There’s good news and (mildly) bad news about the Fox Theater reopening. The bad is that the first film screening back since closing to the public in March ("The Wizard of Oz" on Monday) is already sold out. But the good news is that more shows should be on the way.
It's been eight months since the downtown theater has been open to the public. The Fox has remained engaged with the community with its Marquee Inspired program, allowing people to pay for messages to be displayed on the theater's marquee, and the "Live Stream Vaccine: The Entertainment Cure" livestream concert series, which has provided live music since August.
"We’ve been wanting to open back up to the public for quite some time," theater manager Matthew Spindler said Tuesday. "Now that we're allowed to have 100 people in here, we're going to try to do more on a case-by-case basis. There's just too much uncertainty out there right now with COVID."
(As of this week, Kern County is "on notice" based on state metrics for coronavirus cases. If numbers do not improve by next week, the Fox and all other movie theaters, along with restaurants and other businesses could face restrictions.)
For now, Spindler is thankful for this first screening back, which was selected as one of the titles that would have been featured in the Fox's Cults and Classics series earlier this year.
"When we started brainstorming movies, we wanted a family-friendly movie," he said. "A little bit of a Thanksgiving movie."
The 1939 classic musical fantasy is clearly an audience favorite: Tickets sold out within three days of the show being announced.
On Monday, the 100 attendees should easily find a good seat in the house, which has a capacity of 1,500. (State guidelines limit to 25 percent capacity or 100, whichever is less.) Guests will be able to pick a spot in the spacious orchestra section.
"The theater is so big I don’t foresee the social distancing being a problem at any level," Spindler said.
Masks will be required to enter but can be removed when guests are in seats or ordering concessions, Spindler said. Temperature checks will be performed prior to entering the theater.
Hand sanitizing stations will be available in the lobby, and the theater has updated its sanitation procedures in accordance with CDC guidelines.
Barring any further restrictions imposed, Spindler said more film screenings are in the works, including holiday films, provided sponsorships can be secured. (Bakersfield Hyundai is sponsoring Monday's screening.)
"It's really the only way we can make these happen," Spindler said of having event underwriters. "Under current guidelines, even charging $10, with increases in cleaning and those type of things, we'd be out $600 to $1,000 per movie if it wasn't for sponsorships."
Those who are interested in sponsoring a screening should email Spindler at email@example.com.
Spindler, like many local operations managers, is hoping the county does not fall back into the purple tier.
"Fingers crossed that everything stays open," he said. "We've got plans for a couple of Christmas movies — at least one, preferably two.
"We're giving people a reason to come back downtown again and visit restaurants and stores down here. It's important not just for entertainment but what we provide for downtown."