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No mask? Cabaret show will NOT go on

The Oregon Cabaret Theatre has given actors permission to stop a show if audience members are not complying with face mask policy, said Rick Robinson, managing director for the Cabaret.

The Cabaret reopened at 25% capacity Feb. 26, when Jackson County improved from extreme risk to high risk for COVID-19 cases, allowing up to 42 patrons per show.

The company opened with a production of the musical “The Spitfire Grill,” showing through April 18.

The Cabaret’s mask policy requires a face covering upon entering the building, when leaving a table and throughout the entire performance. People who purchased tickets but are not comfortable wearing a mask throughout the show can call 541-488-2902 for a refund.

Opening at 25% capacity is “less than ideal” as far as revenue, but shows are selling out every time, Robinson said. The Cabaret also receives financial assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program.

On Feb. 27, performers stopped the show when a table of patrons left their masks off after finishing dessert, Robinson said. The table complied immediately when stage management requested they don their masks.

“We have empowered [the cast] to say ‘halt’ if they don’t feel like the audience is in compliance with the mask mandate,” Robinson said.

The Cabaret’s policy is firm and will be enforced, even if a mask mandate turns some people away from buying a ticket, he said.

During the production of “The Odd Couple” in July 2020, some audience members described discomfort with how people used a beverage as an excuse to leave their mask off for an extended time, Robinson said. As a result, management tightened mask policy and enforcement.

Robinson said he has heard feedback from all sides — from those who don’t think the Cabaret should be open at all to those who vocally object to mask mandates and refuse to support the business.

“It’s tough being a small business owner during this time, because you get rocks thrown at you from either direction,” he said. “You carve this path that you’re comfortable with, that you feel good about and you let the stones fall.”

Thus far, the Cabaret has not had any positive COVID-19 cases among staff or cast members, nor contact tracing calls regarding patrons, Robinson said. Four filtered air conditioning units in the building keep clean air flowing and audience members are spaced 12 feet from the actors, he said.

Cast member Carrie Brandon was appointed cast deputy, who brings concerns from the cast in front of the management team and checks in weekly about what feels safe or unsafe from the stage.

Brandon said she collated and sent questions about air filtration quality, virus testing and audience compliance with mask protocol. The company voted and agreed on testing every other week, she said.

Brandon said she was pleasantly surprised that without question, actors were given permission to stop the show when they see the audience neglecting policy.

“At this point in the pandemic, it’s distracting to see anybody not wearing a mask,” she said. “It catches our eye more than I ever would have expected. When you’re used to looking out and seeing a sea of masks, if you see somebody’s face, it’s kind of jarring.”

In response to the one time actors called “hold,” theater staff now make regular loops to monitor the audience instead of watching from behind. The introductory curtain speech includes a reminder that the cast will stop the show if masks are not on correctly, Brandon said.

Empowered with the authority to prioritize her own safety on stage, Brandon said she is heartened to see part of the theater industry challenging “the show must go on” — a guiding force in the field that can be toxic by convincing actors discomfort or danger is just part of the job, she said.

“I think it’s a pioneering concept,” Brandon said. “Maybe the pandemic will teach theaters overall that safety is first and health is really important.”

When the Cabaret announced its reopening with the allowance of indoor dining, a public thirst for live performance became readily apparent — an improvement over last summer, Robinson said.

“Vaccinated people are looking to go out and enjoy themselves, that’s what we discovered,” Robinson said. “Demand is clearly there, we just can’t meet it because we have to cut it off at 25%.”

Despite the challenges of putting on a safe performance, the current show represents some of the Cabaret’s best work, he said. With fewer jobs on the market for actors during a pandemic, “The Spitfire Grill” cast includes the casting team’s top choices for the roles. Actors play their own instruments during the show, offering a lively and bright musical performance that flourished from a year of rehearsal, he said.

“Everyone is charged to be doing something again,” Robinson said. “The restaurant is energized to create a menu like we’ve never done before; the artistic staff is charged up to finally do a show again after being dormant for a while.”

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

A view from the balcony of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland. Managing Director Rick Robinson says reopening at 25% capacity is “less than ideal” for revenue, but shows are selling out. The Cabaret also receives assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program. (Photo courtesy Oregon Cabaret Theatre)