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COVID chairman says 25-foot ‘entertainment moat’ can go, if we’re safe

Updated October 30, 2020 - 4:51 pm

Jim Murren listened, learned and shared in a couple of frank conversations about the 25-foot “Entertainment Moat” this week. In the course of these chats, it was evident the 25-foot provision for live entertainment would be temporary as shows come back to Las Vegas.

Murren, the chairman of the Nevada COVID-19 business task force, says the required, 25-foot distance separating performers from the audience in live performances could be modified soon, as long as shows that have opened can prove they can operate safely.

“I don’t want to speak for the health department, or the state, but no more than a handful of shows being operated with success will lead to implementing changes,” Murren said. “My guess, it’s not months, it’s more like weeks, as we develop information about the performance of these shows. But it is a big issue.”

It’s important to note that Murren is in position to recommend, not set or endorse, reopening protocols. Nevada’s Mitigation Task Force actually has the authority to decide on openings and closings. Any of his suggested 25-foot “Moat” modifications would be passed along to the governor and state health officials.

Nonetheless, Murren showed his support for a safe return of live entertainment shows while being part of the show Wednesday. The former MGM Resorts International chairman joined a rolling campaign of pop-up performances for the COVID Trace Contact Tracing app.

The app allows anyone to report, monitor or be alerted if they have experienced COVID-19 exposure. The statewide event was organized by ex-MGM Resorts exec Greg Chase and Entertainment Plus Production President Douglas Johnson. The troupe of showgirls and male revue cast members started its tour of pop-up shows Wednesday morning at the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign and ended at Allegiant Stadium.

Piff the Magic Dragon’s appearance kicked off the morning event at the sign. Vegas singer Lily Arce of David Perrico’s Pop Strings and Pop 40 bands performed her cover of “We Are Family,” recorded specifically for the campaign.

The show stopped at such famous, and sadly shutdown, venues as The Smith Center and T-Mobile Arena, ending at Allegiant Stadium. The ultimate destination was to be the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City.

Murren threw his support behind the campaign (as did yours truly) at the start and finish. I asked the veteran hospitality official about one way to return entertainment professionals to work. The task force could review and adjust the 25-foot Entertainment Moat directive that has curtailed the return of small-venue shows in town.

Under the protocol, the performers need to be 25 feet from the closest audience member. Productions and headliners in smaller venues can’t reopen under those requirements. Such shows as “Atomic Saloon Show” at The Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes, “Opium” at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, and productions at the V Theater and Saxe Theater at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort are still unable to open largely because of that directive.

“This is a work in progress. I don’t think anyone has the exact playbook currently, as we’re just learning on the fly,” Murren said during a chat after the tracing app event at the “Welcome to Las Vegas Sign.” “We’re taking the appropriate steps to be as cautious as possible first, and then start to layer in some more accessibility as we see what the results are.

“That’s a far better approach starting with less containment, and then growing it from that point. It would be catastrophic to do it the other way.”

I offered now-familiar examples where live entertainment has worked successfully during pandemic, with performers and seated guests closer than 25 feet. This is especially true in Murren’s former company, at Mayfair Supper Club at Bellagio. I also noted the variety of “ambient” performers at Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at The Cosmopolitan, nightspots that have managed to present a mix of entertainment and culinary experiences for months.

The oft-confusing, 25-foot directive has forced shows to cut their venues significantly. “X Country” at Harrah’s Cabaret now performs behind what looks like an indoor service alley. “Absinthe,” typically performed in the round, has backed up to the auxiliary stage across from its tent’s entrance.

Murren says he understands the concerns.

“I empathize with that frustration, and I believe very strongly that if we can prove health-safety success for cast members and guests in these more restrictive regulations, they’ll be eased over time and we’ll get those smaller shows up and running,” Murren said. “In any scientific experiment, you’re trying to reduce variability. Develop the test case. If that works, you add something more to it, and something more to it, until you get to the desired outcome.”

Later, Murren took a look at a few photos of the Harrah’s Cabaret layout to illustrate this ongoing issue. He also agreed that MGM Resorts, especially, is fortunate to have the flexibility to move smaller shows into larger venues. Carrot Top and “Fantasy” are moving to Luxor Theater, Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club to Studios A & B Ballrooms and (in a move that could only happen in 2020) “Jabbawockeez” to the MGM Grand Garden arena.

Murren said he and the task force would be looking into the protocols.

“We want entertainment to return to Las Vegas, and we want people to go back to work,” Murren said. “But we have to follow the science, and we have to be safe. I do believe that’s the right approach.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.