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Merrimack Repertory Theatre executive director Bonnie Butkas, left, and artistic director Courtney Sale. The poster on the wall is for the shows that were due to come in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic closed everything down. Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun
Merrimack Repertory Theatre executive director Bonnie Butkas, left, and artistic director Courtney Sale. The poster on the wall is for the shows that were due to come in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic closed everything down. Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun

LOWELL — Merrimack Repertory Theatre patrons will have to mask up this fall when they attend live performances at Lowell’s downtown professional theater. They must also show proof that they’ve had a COVID-19 vaccine or a recent negative test for COVID-19.

The new policy, announced last week, reflects a recent nationwide trend at theaters, concert halls, schools and businesses to adopt stricter vaccine and masking mandates to fight the surge in COVID-19 cases brought on by the highly contagious delta variant.

Creating these new requirements makes sense, said Merrimack Repertory Theatre Executive Director Bonnie Butkas.

“The health of our patrons, staff, artists and volunteers is our foremost concern as we prepare to reopen our doors,” she said. “Our decision to require proof of vaccine or negative test results and masking came from feedback from our patrons and the latest public health recommendations. It underscores our commitment to public health and safety.”

The new policies go into effect immediately and will remain in effect at least through Oct. 31, after which they will be re-examined on a regular basis through the fall and winter.

The Merrimack Repertory Theatre banded with 14 other Greater Boston theaters in adopting the new policy which applies to audiences, theater staffs and actors, although actors won’t wear masks while performing.

Butkas doesn’t anticipate negative backlash from the new requirements.

“To the contrary, we are hearing words of praise from patrons. It makes people feel more comfortable coming to the theatre when they know those around them are vaccinated or have tested negative and are wearing masks,” she said.

The Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s 2021-22 season began in the spring with filmed productions of “Until the Flood” and “A Woman of the World.”

Live, in-person performances return Sept. 17-Oct. 3 with Allison Gregory’s “Wild Horses.” The show will play to limited audiences on the lawn at North Andover’s Stevens-Coolidge House and Gardens, Sept. 17-18; the Parker Gallery at Lowell’s Whistler House Museum of Art, Sept. 23-25 and at another Lowell venue, to-be-announced soon, Sept. 30-Oct. 3. A fully produced, filmed version will be available Oct. 1-17.

Patrons will be encouraged to follow the Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s new Liberty Hall vaccination or negative test policy guidelines and wear masks when attending the live performances.

“The Rise and Fall of Holly Fudge” by Trista Baldwin plays at Liberty Hall Nov. 26-Dec. 12. The performances will mark the Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s first with live audiences in its home space since March 2020. Personnel will announce the latest masking and proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test requirements closer to the show dates.

The remainder of the season includes “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End,” Jan. 19-Feb. 6; “Back Together Again: The Music of Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway,” March 30-April 17; “Best Summer Ever,” May 4-22. A special event, not part of the subscription season, is “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie,” Feb. 23-March 13.

Productions will continue to be filmed, as were last spring’s plays, for online viewing for patrons outside the area or those not comfortable attending live performances.

“We are here to serve the region as theatre-makers and as a place for our community to gather,” Butkas said.

And for now, at least, that means a proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test and mask wearing for all at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre.

Also included in adopting the new mask policy are American Repertory Theatre (Cambridge), Actors Shakespeare Project (Boston), Boston Playwrights Theatre, Central Square Theater (Cambridge), Front Porch Arts Collective (Boston), Gamm Theatre (Warwick, R.I.), Gloucester Stage Company, Greater Boston Stage Company (Stoneham), Huntington Theatre Company (Boston), Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse (Vineyard Haven), Moonbox Productions (Cambridge), SpeakEasy Stage Company (Cambridge) and Wellesley Repertory Theatre.

Other Boston-area theaters are expected to join the unified group in the coming weeks, and the new policies reflect those already adopted by Broadway theater owners and operators and theater groups in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

“I think you will see this all over the country,” said Butkas.

For more information, visit or call the box office at 978-654-4678, or email Nancye Tuttle at

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