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Arlington Drafthouse Has a Full Slate of Fall Shows, But Concerned by Rising Covid Cases

Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse remains committed to its full slate of upcoming shows scheduled for the fall, owner Tim Clark says, but he’s it taking it week-by-week.

As Covid rates rise once again in the county and masks are back to being strongly recommended indoors no matter vaccination status, Clark acknowledges this is cause of concern for the decades-old Columbia Pike theater and venue. He says he’s already had one prominent comic push back performance dates.

“I don’t know if there’s going to be others. I think we’re just going to see where this thing goes,” Clark tells ARLnow. “Either way, we will have to adjust.”

What’s currently online represents the most up-to-date bookings, he says.

The schedule lists a number of well-known comedy acts that will be taking the stage, including:

There’s also a special screening of the cult classic movie “The Room” with co-star Greg Sestero — who wrote the book The Disaster Artist about his experience making the “so bad it’s good” movie — in attendance.

Clark notes that while people are coming out, business and audiences are not back to what they were pre-pandemic.

“Comics that typically have a pretty good draw are a little bit lighter,” Clark says. “The comics that have a really good draw are not quite fully back to selling out shows.”

Arlington Drafthouse is still limiting capacity to about 65% in order to space out tables and give audience members a bit more room. The initial goal was to go back to allowing full capacity this month, but Clark admits that he’ll have to see what happens over the next few days in terms of any mask or capacity mandates.

“I don’t think it will change what we do a whole lot, but we will have to keep making adjustments,” he said.

It’s been a trying 18 months for the Drafthouse. Management closed up the theater in mid-March 2020, like many other businesses, and re-opened in August 2020 with severely reduced capacity.

In late winter, the theater started screening favorite, older movies like Lord of the Rings and Notting Hill, but it was barely sustainable with only 30% capacity allowed.

“I don’t think many restaurant theater business operations are built to run on 30%,” said Clark at the time. “And that’s 30% if we sell out, and we’re not selling out every show. If you take averages and you’re at 20%, it’s really not sustainable.”

Clark says now they are pivoting again away from movies, at least temporarily, and are concentrating on booking comics.

“I think comedy is the long term for us, especially those primetime weekends,” he says. Right now, Drafthouse is booking big name acts on Friday and Saturday nights and leaving Sunday open for “up and comers.”

Clark also says private rentals have helped the business significantly and has seen an influx of them in recent months, with smaller groups renting out the entire theater for screenings, parties, and performances

At this point, Clark says, all they can do is stay patient, take one day a time, and adjust when needed.

“The way things are going, it’s like every time we try to get [ahead of things], it’s like totally opposite,” says Clark. “We’re just going to ride the wave and do what we need to do to stay afloat and just continue to hope that this thing clears up and gets better.”

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