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Dryden Theatre reopens; Zoom and outdoor shows coming to Geva

James Brown
WXXI News file photo

As capacity restrictions on entertainment venues ease, organizations are approaching the change differently.

Venues like movie theaters and comedy clubs can now fill a third of their capacity, according to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Larger venues like the Dryden Theatre, which has a capacity of 500, can seat up to 100 people inside and 200 outside. 

The Dryden’s Jared Case said they’re opening right away, with sold-out screenings of "Citizen Kane" and "Rear Window" this weekend. They’ll be the first movies shown in 15 months at the theater, located at the George Eastman Museum. The theater closed for construction at the end of 2019, and the COVID-19 pandemic kept its doors shut until Friday.

“Our audience is just incredible, and the response has been great, with people just wanting to get back to the theater and see movies on the big screen,” Case said.

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He said the films are the first leg of a tribute to the late Pulitzer Prize winner Jack Garner. Garner, a famed film critic and longtime Rochester resident, died last summer.

Case said they’ll have to cut some corners, though, to keep costs low until they can welcome even more people back. He said that means they will not pay for films to be shipped to them until at least summer, but the average movie-goer will likely not notice.

Credit Dryden Theatre

“Luckily, we have this enormous library of films. We advertise 28,000 films in our collection,” Case said.

The Dryden will have new health and safety measures, including improved air filtration, in accordance with New York state standards, along with other changes.

Other venues, like Geva Theatre Center, are choosing to wait a little longer. Geva's Melissa Boyak said they’re optimistic that the capacity limits will grow in the coming months but added they’re not expecting an in-person performance for months -- and likely not one at the Geva itself until fall. 

She said planning a play is intensive. It takes money and requires hiring dozens of people. She said to make their budgets work, they need a higher capacity.

“We cannot function effectively and profitably with 33% capacity,” Boyak said. “It’s not like we can turn on a light switch and have a show. Even if an announcement came out today that said we could do 80% capacity, we still could not do a show right now, because there’s a lot of work required to make that happen.”

Boyak also said they need more details on what they can and cannot do.

“We have some infrastructure that we want to make absolutely sure is in order,” Boyak said. “Guidance has not been exactly clear from the CDC and the state. We want to make absolutely sure we’re doing everything right.”

She said they’re planning the theater’s first Zoom show next month. It's called "The Real James Bond … Was Dominican."

Boyak said Geva is planning to bring an outdoor production of "Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash" to town this summer. They don’t know where the show will be yet, but they’re hoping for a city location. 

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.
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