Flint, MI—Guests at the Flint Repertory Theatre’s first two shows of the 2021-22 season will be required to wear a face mask, regardless of vaccination status, and also must provide proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test from within 48 hours under new rules set by the Flint Institute of Music.

“While we have strongly encouraged vaccinations and masks for the protection of patrons and the general public at large, due to current pandemic conditions in our community, and the proximity of patrons and actors during a performance, we have determined the only safe way to proceed with Flint Repertory Theatre productions at Elgood Theatre is to require additional public health measures,” officials from the Flint Institute of Music said in an update to their COVID-19 safety page.

Those safety measures will be in place for the Repertory Theatre’s October and December productions.

The Repertory Theatre kicks off their season on Oct. 8 with “Happy Days,” which will run through Oct. 17. Their second production, “The Fantasticks,” will open Dec. 3 and run through Dec. 19.

The decision to implement the safety measures for the first two shows is a result of high test positivity rates in Genesee County.

While mask-wearing and vaccinations are strongly recommended by the Flint Institute of Music, they are not currently required for shows at The Whiting or The Capitol Theatre.

Ann Marie Van Duyne, a spokesperson for the Flint Institute of Music, said that is in part because there is a greater distance between the stage and the audience at the larger venues.

Additionally, Van Duyne said that a number of surveys have been conducted since May 2020, with results showing that The Whiting’s patrons likely have a higher vaccination rate than that of the general community.

Discussions about what restrictions may be needed for each venue and event are ongoing, and requests from individual performers or tours are also taken into consideration when making the decisions.

The Whiting will kick off their 2021-22 season on Oct. 16 with “The Doo Wop Project.”

Michael Lluberes, producing artistic director at the Flint Repertory Theatre, said having audience members back in theaters is something that will be especially welcome after more than a year of Zoom calls and binge watching.

“We need theatre to tell us stories about what it means to be human. After everybody’s been vaccinated, we’re all going to come stumbling out of our houses and want to connect with other people. We have a primal need to gather around the fire and share stories. That’s what theatre is. Zoom plays and Netflix can’t ever replace that,” Lluberes said. “It’s about being with other people in a room, breathing the same air, laughing and crying together, experiencing stories together that illuminate the human experience and make you feel less alone. We’re going to need that more than ever after this.

“Here’s what I’m looking forward to: the energy from the audience that first night, when we can open up our theatre again and welcome everyone back. It’s going to be overwhelmingly emotional. I wish I could bottle it. That’s going to be more powerful than any vaccine.”

Andrew Roth is a reporter and photographer covering politics and policy in Michigan, as well technology, culture and their convergence. Andrew is a journalism student at Michigan State University and first...