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Cabaret mask rule is prudent, effective

To mask or not to mask? That is not a question at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre. The popular venue is presenting the musical “The Spitfire Grill” through April 18 at 25% of capacity as allowed under the state’s COVID restrictions for counties in the “high” risk category.

The theater’s management gave its actors the power to stop a performance at any point if they see patrons failing to follow the requirement that masks be worn throughout the play.

That may not sit well with all theater fans, especially those who see mask requirements as an infringement on their personal liberties. It’s not. It is, rather, a reasonable precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Public health officials have made clear that speaking and singing indoors pose a high risk of broadcasting the fine droplets that can carry coronavirus through the air. Accordingly, the Cabaret is insisting on at least 12 feet of distance between the actors and the nearest audience members, and each performance is limited to 42 patrons.

Not surprisingly, shows are selling out. Anyone who purchased tickets but does not want to follow the mask requirement may obtain a refund.

The cast has stopped one performance since the theater reopened Feb. 26, calling “hold” when a table of patrons left their masks off after finishing dessert. They quickly complied, donned their masks again and the show resumed.

We all want our favorite entertainment venues to reopen, and it’s frustrating that they must do so under strict limitations. But the alternative is no entertainment at all, and we have experienced that for too long.

Each business affected by the restrictions must decide how to resume operations while protecting the health of its staff and its customers. In the case of the Cabaret, that means empowering the cast to enforce the rules. It sounds harsh, but it is extremely effective — and it spares wait staff from having to confront patrons directly and risk an argument. When the show stops, everyone in the theater instantly understands that the mask rule is not up for debate.

Not everyone will feel comfortable attending an indoor performance yet, even with the mask rule in place, and they must make the decision to attend for themselves.

As a private business, the Cabaret has every right to impose rules of conduct on its patrons, and to refuse service to anyone who fails to comply. The same is true for any restaurant, bar or movie theater.

Those concerned about personal liberties have rights, too: They have the freedom to stay away if they are unwilling to comply with the rules of the house.

COVID cases have been on the decline, and vaccinations are being administered. Eventually, we will be able to enjoy live performance with fewer restrictions. But we are not there yet.

In the meantime, the show will go on — but only if the audience follows the rules.