Performing Arts Centers: Safe Reopen Survey Data Brief

performing arts centers safe reopen surveyAs the country pivots toward reopening, Irwin Seating asked its customers how they planned to approach the return to business.  Topics ranged from high-level hopes and concerns about their business to specific information about cleaning and disinfecting and ensuring guest safety.

The survey was fielded during the month of May, in the early phases of reopening.  27 professionals engaged in the design, build, renovation and management of Performing Arts Centers participated.  They represented a mix of organizational roles, almost all located in the US, and are part of a larger study conducted in which 87 professionals across four sectors (sports/arenas, cinemas/movie theaters, educational facilities and performing arts centers) have participated as of 5/28/2020. 

We are sharing these results with you so you can see how your colleagues are navigating the reopening process. If you would like to add your voice to the discussion, please click on this link to participate in the survey. 

PACs expect a lengthy reopening process, and most do not expect to be operating at full capacity until the 2021-2022 season.

PACs expect to start opening in July, but most plan to postpone the start of the 2020-2021 season.

  • About one-quarter (26%) plan to reopen by August, but the bulk of reopenings will occur in September (26%) and October (22%).
  • The majority (55%) plan to reopen at 1/4 capacity with another 37% opening at 1/2 capacity.
  • There is no consensus on when PACs expect to operate at full capacity: Roughly 40% expect to do so by Spring 2021, but another quarter don’t expect to do so until later in 2021 and roughly one-quarter are not sure.

Chart_Q5_200602 (1)

Given the close quarters in their auditoriums, PACs are highly likely to engage in a variety of procedures to ensure guest safety. 

All participating PACs plan to increase disinfecting procedures and 70% or more plan to increase touchless ticketing/transactions; limit lines; reduce comingling in crowded areas; install plastic guards at point-of-sale; and mark floors for social distancing/directional flow.

  • Most venues also expect to perform patron health screenings (56%), create separate exits and entrances (52%), and some will use antimicrobial materials in seating areas and on frequently touched surfaces
  • All say they will provide guests with hand sanitizer.
  • Many will offer tissues (44%), disinfecting wipes (37%) and facemasks (26%).


Disinfecting procedures will take some time, and there seems to be some uncertainty about what solutions/equipment will be used. 

Most PACs expect to clean after (58%) or before (35%) each performance.

  • About 40% will rely on disinfecting wipes and 32% on common household cleaners to do so.
  • 72% indicated they would be using a spray bottle.
  • But several (15%) were not sure what type of disinfectant they would use; similarly, 11% didn’t know how they planned to apply it.
  • Less than half (44%) will wipe off residue after each application, while 33% would do so once per day. This aligns with having only one or two performances a day.
  • 37% see their programming significantly impacted, but more (44%) only expect a moderate impact to make time for new cleaning procedures. 


PACs will rely heavily on ticket sales to manage social distancing.

Since virtually all seats are reserved, it is easier to manage social distancing vs. open seating venues.

  • 85% will sell tickets only for certain seats.
  • An additional 37% will cordon off seats.
  • One participant mentioned ripping out rows of seats, reflecting the tight seating in most PACs.
  • 59% will use ushers to enforce social distancing.


PACs have a captive subscriber/returning patron base, allowing them many opportunities to communicate directly about reopening safety protocols.

Almost all will use email (93%), their website (89%) or social media posts (81%). Some also mentioned:

  • Aggressive PR and local advertising
  • A video demonstrating cleaning procedures
  • Reinforcement of compliance with CDC guidelines

Main concerns with reopening revolve around patron safety and willingness of patrons to return.

With their older patron profile, PACs have a heightened concern about consumer fear and safety.

  • Like other non-profits, some PACs have heightened concern about even making it through the lockdown, or being able to survive if identified as a point of outbreak.

Despite these concerns, PACs are optimistic: many look forward to embracing the “new normal”.

This optimism reflects the mission-driven nature common to PACs.

  • They trust patrons will be eager to return
  • Conversely, they look forward to re-engaging with the community
  • Several cited embracing innovations and opportunities brought about by fresh thinking over the hiatus

To see more results from the survey, click the link and use the password SafeReopen.


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