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Nevada County theaters consider reopening plans, continue virtual screenings

Victoria Penate
Staff Writer

Following statewide COVID-19 guidelines that went into effect Aug. 31, under which Nevada County theaters are permitted to reopen indoor screenings at 25% capacity, Sierra Theaters and The Onyx are considering a variety of factors before reopening.

“We’ve been closed since March but we haven’t stopped working,” said Celine Negrete, general manager at The Onyx.

The theater closed its doors in response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, before it was required to by state mandate. According to Negrete, the closure will continue until theater ownership and staff feel it is safe to reopen.

“The safety and well-being of our community and our staff is our highest priority so we have no plans to reopen anytime soon,” she said. “We recognize that we might be waiting until a spring 2021 reopening date.”

Negrete said the size and architecture of The Onyx is not ideal for operating during COVID-19. They do not have the high ceilings and open space typically found in larger theaters, and under current guidelines which limit them to 25% capacity, the theater’s two 29-seat screening rooms would each seat seven people if they were to reopen.

“With more time needed for cleaning in between shows and additional costs for PPE, it just doesn’t make sense financially for us to reopen right now,” she said.

Negrete said she and some key staff have been working during the closure to plan new offerings for the theater’s eventual reopening.

“There’s more that we can do with this business model that the pandemic has forced us to look at,” said Negrete. The primary goal for a reopening is to go beyond offering concessions and film screenings, she said, venturing into hosting conversations and other interactive community events.

While the theater remains closed to in-person screenings, those interested in watching new films can rent new releases through Onyx at Home, a virtual screening platform accessible through The Onyx’s website. Tickets to view these films range from a “pay what you can” basis to $12, and the proceeds are generally split evenly between The Onyx and the film distributor.

There are eight films available through Onyx at Home as of Wednesday, spanning various genres, from documentaries on historical and political topics such — World War II film “Apocalypse ’45” and “Represent”, which follows the stories of women in public service — to fiction, including “Our Time Machine,” a play featuring time travel, puppetry, and a story about life lessons.

‘FORMULATING A PLAN’

In a post on its Facebook page Friday, Sierra Theaters released a survey in order to gather information from potential moviegoers in preparation for their reopening.

“We are still formulating a plan, though it looks like we are targeting Oct. 9 for reopening at Del Oro (Theatre),” Sierra Theaters vice president Azriel LaMarca said In an email Wednesday.

In the meantime, Sierra Theaters continues to offer virtual screenings as well, accessible through the Sierra Theaters website. They are offering four films as of Wednesday — from fire documentary “Rebuilding Paradise” to German drama “The Tobacconist”.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com.


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