THE SHOW GOES ON Low turnout concerns manager at historical State Theater

Signs raising awareness of social distancing hang on the door leading into the theater at the State Theater in Washington. (Gretchen Teske/The Union)
Signs raising awareness of social distancing hang on the door leading into the theater at the State Theater in Washington. (Gretchen Teske/The Union)

WASHINGTON — The nation’s oldest movie theater survived the COVID-19 pandemic and has reopened its doors to the public. However, a lack of patrons has raised concern for the theater’s manager.

Crystle Christner, manager of the State Theater in Washington, said people are not comfortable coming back yet which has resulted in low income for the theater.

Should the theater be ordered to close again, Christner is concerned about being able to recover financially.

“It’s a concern about not being able to keep going,” she said. “I don’t know what will happen if the governor shuts us down again.”

Since reopening to the public on May 29, attendance has been low, averaging two patrons per night, she said. Due to social distance guidelines, the theater can only seat 40-70 people when at full capacity.

“I think our highest was 28 on a Saturday night,” she said. Pre-COVID, the theater was seeing an average of 80 people on a Saturday night.

During the closure, Christner began a popcorn-to-go program which she cites as helping the theater get through the closure. On weekends, staff offered curbside pickup of popcorn, soda and snacks which helped make up the loss from the building being closed to the public.

“That kept us going during our major closure and then it just kind of stopped,” she said.

The popcorn-to-go program still is running and available every night the theater is open, Christner said. Patrons are welcome to come in and order popcorn to take home or call to place an order to have a staff member deliver it to their car.

“If the lights are on, we’re home,” she said.

Only having two employees working during the initial closure helped ease the financial burden, she said. Now that the theater is open, they have to be at full staff with four people per shift to clean and serve customers, especially on the weekends.

Extensive safety measures are being taken with staff in masks and sanitizing between shows and during shows, she said.

“We do everything we possibly can to keep people safe,” she said.

Social distancing is in effect while in the theater as patrons are asked to leave three seats between them and other guests, she said. Those attending are asked to raise the arm rests of the seats they are using so staff know which ones to sanitize.

“We are doing the best we can to keep people safe while they are here, but we cannot control who comes in the theater who is not safe,” she said.

Christner said she is confident the community will make safe, measured decisions about attending shows.

“I only want people coming if they feel safe to come,” she said.