California officials shocked the performing arts community Tuesday when they announced plans to fully reopen the economy on June 15 if certain vaccination and hospitalization benchmarks are met, leaving leaders of theaters, groups of music and more struggling to review plans for the spring and answer a long list of questions.
what needs to happen for audience members to sit next to each other so soon? what programming is (or is not) ready? Is it necessary to rehire staff? how much trial might be needed and when can you safely start? is the building ready to reopen for semi-normal operations?
“It’s the opposite of last March,” said Christopher Koelsch, Los Angeles Opera president and CEO, recalling how a year ago all the news seemed to be about another arts organization canceling its season. “It has been an extraordinarily harrowing year. now you have to rebuild what is possible after so little was possible during the last 13 months.”
the million dollar question: what exactly is possible before June 15?
The announcement stated that the capacity limits stipulated in California’s color-tiered reopening plan would be lifted, allowing “usual operations” to resume in accordance with standards set by the state division of safety and security. occupational health, or cal/osha . The announcement did not offer details, but cited “limited health restrictions, such as masking, testing, and testing or vaccine verification requirements for larger-scale, higher-risk events.”
“Since the moment we closed our theaters last March, we have been itching to find a way back to the live performing arts that are essential to a full return of society, so this is great news. ”, said the head of the downtown theater group. executive Meghan Pressman, whose company has reshuffled its lineup and last planned an August reboot at the Ahmanson Theater. “We can’t be certain of an immediate return to theater on June 15, but we are definitely excited about this announcement and are looking at all options to return to the stage as soon as we can.”
Many arts groups had begun making plans to hold small, socially distanced outdoor performances. In Los Angeles County, which is in the orange tier, outdoor venues can reopen at 33% capacity. The unexpectedly quick timeline for getting back to normal indoors, even as COVID-19 variants are believed to be causing spikes in case counts in other parts of the country, resulted in jubilation and some whiplash.
“what a day, what a week. I can’t keep up,” joked danny feldman, artistic director of the pasadena playhouse. “This is very exciting for all of us who look forward to the return of arts and culture to Los Angeles.”
The biggest problem, Feldman and other arts leaders said Tuesday, is that there’s no on/off switch for live theater. the schedule to guide a production from page to stage is long and complex, requiring extensive preparation time and the cooperation of many artists, including art directors; sound, lighting and costume designers; prop masters; and hairdressers and makeup artists. that’s right at the back of the house. running front desk operations and guest services is another ball of wax.
and don’t get everyone started talking about what the cal/osha health guide might entail. There is much work to be done. exciting work, welcome work, but time-consuming and challenging work nonetheless, leaders said.
The result is that many groups, including Noise Within in Pasadena and Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, will be moving forward with digital seasons in the near future and have no plans to move indoors before the fall.
“With planning windows of many months, a performance season was hard to imagine until today,” said Thor Steingraber, executive director of the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts in Northridge. “Today’s announcement, if nothing else, gives artistic leaders a ramp to plan and announce future performances, with the caveat that circumstances on the ground may change.”
other groups, like players from east west in central l.a. he said they will likely implement a phased return, building toward maximum capacity. phasing in operations over the summer puts organizations in a better place for a full reopening in the fall or winter, they said.
“as with all things covid related, we are monitoring things cautiously. There are a number of other entities that will need to weigh in before we can fully reopen, from artists unions to the county to the city,” said ewp artistic director snehal desai. “The June 15 reopening date provides a narrow window to implement covid safety protocols and update our facilities, so I’m not sure many of us will be able to open right away.”
The unions that will participate in the reopening include the Actors’ Equity Association, which represents more than 51,000 professional singers, actors, dancers and stage managers. has published its own COVID-19 safety guidelines, which some companies have called unnecessarily burdensome. equity has yet to sign off on the california schedule or stipulate what protocols it would require of its members.
Jean Davidson, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the resident choir at Walt Disney Concert Hall, also mentioned the need to coordinate with unions before restarting. She said her group is “working closely with the Music Center and the American Guild of Music Artists to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for everyone as we continue to develop our plans for the upcoming season.”
for outdoor venues, like the hollywood bowl and nearby ford theaters, both operated by the los angeles philharmonic, the news feels more manageable as planning for outdoor operations has been moving forward for some time now. weather. The unprecedented cancellation of the bowl season last year resulted in a massive loss of ticket revenue for the L.A. Phil, who uses his summer cash cow to help pay for ambitious shows at Disney Hall.
“this is great news: the moment we’ve been waiting for!” he said. a. CEO of Phil, Chad Smith. “The live music experience has been absent from our lives for over a year, and we can’t wait for people to come together as a music community at the Hollywood Bowl and Ford this summer.”
casey reitz, president of the segerstrom center for the arts in costa mesa, echoed smith’s optimism.
“this means that broadway shows will return, artists, musicians and dancers will return to our stages, students from our dance schools will return to the studios here in the center and, just in time to take advantage of the good weather of summer to open our plaza to full capacity for our outdoor events, movies, and concerts. We can’t wait to say welcome back!” reitz said.
Lockdowns have faced a lot of mixed messaging from the state and counties, leading some to question whether the two entities communicated with each other. Less than three weeks ago, the state and county had yet to release detailed guidance on if, when and how live performances, including outdoors, could return. that information finally dropped at the end of March. it demanded six feet between audience members and a limited seating number. The first guidelines for a possible return to indoor spaces were released just a few days ago, then quickly outdated by Tuesday’s announcement.
The issue of capacity, whether arts organizations operating on razor-thin margins could afford to operate with less than a full house, affected their planning process. the. has not yet adapted the new guide. county, but when that happens, it will unlock a world of possibilities.
“California has made such incredible progress on both immunizations and lowering case rates,” said jeff loeb, general manager of broadway in hollywood, operator of the pantages theater in hollywood. he has in his calendar the return of “hamilton” for october. “We are anxiously awaiting detailed protocols from the l.a. county public health department to properly plan for the safe opening of our doors,” he said.
government. Still, Gavin Newsom’s reopening timeline is incredibly hopeful news for the arts in Los Angeles, said Rachel Moore, president and CEO of Music Center Downtown.
“We continue to put the safety and comfort of our guests, staff, and artists at the forefront of everything we do, and will await further information from Los Angeles County to determine how this news will affect our operations. Moore said.
In the meantime, he added, the music center is days away from announcing a series of ticketed outdoor experiences that will bring back live audiences for the first time since March 2020. Looking ahead, it’s likely that the music center will open its theaters on a more regular schedule this fall.