Movie theaters are back open, baby! But should you go?

After what seems like years, many movie theaters in the greater Los Angeles and Ventura county areas have reopened with more expected to open after April 1. Why? If you recall, raging Covid-19 numbers skyrocketed last year, prompting theaters to shut down until those numbers came back down, which they finally did after the vaccination roll-out started in December.

What’s expected – fingers crossed – is that after April 1 (which seems to be some sort of magic date) more movie houses should be reopening, like the Regal Theater chain which has been shuttered for over a year! Other chains, like AMC, have fared better as they remained open with limited capacity here-and-there in remote areas of L.A. and Orange counties during the pandemic. I should know, I drove over an hour to Westminster just to see Tenet, as it was “only playing in theaters”, regardless of what was happening. Many other first-run movies were streaming at home on FandangoNow or some other VOD, but noooooo! Tenet had to be different! Thanks, Christopher Nolan! 

Now, I know what you’re thinkin’. You have that image of Laurence Olivier towering over Dustin Hoffman while holding a whirling dental drill and asking, “Is it safe?” Can I return to my theater? In a word, yes! Personally, I wouldn’t be going back if it wasn’t, and I’m a stickler when it comes to the CDC guidelines. Before ANY theater can open, they must adhere and commit to CDC, State & County regulations for reopening. Since theaters are all indoors, proper air circulation must be ensured as well as the placement of added hand sanitation stations everywhere. They also must clean the seats after every show which, by the way, has been limited to 25% occupancy, depending on the size of the auditorium.

Certain sections have been roped/blocked/sectioned off, and ticket sales, whether online or at the box office, have been adjusted to sell only certain designated seats that are several feet (or rows) away from other people. And, of course, everyone MUST wear a mask at all times… unless you’re eating that $25 tub of popcorn or guzzling down that $15 Coca-Cola. Yum. Restrooms are pretty much the same, but have more sanitation stations installed (just wait to go till you’re home.)

Being a movie-holic, I have been to two such theaters in the last week and I have found them to be clean, accessible, and adhering to all the guidelines. I’ve been to the AMC Dine-in Theater in Thousand Oaks, which features large theater seating auditoriums. When I went to see Chaos Walking there, I was one of only two dozen people in a huge theater. Everyone was wearing a mask, having a good time (despite the silly movie), and there were no complaints (ie. anti-maskers.) The same can be said of my experience at the Simi Valley Movie Grill. Small occupancy, patrons spaced out nicely in a large theater, and no problems.

Of course, I have my little ‘tricks of the trade’, as it were. I always go to the first showing of the movie. I want to avoid any previous contamination (and I’m not saying there was any), and I usually get there about 10-15 minutes after the posted showtime. Why? It’s a well-known fact that all theaters have a nasty habit of NEVER showing movies at their posted, scheduled times because ALL theaters show 10-20 minutes worth of commercials and coming attractions before the movie! Regal Theaters is infamous for this as they showed a nauseating half-hour of previews and commercials before Avengers: Endgame! I know. I was there!    

My hope is that after April 1 the other theaters will be able to open as well. I’m talking about theatrical stage houses. Already in NYC, they’re planning on reopening Broadway and selling tickets. Could that mean our Pantages and Ahmanson theaters re-opening could be far behind? And IF that is true, all the local community theaters in Ventura county like the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, the High Street Arts Center, the Conejo Players, etc. ,who have been closed, can finally reopen to limited crowds? That would be fantastic!

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