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Local venues not rushing into big reopening

The recent announcement that the state plans to fully reopen by June 15 (if conditions are met) has many in planning mode, considering all the activities and gatherings they've missed out on over the past year. Restrictions on California entertainment venues are easing next week, paving the way for the return of indoor concerts and other theatrical performances.

Of course, the bottom line for Kern County residents is when they can see their next show, so we checked in with local venues to see what these announcements mean locally.

Like with many rollbacks since the shutdown, the short answer is that no one is rushing to hold large gatherings, considering the safety of performers and attendees.

Mechanics Bank Arena's next scheduled show is country singer Chris Stapleton's much-anticipated return on June 17 (postponed from last June). Nick Wynne, marketing manager for ASM Global Bakersfield, which oversees the arena as well as the adjacent theater and convention center, said they're waiting on further clarification from the state to finalize plans but that the posted calendar of events is going forward.

That new state guidance may clear the way for opening up seats for Bakersfield Condors games starting as early as April 17, said Wynne, who anticipates an announcement later this week.

"The new guidelines do not affect any of our currently on-sale shows, and we don’t anticipate hosting any socially-distanced ticketed events other than Condors games," he wrote in an email.

Over at the Fox Theater, plans are gearing up to get staff back in action. Matthew Spindler, the theater's executive director, said he's just waiting for approval of grant funds from Save Our Stages, the program aiding shuttered venue operators, to call in his team.

"Once we got that secured, I would bring my staff back completely," he said. "We need to get our gears working again. It's been over a year now since we've done anything (with the public)."

Currently the Fox is hosting "Live Stream Vaccine: The Second Dose," its second series of livestream concerts highlighting local and state bands. Those performances have been closed to the public but Spindler said that under the new venue guidelines that could change soon.

"I'm hopeful to bring people in for our livestreams. We have these local bands already coming in and doing their thing. ... We're allowed to have 200 people in the room. We would love to try and sell tickets for those."

Those concerts continue through May 28 with Mento Buru and Dub Seeds closing out the series.

When it comes to bigger scheduled shows, Spindler said they're looking at the fall. The Fox's calendar has Mexican comedian Franco Escamilla listed for Aug. 29 but Spindler said that was already a rescheduled date and may be subject to change. Other shows that had already been rescheduled — Amy Grant (Oct. 16), Tanya Tucker (Oct. 17) and Black Jacket Symphony presents: "Led Zeppelin IV" (Oct. 23) — are expected to take place.

Before then, there could also be movie screenings or other events, provided there are sponsors.

"The other challenge we have going into summer is it's very expensive to cool this building down," he said noting that it can cost up to $750 a day to keep the building cool and that it takes more than a day to get the temperature down to what is tolerable.

"We have to be wise what shows we choose and if we can secure a sponsor for these things. We've got to make good business decisions."

The Fox's downtown neighbor Stars Theatre and Restaurant will also be contending with that summer power bill with its plan to reopen July 16 with "A Grand Night for Singing," a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical revue.

"By the summertime, most people will be inoculated," said Stars board president Randy Jelmini.

"We're requiring all our actors to be vaccinated ... and our workers were vaccinated under the food handler (qualification)."

Delaying a few months and returning with a show requiring a smaller cast will help the theater ease back into the swing of things. The shortened season will also include "Godspell" and "Spamalot," both postponed last year, and "The Little Mermaid" for the Christmas show.

Jelmini said Paycheck Protection Program funds have helped Stars during the pandemic but that he and the board are excited to welcome patrons back in the coming months.

"Once we get going again, people who love us will be back donating."

"We did as many of the virtual shows as we could ... but it's not the same, live theater was meant to be seen live.

"For me, it's sad because I miss all my friends there. By the middle of summer, we're going to be there."

Gaslight Melodrama has been reopened to live shows with limited seating since December but fellow community theaters The Empty Space and Bakersfield Community Theatre will not invite back patrons to  in-person indoor performances until the fall.

"We’re constantly keeping an eye on what is happening in our county," said Jan Hefner, BCT's executive director. "We're going to make our final decision when we see that we've got the upper hand as far as COVID goes."

Kristina Saldaña, The Empty Space's financial director, said the reopening news hasn't affected their plans but has "made us more optimistic that our anticipated opening in September, along with the prior months for rehearsals and preparation, is feasible and safe."

The Oak Street theater is aiming to reopen Sept. 3 with "The Full Monty," one of the shows tabled by the pandemic. In the interim, plans include small-scale outdoor theatrical events such as "Bard in Your Yard," bringing a troupe of actors to small audiences for an afternoon of Shakespeare, and Drive-In Live!, a open-mic-style event set up on a stage outside the theater that people watch from their vehicles.

For BCT, virtual performances will continue with "Crazy Love From Shakespeare" coming later this month.

"We want to be accessible to people," Hefner said. "That’s why we're doing virtual productions. It's the only way we have."

Hefner also said the theater's board is grateful the theater owns the property and hasn't struggled with mortgage or lease payments over the last year.

Saldaña said The Empty Space is taking part in Give Big Kern, the annual day of giving, to help raise additional funds needed to update and supply their facilities with essential improvements and safety measures.

"We are so thankful for their continued support throughout the pandemic and are looking forward to having people fill The Empty Space again," she wrote in an email.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.