EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas play that has been dubbed as the nation’s most-attended outdoor drama prepared to open its season of performances Friday night with strict social-distancing guidelines in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The opening of the Great Passion Play, which depicts the last days in the life of Jesus Christ, was postponed for six weeks as Gov. Asa Hutchinson had shut down large venues, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The Arkansas Department of Health approved the opening of the play.
“Basically, we have to abide by multiple different types of regulations,” said Kent Butler, director of operations for the play. “Thankfully, we’re outdoors so it’s easy to keep the audience safe. We’ve got a really good plan. Now the plan is to execute it and keep everybody safe.”
Since it opened in 1968, the Great Passion Play has become “the number one attended outdoor drama in America,” according to the North Carolina-based Institute of Outdoor Drama. Reportedly over 7 million people have witnessed it.
Previous years, the Passion Play performed in its 4,000-seat Eureka Springs amphitheater atop Magnetic Mountain. Now, they are limiting attendance to 1,000 people — with every other row empty and groups asked to leave seven vacant seats (approximately 12 feet) between them and the next group.
In some scenes, such as the Last Supper, actors will have their faces covered except when they have “extensive speaking parts,” according to the plan approved by health officials. Backstage crew will also wear masks and practice social distancing. Every employee will also be screened each night and their temperatures taken.
Audience members will be “strongly encouraged,” but not required, to wear face masks. Hand sanitizer will be available at every entrance and exit.
According to the current schedule, the play is expected to continue through October, being performed four nights a week during July, with fewer nights per week in other months.