After a long and unprecedented year of closure, the Lincoln Theater will reopen with a showing of the award-winning film “Nomadland” at 7 p.m., Friday, March 19.
For the past pandemic year, the Lincoln Theater marquee over Main Street in Damariscotta has broadcast messages of assurance like “This is just intermission” or “Opening soon … just not yet,” funny or encouraging quotes, and the simple but powerful image of a heart.
Now, at last, the circa-1875 community institution can offer comfort and some sense of normalcy to people inside its walls, as the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel slowly brightens and comes into focus.
“I got to the point that I felt the community would feel better psychologically knowing we’re open. I hope people come, but my expectation is things will be slow, and that’s really OK,” Executive Director Andrew Fenniman said during a tour of the building March 9.
The theater has adapted to the times and implemented COVID-19 protocols and systems that will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
Damon Leibert, the theater’s technical director, has revamped the website, lincolntheater.net, and integrated a new ticketing platform that automatically provides physical distancing for theatergoers.
For example, if one buys a seat at the end of a row, the system will block off three seats next to it. Certain rows have been roped off with elegant red rope.
All tickets must be purchased online in advance and everyone must bring their ticket to the theater, either on a phone or printed out. New touchless scanners have been installed outside the doors to the auditorium to check in patrons.
The grand opening on Friday night is sold out and tickets are going fast for the other weekend showings of “Nomadland.”
Fenniman said the theater has a full schedule of films nearly through the end of April.
Two “Talking Art in Maine” events have also been scheduled, one in May and one in June, which will involve the showing of artwork and a conversation between Jane Dahmen and an artist.
Fenniman said he hopes to begin to offer live theater in the summer, once COVID-19 is better controlled.
The Lincoln Theater will be operating at about 20% of normal capacity for now, seating a maximum of 50 people for any show. No concessions will be served and audience members must wear masks at all times.
The theater has upgraded its air-filtration system to recycle fresh air into the building more frequently and disinfect any air coming in using ultraviolet light and an ionization filter.
Everything is now touchless at the theater, such as the water fountain, sinks, toilets, and soap and paper towel dispensers. The restrooms have locks so only one person can enter at a time.
The theater has 13 hand sanitizer stations throughout the building and a temperature checker at the street-level entrance. Fenniman said that is mostly for employees, but visitors to the theater can use it too.
“The big things are masking, airflow, and keeping things clean. Those are the main things we’ve tried to address,” Fenniman said, noting that the theater wanted to make patrons feel as comfortable as possible.
At the entrance and up the stairs that lead to the theater, stars mark 6 feet of distance and quirky signs display visual representations of how far 6 feet is. One sign even shows that people must stay “two Lincoln County News’ apart,” which turns out to be about 6 feet.
“We tried to make it fun because people are so tired of these things,” Fenniman said.
Fenniman said the theater had originally planned to reopen by New Year’s Day, but with the coronavirus surging, he didn’t feel it was the responsible thing to do.
“At this point, given the fact that things seem to be going down, people are getting vaccinated, and I think it’s as safe as we can make it be, I feel if people are comfortable, they’ll come, and if not, that’s also perfectly fine,” Fenniman said.
Fenniman said he is glad to be opening back up because the “building is the heart of the theater.” He said the Lincoln Theater didn’t host many virtual events over the past year because it “kind of defeats the purpose” of the whole theater experience that the Lincoln is all about.
Fenniman said he is grateful that he was able to keep all nine staff members on the payroll for the past year.
“That we’ve been able to do that and bring everybody back is really quite exciting,” Fenniman said.
A combination of generous donations, renewed memberships, and a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan have kept the theater afloat during this past stagnant year.
“We’re in really strong shape,” Fenniman said.