Austin holiday event organizers take different approaches to Stage 5 guidelines

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After 12 weeks of outdoor, socially distanced shows, ZACH Theatre decided to cancel the rest of its performances for “A Rockin’ Holiday Concert.”

“Really, that’s the part that hurts the most, is just the opportunity to give that feeling of joy around the holidays to our patrons,” said Dave Steakley, ZACH Theatre producing artistic director.

The move comes after Austin Public Health leaders announced a move to Stage 5 of its COVID-19 risk-based guidelines.

“And then the artists who are put out of work by this is really, the really challenging thing,” Steakley said.

He says they were already operating at just 20% of the staff they had in February, before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, other events like the COVID Cautious Christmas Light Show at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters on Lake Austin will still go on.

Ken Leonard says they are using 1/7th of their outdoor capacity for their light show. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)

“The entire orchestration and design of the light show was predicated on, we could not predict whether we’d be at Stage 3, Stage 4, Stage 5. So we designed it for Stage 5 conditions,” said Mozart’s owner, Ken Leonard.

That includes masking up and spacing out. Leonard says they typically double staffing for the light show. This year, that’s tripled to help sanitize and make sure people are following the rules.

Leonard says they did decide to voluntarily close down their dine-in option.

“We just thought it was wise with the news today to just go ahead and curtail for the time being, indoor seating,” he said.

El Arroyo also announced they’d be moving to to-go orders only.

The protocols mean a fraction of the audience compared to previous years, even though they began 10 days sooner.

“Last year we saw almost three quarters of a million people at the light show. This year… it will be about 1/7th of that,” Leonard said.

The same has been true for ZACH Theatre’s outdoor concerts, where audience members were seated with their group of two, four or six in a pod.

“We had already only budgeted to achieve 1/10th of what we would normally do over the holiday period, because of the social distancing, limiting our audience to, you know, just over 100 persons,” Steakley said. “And now for that to be cut right in the middle of it is very challenging.”

A Rockin’ Holiday Concert, a socially distanced, live outdoor concert on the People’s Plaza at Zach Theatre on Dec. 12, 2020 in Austin. (Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro)

Even so, he says they didn’t want to take any risk.

“We just didn’t feel like, in good conscience, we could honor what the city expects by continuing those,” Steakley said.

He also says they saw a big difference between Stage 4 and Stage 5.

“What changed is that we were able to assemble in pods of 10 or less under Stage 4. We’re really not supposed to be leaving our households, and we have to be leaders in that,” Steakley said.

But he says they’ve seen tremendous support for their outdoor concerts so far and hopes to return to that soon.

“The audience attendance has been stellar. So, we can look forward to that now having had 12 weeks of success, knowing that there is some light over the horizon.”

ZACH Theatre says an online recording of “A Rockin Holiday Concert” is available to buy here. They hope to continue outdoor concerts in March if conditions allow. Best case scenario, they hope to reopen the theatre around October.

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