After a long summer of closed movie theaters and moviegoers watching whatever could be found on Netflix, The Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center has fired up its projectors and reopened its doors to eager patrons. The theater reopened Aug. 21 with two new movies, “The Truth” and “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” available for audiences to view.
Though the Ross may be open again, that does not mean things are back to normal. The coronavirus pandemic is still in full swing, and the director of the Ross, Danny Ladely, said the safety of audiences is of paramount importance to himself and the staff at the theater. In order to keep patrons of the theater safe, the Ross has implemented a number of new policies that serve to keep viewers happy and healthy for their entire theater-going experience.
“We’ve followed the rules from the CDC and passed down to us through the university,” Ladely said. “It was just a matter of getting all of that stuff ready before the opening, and luckily, I have a really wonderful staff, and they’ve done a great job at getting all of that stuff in place. So far it’s gone really well.”
The Ross staff added plexiglass barriers to each counter, reduced auditorium capacities to 50%, added a large hand sanitizer station in the center of the lobby and increased the amount of fresh air being drawn in through the HVAC systems by 50%. The amount of showtimes has also been reduced to allow the staff more time to thoroughly clean each auditorium between films.
The Ross is also following the university’s mask mandate and is requiring both customers and employees to wear masks inside the building. Masks are available to purchase for $1 if customers are unable to bring their own.
Ladely said customers are allowed to remove their masks when eating or drinking, but they must put them back on as soon as they’re done. He also said staff will be checking the theaters before movies start to ensure that viewers are adhering to the guidelines.
As far as social distancing is concerned, guests are expected to allow at least six feet of space between themselves and others at all times. In the auditoriums, this is equal to leaving three chairs empty between each individual or group as well as not sitting directly in front of or behind another guest.
Sebastian Becerra, a senior film major who works in the box office, said he feels safe as an employee and that a majority of customers have not had any issues with the new measures, though there were issues with one customer.
“Earlier we had a guy who didn’t want to wear a mask, and we obviously couldn’t allow that. I think the campus in general needs some sort of enforcement because I called UNLPD and they said they couldn’t do anything about it unless he was being hostile,” Becerra said. “Honestly though, all of the customers except for that guy have been lovely.”
Allie Christensen, a recent UNL graduate who works in the concessions stand, echoed Beccera’s feeling of safety.
Christensen said she thinks the Ross staff is doing everything they can to protect their patrons, including using a special sanitizer on the seat cushions, something that isn’t common in restaurants. She also said that, though they haven’t been very busy, she’s seen a lot of support from customers who have come to the theater.
“It feels good to be back and supporting small films again,” Christensen said. “Some of [the Ross’s customers] said they weren’t really interested in the film we were showing this week, but they wanted to come and support us. I thought that was really sweet.”
Ladely said slow business was expected, but he’s just happy to be open again.
“It feels great. I was going pretty stir-crazy just staying at home all summer, and things started looking better. The university was opening, and I thought we might as well give it a try. I don’t know, I’m happy that we’re showing movies again,” Ladely said.