RED WING — Gov. Tim Walz’s Jan. 6 updated guidelines for bars, restaurants and indoor entertainment venues would allow the Sheldon to reopen at 25% capacity. That’s great news, but the law isn’t the only aspect that Sheldon Theatre employees are taking into consideration, they said.

For instance, the theater has a small lobby prone to crowding, live performers may travel to Red Wing from higher risk areas and once the performers arrive, they may be unable to perform in masks, leading to greater risk to themselves, Sheldon staff and audience members.

Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke specifically about live theater at a national press conference last week and was much more cautious than Walz. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases argued that at current trends, live theaters would be able to open safely “sometime in the fall” after vaccines have been widely distributed, and we reach something close to full herd immunity.

Jeff Larson, the Sheldon's interim executive director. stated in a new release, “for my part, I’m facing less pressure from lobbyists than Gov. Walz and am more optimistic than Dr. Fauci. At this point, we still have shows on the Sheldon calendar starting in April, and a full season planned for next (programming) year beginning in September. April is starting to feel very soon, though, and the vaccine rollout isn’t going as well as anyone hoped.”

Deciding when to cancel shows has been a challenge for Larson and Sheldon staff.

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“It's been heart wrenching to cancel all of these shows, and the decision never gets easier,” Larson said. “I've been more optimistic than most venue directors over the course of the pandemic, so we held shows in our calendar as long as possible and only canceled a month or two at a time. We hate seeing the Sheldon empty, and were very excited about the shows we had planned for this year. Luckily, the artists have been just as excited about coming to Red Wing as we are about them, so we've been able to reschedule most of them for next season.”

According to Larson, Sheldon employees have reached out to their audience over the past few months and continue numerous informal conversations with community members. Larson reflected, “The message we've heard over and over again is ‘we're glad you're closed.’ That's not at all what you want to hear in normal times, but people are very on board with our decision to be safe and prudent until health professionals say it's ok to reopen for large indoor gatherings.”

Despite not knowing when theater doors will reopen, Sheldon staff are working to prepare for the 2021-2022 season. Larson explained:

“This is the time of year when we work on season planning for next year, and that's in full swing right now. The Sheldon hosts over 40 events every year, so there are a lot of artists to talk to and contracts to negotiate. The difference this year is that on top of that we're still trying to plan shows for this spring, in the hope we'll be able to reopen.”

Larson is asking community members to respond to a survey asking when individuals expect that they will feel safe returning to the Sheldon for a live performance.