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Tampa’s Straz Center lineup jarred by coronavirus concerns

The venue’s strict policy of requiring COVID-19 tests has halted one production and postponed another.
Jobsite Theater actors at the Straz Center for Performing Arts, shown here in a scene from April's production of Shakespeare's "Henry V," have postponed their production of "Romeo & Juliet" by a week. A member of the company who is vaccinated for COVID-19 and is asymptomatic tested positive.
Jobsite Theater actors at the Straz Center for Performing Arts, shown here in a scene from April's production of Shakespeare's "Henry V," have postponed their production of "Romeo & Juliet" by a week. A member of the company who is vaccinated for COVID-19 and is asymptomatic tested positive. [ Courtesy of Jobsite Theater ]
Published Dec. 28, 2021|Updated Dec. 28, 2021

The coronavirus is once again messing with Tampa’s stage schedules.

The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has postponed Jobsite Theater’s scheduled January production of Romeo & Juliet by a week. And a show called Drag Queen Christmas was canceled on Monday because some of the cast and crew tested positive.

”The Straz Center’s rigorous testing protocols caught positive cases before anyone on the production team entered our facility and prevented any spread of positive cases,” a statement from the center said.

Volunteer ushers help attendees to their seats for a performance of "Cats" on Dec. 7 at the Straz Center in Tampa. Both the audience and staff are required to wear face masks, and all who enter must show proof of a vaccine or negative COVID-19 test.
Volunteer ushers help attendees to their seats for a performance of "Cats" on Dec. 7 at the Straz Center in Tampa. Both the audience and staff are required to wear face masks, and all who enter must show proof of a vaccine or negative COVID-19 test. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The Straz Center has one of the more robust coronavirus policies among entertainment venues in the Tampa Bay area. When it reopened in the fall after its curtains were closed for months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it made testing and vaccine cards a condition for entry. Attendees age 12 and older must show a vaccine card or proof of a negative COVID-19 test for all indoor performances. In addition, face masks are required for both the audience and staff inside the theaters.

Related: COLUMN: The Straz Center has an usher shortage. I went behind the scenes

David Jenkins, the producing artistic director of Jobsite Theater, the independent resident theater company of the Straz, said a member of his crew tested positive, so work had to stop for a week due to exposure. The person was vaccinated and is asymptomatic, he said.

Nationally, the past few weeks have brought some high-profile cancellations in entertainment, including Saturday Night Live sending its audience and most of its cast home, and some Broadway shows have gone dark in New York. They were prompted by the recent spike in cases brought on by the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Related: Saturday Night Live ditches audience, limits cast and crew amid Omicron spike

Jenkins said that, considering the vigorous program in place at the Straz, a postponement rather than cancellation was in line with advice from Tampa General Hospital.

“In 16 months, this is first time we had a failed test,” Jenkins said. “We’ve done everything right, and because this person is vaccinated they are not sick.”

But, he said, he had to consider the families of the 13 actors and crew in calling for the postponement. He thinks Jobsite’s audience will support that.

“Our audience has been incredibly understanding and I think, frankly, more comfortable coming to the theater because of the steps we are taking,” Jenkins said. “People who complain on social media were not buying tickets to the theater to begin with and are not our customers.”

Previews planned for Jan. 12-13 of Romeo & Juliet will be moved to Jan. 19-20, and opening night will be moved from Jan. 14 to Jan. 21. Anyone holding a ticket to performances Jan. 12-16 will be contacted about moving to another date. Tickets start at $18.

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For information about the Straz Center and its upcoming events, visit strazcenter.org.

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