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Why you need to check COVID-19 policies before seeing live and screen shows in Austin

Eric Webb
Austin 360

Austin's purveyors of stage and screen entertainment are trying new tacks to keep audiences safe.

As coronavirus numbers remain a concern into the fall festival season — and as the state and local rules for events during the pandemic continue to fluctuate — more of Austin's cultural events and entertainment venues are adjusting their safety requirements for attendees. 

On Aug. 27, the Austin Center for Events announced updated COVID-19 guidelines for city-sanctioned special events — notably, that indoor events with 1,000 or more people and outdoor events with 2,500 or more people must screen event attendees at entrances and require proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before the event. 

The new guidelines apply only to events that require a special events permit to take place on city property and parkland, though. Large events at privately owned venues are not affected. 

Related:Austin promoter announces new show entry requirements

Still, a few big guns on the film and theater scenes have, in recent days, beefed up their safety protocols. Details vary. Check individual event or venue websites for more details on their requirements.

Keanu Reeves walks the red carpet during Fantastic Fest on Sept. 24, 2013.

Fantastic Fest

Alamo Drafthouse's annual celebration of genre films — that's horror, sci-fi and the like — on Sept. 2 announced several "structural and fundamental changes."

Last month, Fantastic Fest announced that it would require all attendees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. But now, organizers say that "we have modified our Fantastic Fest public health policy as far as we can within the confines of Texas law." A negative COVID-19 test result "from a state-approved test provider taken within 24 hours of each day’s screenings" will be accepted instead, though the festival says "we strongly prefer proof of vaccination."

Usually, the festival is headquartered at the theater chain's South Lamar Boulevard location. Come Sept. 23-30, Fantastic Fest will split up some screenings to other Drafthouse locations, in an effort to reduce crowds.

The fest also is doing away with badges this year: "Each screening will be ticketed individually, with reserved seating — thus allowing for contact tracing. We will also have at least one buffer seat placed between groups," an announcement from festival organizers reads.

There won't be any indoor parties or mixers, according to organizers, but the South Lamar theater will still host events like Fantastic Feud and 100 Best Kills.

More Austin fests:For the 2nd year, Austin's aGLIFF pulls off a big queer movie party in a pandemic

If any badgeholders are unhappy with the new admission model, they can get a refund or roll over their badge to 2022. A virtual companion program for the festival is still planned this year on the Alamo On Demand streaming platform.

Some of the pivots from Fantastic Fest mirror those made by Austin's aGLIFF, the annual LGBTQ film festival that ends this weekend. In response to surging coronavirus hospitalizations in the region, aGLIFF also did away with previously planned parties. However, instead of splitting up the venues for the festival, it consolidated most of its screenings at the Galaxy Highland theater in North Austin.

The marquee at  the Austin Film Festival red carpet for "Just Mercy" at the Paramount Theatre on Oct. 31, 2019.

Austin Film Festival

The city's eponymous movie party (Oct. 21-28) recently announced that all attendees must provide either proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result within 48 hours of picking up festival credentials. 

Austin Film Festival organizers say that additional safety requirements may be in be place at individual venues, like the Paramount Theatre's vaccination and testing policy, which applies for every individual screening. 

Masks will be mandatory during festival events when not eating or drinking.

(austinfilmfestival.com/covid-19-policies)

Moontower Comedy Festival

Speaking of the Paramount, this month's Moontower Comedy Festival (Sept. 22-25) will require attendees to show either proof of vaccination or a negative test result within 48 hours of the event. Masks will be mandatory inside all venues when not eating or drinking while seated.

(austintheatre.org/moontower-comedy/moontower-faq)

Over the past year, Zach Theatre has used its People's Plaza to host Songs Under Stars concerts, like "Rockabilly Kings" on June 10.

Zach Theatre

One of the city's biggest venues for theater arts on Friday announced that attendees for all shows must furnish either proof of full vaccination or a negative test result obtained within 72 hours of the show. 

“Our city needs live performances. If there is a way to bring performing arts back to Austin, keep people safe, and not add additional burden to our healthcare workers, that’s what we’re going to do,” Zach Theatre managing director Elizabeth Challener said in a statement.

More:Austin City Council unanimously approves community arts center in East Austin

The policy applies to indoor and outdoor performances. Masks are required at shows except when eating or drinking.

(zachtheatre.org/healthandsafety)

Six Square, Austin's Black cultural district, presented Beyond the Square Festival featuring Big Freedia, along with Austin-based hip-hop duo Magna Carda and DJ Kay Cali, at the Long Center on June 5.

Long Center for the Performing Arts

The Long Center recently announced the same requirements for entry to indoor shows — proof of vaccination or of a negative test result within 72 hours of the show. They also have a mask requirement.

"For outdoor Long Center events, negative test result or vaccination proof is not required," according to the venue, though the announcement also allowed that requirements might change according to capacity and ability to physically distance.

(thelongcenter.org)

AFS Cinema has reopened after a long pandemic closure, but they've also adjusted their safety policies.

AFS Cinema

The North Austin arthouse cinema run by Austin Film Society recently reopened following a long pandemic closure. Just weeks after, as Austin entered the highest coronavirus risk-based guidelines, AFS Cinema began requiring masks within the venue and started limited capacity at screenings to 60%.

(austinfilm.org/covid)