Curtains to rise once again at Ute Theater in Rifle
After working nearly two hours to get the letters on the Ute Theater marquee just right, Kathleen Trappen got the news.
Gov. Jared Polis’ statewide spring shutdown for the Covid-19 pandemic had begun, meaning her work was all in vain.
It was March 7, two days after COVID-19 had officially reached the borders of Colorado. A night of “Outlaw Country” music was to take center stage – until the event got canceled at the last second.
“We had already done soundcheck and we were ready to go,” Trappen, a part-time Ute Theater and Events Center stagehand, said Friday. “We were getting ready to feed the bands.”
The “plug pull” wasn’t isolated to just that night. Ticket sales for a March 17 concert were through the roof: 200 purchased to see Jason Boland & The Stragglers perform live. Thanks to a worldwide pandemic, however, that highly anticipated performance was also scrapped.
“Those people got their refunds,” said Anna Kaiser, one the theater managers.
Almost six months would pass until the Ute Theater would hold another performance in front of a live audience. In the meantime, the same lively community venue that hosted bands and performers like The Wailers, The Young Dubliners and Coco Montoya would mostly be reduced to performances via online streaming services.
Luckily, the Ute is on par to once again break the silence.
On Oct. 30-31, the legendary Garfield County venue will play into the horrors of Halloween as they host screenings of the film “Rocky Mountain Horror Picture Show,” a cult classic produced by Lou Adler.
Kaiser said 44 tickets are available for purchase. Audience members are encouraged to dress up in costumes and bring interactive movie props as suggested by the New Ute Theatre Society. The reduced capacity allows the Ute Theater to maintain compliance with COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the Garfield County Public Health office.
As of Wednesday morning, a combined 26 tickets have been sold for both days.
“I would love to sell all 44 tickets,” Kaiser said. “We were closed for so long, I think people need to get used to the fact that we’re doing stuff again. I think they’re not seeing us as much.”
But amid rising numbers in confirmed COVID-19 across Colorado, how does a venue properly and safely play host to a small crowd of people?
Under Garfield County orders governing how local restaurants, places of worship and gyms can properly host in-person foot traffic, the Ute Theater submitted a business plan that followed guidance on crowd sizes, social-distancing and temperature screening. The plan also requires all patrons to wear masks.
“They came up with a really good plan — they were really conscious of their approach,” GCPH environmental health manager Josh Williams said. “We supported them moving forward with getting reestablished with some events.”
According to county variances, which follow level 2 “Safer at Home” restrictions implemented by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, all in-person foot traffic could encompass 50% of building capacity, with a 100-person contingency limit, Williams said. Outdoor events, meanwhile, had a limit of 175 attendees.
Williams said larger settings are not necessarily more prone to outbreak.
“I think in most of the areas where we’re seeing outbreaks currently are employee-to-employee in workplace settings as well as in homes,” Williams said.
Kaiser said the Ute invested in computer software that helps venues and attendees follow certain COVID-19 and social distancing regulations. Based on this program, the stands will seat about 30 people – six or less to a group – with two empty chairs surrounding each group on all sides.
Out on the floor beside the stage, another 14 people will be allowed to view the film from high-top tables.
Prior to entering the building, each attendee lucky enough to nab a ticket will have their temperature taken from one of the 10 or so ushers and volunteers. After, however, they’ll be greeted with a few people tending the bar and serving drink specials.
If all goes to plan, 2020 could see a few more live events at the Ute before year’s end. Netflix-featured comedian Jerry Garcia headlines Nov. 14. In addition, events like “Hometown Holiday” and a live performance by Symphony in the Valley are on the schedule.
“It would be a success for me if we see some of our regular faces, and some new people in here as well,” Kaiser said. “We miss people coming here. I want to see some people in costumes, getting into the spirit.”
Tickets for “The Rocky Mountain Horror Picture Show” can be purchased by visiting http://www.utetheater.com. Readers can also call the theater at 907-665-6569.
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