We’re super excited. We have partnered with Front & Main, which is going to be hosting a post-show opening night gathering.”

At about 9 p.m. Friday, the restaurant on the ground floor of the Lockwood Hotel on Main Street is scheduled to host the cast, crew and patrons for the after-party, according to Sweet.

When the delta variant of COVID-19 surged recently and led to an increase in new cases, the opera house tightened its safety protocols and got some pushback from people who vented their frustrations online, on the telephone and on social media, Sweet said.

In an email Friday to patrons, opera house staff members wrote all indoor events at the Waterville Opera House, Maine Film Center/Railroad Square Cinema and Ticonic Gallery + Studios – Waterville Creates will require audience members who are 12 or older to be fully vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours prior to arrival.

Proof of vaccination or negative test will also be required at the door, and masks will be required for all patrons and may only be removed only to eat or drink while seated at the venues.

Despite the pushback, Sweet said the opera house stood its ground because it is the right thing to do and the performing artists required such safety requirements.

“They said, ‘We do want to come and we do want to perform, but we want to make sure we are safe, too,'” she said. “We’ve been following the CDC (Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention) guidelines in terms of requiring masks and the like, but we really stepped it up beyond that to require folks to have proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test within 48 hours of the performance.”

Peter Hallen, an opera house fan, said he attended both concerts recently and it was great to be back. Hallen said he and his family had patronized the venue occasionally, beginning several years ago, but began going regularly after his daughter, Lucy, performed a few years ago in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Hallen, who is director of Mid-Maine Technical Center, said he supports the safety protocols in place at the opera house.

“When you’re running a place like that that serves the public, I think you’re obligated, just like in schools, to take reasonable precautions when you can,” he said.

He added that people have been waiting for things to get back to normal, and going to the theater is one of those things that had been prohibited.

“It feels like we’re getting something back and, to me, it’s at very little cost,” Hallen said. “Throw a mask on? So what? We do it in school, anyway.”

Sweet said the opera house is following the path that other venues are following “in hopes we can continue what we’re doing and do it safely.”

She said the opera house will continue to assess what is happening related to the pandemic, and change practices based on guidance from the CDC.

“We have concerts that we haven’t even announced yet because we’re aware of the fact that things may take a dramatic turn in the wrong direction,” Sweet said, “and we don’t want to find ourselves in a position we were in previously with thousands of tickets we need to have staff go through to make returns and refunds.”

Meanwhile, the opera house staff is doing all it can to keep the venue open and offer quality performances, according to Sweet. The opera house’s season typically runs from September to August.

“We have just had so, so many of our performers and patrons reach out and let us know how much they’re missing live theater,” Sweet said. “It’s a rough time for all of us in the arts, and I’m hoping we can get the delta variant piece turned around.”

Other events scheduled include the play “Clue,” scheduled to open Nov. 12; the musical “Tuck Everlasting,” set for April 2022; and the farce “A Flea in her Ear,” planned for June 2022. Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” is also scheduled for June.

Those who seek more information or want to buy tickets should go to operahouse.org or call the box office at 207-873-7000 from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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