Sunrise Theatre implements safety measures, revamped schedule
BY SUSAN BURGESS
COVID-19 may be raging through the state but the nearly century-old Sunrise Theatre has taken a lesson from its past and reinvented itself once again, this time with new virus safety measures and a revised show calendar.
The historical downtown theater opened in 1923 as a movie theater, closed in 1983 when demand changed and bounced back in 2006 as a successful performing arts theater.
This time COVID-19 caused the closure. The Sunrise abruptly shut down at the end of the Australian Bee Gees show on March 12, prior to the governor ordering a statewide lockdown.
“When the pandemic really hit in March we realized that — boom — we’re going to have to shut down,” marketing director Anne Satterlee said. At that moment she and executive director Sharon Engle didn’t know what they faced. But they knew they had to take action and fast. It didn’t take long to realize they had to institute safety measures — but figuring out which ones was a step-by-step process.
Wasting no time, Engle posted a reassuring and explanatory letter to theater-goers the next day on the theater’s website saying that the Sunrise would reopen in a couple of weeks, shows were being rescheduled, and it addressed the issue of already-purchased tickets.
At the end of the two weeks they realized they couldn’t reopen yet, but work on safety measures was in full swing. Engle kept doing running updates on the website.
“We ended up having to cancel two-and-a-half months of shows,” she said. Almost all have since been rescheduled for 2021 or early 2022.
Creative thinking allowed the theater to reopen in June for monthly comedy shows in the Black Box portion of the theater but the main stage remained closed. Now, Black Box audiences sit at tables separated for social distancing, and are waited on instead of going up to the bar.
Audiences are required to wear masks at all times. Today, the Black Box remains at 50% capacity.
Virtual shows were another safe avenue. The Fort Pierce Jazz and Blues Society performed elsewhere and livestreamed their performances. They returned to the Sunrise in November with audiences sitting at the new tables.
The first show since March 2020 on the Sunrise’s main stage was 10 months after the initial closing: Evening with the Stars was performed at 50% capacity on Jan. 21. Engle said the 50% was and will be accomplished by leaving two empty seats between pairs of ticket-holders or individuals who attend main stage events. If a group of more than two plans to attend a show they have to let the box office know ahead of time so accommodations can be made.
More creative thinking led to the development of guidelines and changes that are in place for the foreseeable future. They include:
• The box office is closed but can be reached at 467.4128 or by email at email@example.com
• The Sunrise opens earlier before a show to allow for social distancing as audiences arrive. The theater doors are open so people can go right to their seats. People purchase their tickets online, print them and then they are scanned at the door, allowing for touchless ticketing.
• Masks for everyone age 2 and up are required at all times; for those who forget, the theater has some. There are 12 hand sanitizer stations. All surfaces are sprayed and wiped with disinfectant, including door handles, seats and tables. The staff received enhanced safety training.
“People have to feel safe before they’ll come to a show,” Engle said, adding that once people are vaccinated against COVID-19 there may well be an increase in show attendance. In the meantime, still facing the unknown, the theater has pared down its spring shows and postponed many to this fall and to winter 2022.
Audiences will be delighted this spring to see some old favorites including ABBA Mania in February and One Night of Queen in May — always a sellout. Others include a Led Zeppelin tribute, Bee Gees tribute, Bruce in the USA and a tribute to Elton John.
SUNRISE THEATRE LINEUP
Tuesday, February 2 – Jazz Jam Black Box
Saturday, February 6 – Pure Zeppelin Experience (50% cap)
Tuesday, February 9 – Jazz Jam Black Box
Friday, February 12 – The Wailers (50% cap)
Tuesday, February 16 – Jazz Jam Black Box
Saturday, February 20 – ABBA Mania (50% cap)
Tuesday, February 23 – Jazz Jam Black Box
Tuesday, March 2 – Jazz Jam Black Box
Thursday, March 4 – Tribute to the Bee Gees (50% cap)
Friday, March 5 – H2O Music of Hall & Oates (50% cap)
Tuesday, March 9 – Jazz Jam Black Box
Friday, March 12 – Preacher Lawson (50% cap)
Saturday, March 13 – Bruce In The USA (50% cap)
Tuesday, March 16 – Jazz Jam Black Box
Tuesday, March 23 – Jazz Jam Black Box
Tuesday, March 23 – The Passion Play
Friday, March 26 – Tribute to Elton John (50% cap)
Tuesday, March 30 – Jazz Jam Black Box
Friday, April 9 – Gin Blossoms
Sunday, April 11 – Comedian James Gregory (50% cap)
Tuesday, April 13 – Jazz Jam Black Box
Friday, April 23 – Sunday, April 25 – Renaissance Charter School The Little Mermaid
Tuesday, April 27 – Jazz Jam Black Box
Friday, April 30 – Eagles Tribute (50% cap)
Saturday, May 8 – One Night Of Queen – 8 PM
Monday, May 10 – Treasure Coast Sports Awards
Tuesday, May 11 – Jazz Jam Black Box
Friday, May 21 – JCHS Graduation
Saturday, June 5 – Grace Place Dance Studio
Saturday, June 12 – True Crew Studio Recital
Sunday, June 13 – Mrs. P’s Dance Studio