Without announcing details on locations that might soon unlock their doors, Alamo Drafthouse on Wednesday night released new safety protocols for resumed operations during the coronavirus pandemic.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered that movie theaters could reopen at limited capacity on May 1, but Drafthouse had so far declined to take advantage of that order. The Austin-based movie theater and dining chain closed its 41 locations across the U.S. this spring amid the pandemic.
"It’s not quite time to turn the projectors back on, but we’re getting very close — so I’d like to share where we’re at and what’s ahead as we finalize how we’ll reopen Alamo Drafthouse locations this summer," said co-founder and executive chairman Tim League in a statement. The company will be "reopening one or two locations as ‘learning labs’ of sorts" in early July, he added.
League (who recently stepped down as Drafthouse CEO) outlined new safety procedures in the announcement. Last week, the company teased the announcement in reaction to controversy over theater chain AMC’s policy on face coverings.
Guests at reopened Drafthouse locations will only be able to purchase tickets online, and when they do so "in many theaters," they will be asked to place and pay for their food and beverage order for their designated movie. That system will limit guest interaction with employees.
The Drafthouse will assign at least two empty seats between groups on each individual row, while the existing spacing between rows will satisfy social distancing standards. Guests will also be asked to wear masks inside the theater while not consuming food or beverages, and the theater will have masks available for those who arrive without one.
Auditoriums will be sanitized between shows with an electrostatic fogger and disinfectant, with wipes available for customers, too. The Drafthouse plan also says that employees will be required to undergo temperature checks and wear masks and gloves, as will customers "where needed."
The company set up a webpage for customers to "find more details in your area" at drafthouse.com/welcomeback.
"In cities or counties that have sustained a very low per capita rate of infection, we may choose to relax some of these protocols when we reopen their theaters," League said in the statement.
Cases of COVID-19 and related hospitalizations in Texas have broken records over the past couple of weeks. Abbott, who this week warned Texans of a potential "massive outbreak," announced Thursday that he would pause further reopening plans. At first, he declined to walk back his already-enacted orders, but on Friday, he then closed down bars again and reduced restaurant capacity back to 50%. Local health officials also have warned that Austin-area hospitals could reach capacity by mid-July at the disease’s current rate of spread.
Even as Abbott has steadily ramped up his reopening of the Texas economy in recent weeks, few movie theaters in the Austin area have turned the projectors back on. Like Alamo, homegrown theaters like Violet Crown Cinema and AFS Cinema have remained closed. Evo Entertainment in Kyle and Lake Creek 7 in North Austin reopened recently, and major theater chains have made tentative plans to reopen their locations this summer, too.
At least one area theater, Dripping Springs’ Sky Cinemas, closed for good, though that cinema space is set to reopen July 8 under Evo’s ownership.
During the pandemic-related closures, Drafthouse launched its own curated streaming service, Alamo on Demand. Shelli Taylor replaced League as CEO in April.
Most major film studios have delayed their summer releases, leaving reopened theaters with a limited repertoire of screenings. Christopher Nolan’s "Tenet" is set to be the first big release since the pandemic closed theaters down.
Staff writer Matthew Odam also contributed to this report.