Reactions mixed among entertainment venues over Kenney’s lifting of restrictions

Written by corres2

St. Albert business owners are playing it cool with vaccine passport program

St. Albert’s entertainment venues displayed mixed reactions to Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement Feb. 8 eliminating the vaccine passport. Some are optimistic. Others present a more cautious front. 

Kenney alerted the public seven hours before cancelling the Restrictions Exemption Program on Feb. 9. The program was invoked in September to spur vaccine-hesitant individuals into booking appointments for the jab. Since 80 per cent of Albertans have received at least one vaccine does, the provincial government is dropping several public-health measures in a three-pronged approach. 

In the first phase, the Arden Theatre, St. Albert Dinner Theatre, and Landmark Cinemas are no longer required to check for vaccine passports, and capacity limits for venues of fewer than 500 seats are more flexible. Phase two begins March 1. If hospitalizations continue a downward trend, indoor masks will no longer be must-haves. 

Bill Walker, CEO of Landmark Cinemas, is cautious yet hopeful and confident about how the changes will affect his staff, patrons, and the economy. 

“They came faster and quicker than I expected. When implementing restrictions, it’s more difficult, whereas removing them is easier. Right now, we’re trying to evaluate the process for the consumer. We’re not judging. We’re looking at what will make the consumer comfortable. From the current data of vaccinations, the health risk factors are much different than they were before,” said Walker. 

In terms of eliminating passport checks, he said, “We don’t need a staff person standing at the door, but we’re not sure everybody is ready for this.” 

Walker is in tune with the varying comfort levels of movie buffs and the “strange dynamics of public assembly.” Since the masking mandate may be waived in two weeks, he added staff requested wearing masks into phase two.

“It’s normal to see staff in masks and we want to make customers comfortable and safe. We want to make sure we present a safe, clean, and controlled experience. We would like to continue mask usage, but masks are not a fight we want to take on. It’s up to politicians and people in charge to decide what is best for a community.”

Donna Beeston, president of St. Albert Dinner Theatre, was similarly “surprised” about the province’s quick turnaround. 

“But we believe it will bring in people the way it did before,” Beeston said.

The last round of restrictions severely gutted the live dinner theatre company. In 2020, the company boasted full houses. By the November 2021 show, audiences numbered less than 50 per cent. In addition, about 50 per cent of the company’s volunteers opposed to the REP left.

“We’ve been really struggling,” said Beeston who deals with company frustrations on a regular basis. “We really need people to come out. If we continue this way, there may not be a dinner theatre next year.”

The company is still trying to assess the new mandate, but one thing will remain the same: patrons are still expected to wear gloves provided by St. Albert Dinner Theatre when serving themselves at the buffet table.

Andrea Gammon, professional programming presenter for the Arden Theatre, was hesitant to discuss details about the direction the 500-seat live theatre would take in dealing with new measures. She explained that, following provincial announcements, the city receives a set of orders that includes fine-print instructions.

“The city is still waiting to see the orders. They will go through the emergency operation centre. But I can say the city has a tradition of following Alberta Health Services regulations,” Gammon said. “This is a conversation that goes higher up. It gets tricky when you have different lines of thought.”

She concedes there are deep divisions among Arden patrons.

“We have to keep talking to people and seeing what other municipalities and theatres are doing and how they are going about it. We have to follow the province and keep listening to patrons. That’s all we have to go on.”

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