The shows must go on: Medieval Times, Six Flags reopening this week
Medieval Times in Schaumburg is anticipating a renaissance this week, while in Gurnee, Six Flags Great America is making plans to provide visitors with thrills they've been without since 2019.
Among the best known entertainment venues in the suburbs, both have been largely shuttered since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic more than a year ago. But Medieval Times is reopening tonight -- tickets were still available Wednesday night -- and the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night shows are sold out, while Great America will reopen on Saturday.
Preparations for their return were in full swing Wednesday.
"Everyone in the cast is very excited to return," said Camden Brown, show cast manager for Medieval Times. "Everyone really appreciates the opportunity to perform again. Hopefully these performances will be really electric."
For most of the past year, the iconic castle off Roselle Road just north of the Jane Addams Tollway has had a skeleton crew of 12 to look after the horses, falcons and building, Brown said.
Knights were called back five weeks ago to begin training with their horses again. The rest of the cast began rehearsals three weeks ago.
Brown said he's been in intermittent contact with the cast, which has remained intact through the end of their furlough.
The biggest changes to the dinners and jousting shows are ones audiences probably will be familiar with from recent visits to regular restaurants, Brown said.
For one, visitor capacity has been reduced to 25% of the norm, bringing it to just over 350 people. They will sit at distanced tables of no more than seven guests each.
The most obvious change will be that guests no longer will be able to drink in the outer hall before a show. Instead, guests will arrive -- wearing masks -- and go directly to their dining tables.
The knights will be masked throughout the performance, but other characters, including the queen, will be more isolated during the show and able to perform without masks.
The dialogue will make no reference to the face coverings, Brown said, but the attention to cleanliness and hygiene among the staff will be anything but medieval.
While photos of the cast may still be taken, there will be no formal meet-and-greet after the show, and attendees will be called to depart in small groups. Brown suggested there may be a lot of selfies taken with cast members standing about 10 feet behind.
Also a performer, Brown said he knows exactly what he's most looking forward to at Thursday evening's first performance.
"Just that initial ride out, when I get to talk to the crowd," he said.
Medieval Times is seeking additional full-time and part-time employees in such positions as bartenders, food servers, stable hands, retail staff, spotlight operators and even knight's squire, in anticipation of greater capacity being allowed later this year.
Farther north at Great America, guests will be able to ride Raging Bull, Batman, American Eagle and the other iconic roller coasters starting Saturday.
Welcoming the first guests back that morning will be longtime park President Hank Salemi, who said he is thrilled to get started after a year of Zoom meetings and time cooped up in his office.
Salemi said he plans to spend the first day walking the park, answering guests' questions and picking up trash.
"It's the best part of my job, and I haven't been able to do it for a long time," he said. "I just want to get out there."
While the Hurricane Harbor water park was open for a part of the 2020 season, theme park rides have been shut down since 2019.
Salemi and his staff spent much of the past year planning to make the park as safe as possible when customers and employees returned. He said park officials consulted industry safety experts and world-renowned epidemiologists, and the precautions now in place exceed government guidelines.
The park will be limited to 25% capacity, which will be enforced by having all guests use the online reservation system introduced last year. Salemi said the system will stagger guest arrival times so there isn't a big crowd at the entry gates at any one time.
The theme park also will have a new mobile ordering system for food. Lines for rides will have markers spacing groups six feet apart. Masks covering the mouth and nose will be required for everyone over the age of 2.
Salemi said they've learned from parks that have opened that requiring masks is possible and doable.
"I hope guests are understanding of that. It's the only way we were going to open," Salemi said.