Small Mouth Sounds, Arvada Center

From left to right, Geoffrey Kent, Kate Gleason and Jake Mendes in the Arvada Center's "Small Mouth Sounds," which will open April 30.

The most significant sign of an eventual return to normal in local performing arts came today when the Arvada Center announced a return to live indoor theater on April 30.

The Arvada Center becomes the first company in the region to receive approval from the Actors’ Equity Association to produce indoor theater with an in-person audience. Only with the approval of the national union can its members, who include actors and stage managers, return to work.

The vast majority of live theater in Colorado is not governed by the union, which is why socially distanced indoor theater already has returned to places such as the Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton, the Aurora Fox and Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown. But the union governs the area’s largest companies, including the Arvada Center, Denver Center, Theatre Aspen, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and others.    

The Arvada Center will stage “Small Mouth Sounds,” Bess Wohl's popular 2015 play about six visitors who confront their inner demons at a silent yoga retreat, through May 30. The play had been in previews last March when it was closed down just hours before its opening performance.

“This is the little play that could,” said Director Lynne Collins. “Its themes of wanting connection and creating meaning in our lives resonate even more so now after a year of keeping apart.”

“Small Mouth Sounds” will move from the Arvada Center’s studio theatre to its 600-seat mainstage space to accommodate social-distancing requirements. Audiences will be limited to no more than 100 per performance.

To secure permission from the union, the Arvada Center was required to present a sweeping 30-page safety plan that Collins calls “much more in-depth than any other workplace. Nobody in the world will have this degree of compliance.”

The plan addresses issues such as COVID testing, air flow, the rehearsal process, contact between actors and more. The Arvada Center has hired a COVID compliance officer (Kristin Sutter) who will oversee all aspects of the plan. “She will be the COVID police,” Collins said.

Among the provisions in the agreement:  

  • All members of the creative team must pass three COVID tests spaced at least three days apart prior to the first day of rehearsal, then be retested at least once a week until the end of the run.

  • Actors will be required to rehearse in masks but will be allowed to perform without them.  

  • Actors will be able to briefly touch during the course of the play, but a scene that involves a shared vape pen must be changed to one that has two separate pens.

The Arvada Center’s announcement likely will not impact the timing of a return to homegrown indoor theater at the region’s largest performing-arts center because, as Denver Center CEO Janice Sinden told Colorado Politics last month, it makes no economic sense for the DCPA to return to indoor theatre until they can fill their houses.

“To reopen, you need relaxed social distancing, plus consistent state and federal public health orders, plus the opportunity to sell a fixed percentage of available tickets,” Sinden said. “Otherwise, you are losing money that you don’t have to lose. End of story.” And the Denver Center has no say on the timing of a return to touring Broadway productions.

The Arvada Center has taken a different view. “The decision was made at the executive level that if we can put out product for our audiences, we should try to do that,” Collins said. “Breaking even is not the highest priority right now. We’re an arts organization, and we ought to be trying to produce art in any way we can.”

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