The current state of the entertainment industry could be symbolized by half a glass of water.
Planning and preparing in the midst of a minefield of COVID-19 regulatory changes and risk levels is frustrating and stressful, but bringing art back to the public after so long can be joyful and uplifting.
Many spectators are excited to return to auditoriums, but some patrons continue to avoid performance venues for now. Some administrators are expressing disappointment for dropping performance plans at the last minute, while also crediting how the pandemic has bolstered their organizations’ resolve and agility, characteristics that will survive the virus.
” This has not been easy. But I think you have a choice, ”says Fred Crafts, executive director of the Eugene Radio Redux theater company. “You can look at the glass as half empty or half full. And I want to see it half full.
The Hult Center for Performing Arts is doing what it can to keep that glass from tipping over. As of September 1, the Hult has required clients to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test administered within 48 hours of a performance. Rich Hobby, director of marketing for the Hult, says reactions to the change have been mostly positive, in part because many members of the public currently understand the financial insecurity of the performing arts.
“The ramifications of another shutdown for the entertainment industry are not even imaginable at this point,” Hobby said. “We have to find a way forward, and the way to go right now is to have a vaccine policy and a testing policy.”
On September 23, the Hult will once again host the Eugene Symphony, and from September 24 to 26, Radio Redux. The two groups organize their first indoor performances since the pre-pandemic era.
The Eugene Symphony program will include “Deep Summer Music” by Libby Larsen, Piano Concerto by Florence Price, performed by pianist Michelle Cann, and “Symphonic Dances” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, with a solo by saxophonist Idit Shner.
The symphony hosted outdoor concerts earlier this summer, and Eugene Symphony associate executive director Lindsey McCarthy said the orchestra’s enthusiasm to perform again was “palpable.”
“I think the same energy and joy of being together again with their colleagues that they haven’t been able to perform with in months will be something the audience can really feel,” said McCarthy.
The other band about to resume their stint on Hult, Radio Redux, are planning to perform The Burns and Allen Show, a nod to comedy crew George Burns and Gracie Allen. But Crafts says if a key related to COVID-19 is thrown and the safety of the public or performers is in question, it’s ready to pivot, as it has done several times over the past 18 months.
The Cabaret actors of Eugene and Oregon Contemporary Theater have done it before. Actors Cabaret’s premiere of Broadway forbidden is moving online, says co-founder Jim Roberts, because the small performance space doesn’t feel safe yet, and OCT is delaying its reopening until October or November.
However, the John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts has a busy season, while still meeting state requirements. On September 29, American singer Ruthie Foster will perform what The Shedd calls “her combustible blend of soul, blues, rock, folk and gospel”.
Another vocal performance to look forward to is that of Eugene Opera Lucy, the story of a psychologist and his adopted chimpanzee, September 24-26 at the Wildish Theater. Members of the public must be fully immunized or show evidence of a negative COVID PCR test.
The opera will be preceded by a panel discussion at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History on the University of Oregon campus on September 23. The roundtable is free, but an RSVP to [email protected] or 541-346-3024 is required to attend.
Erika Rauer, executive director of Opera Eugene, notes that operas typically take a year, or even two, to plan. The fluctuating current situation is not conducive to holding a show of any kind, especially one that requires a lot of planning. McCarthy says she lost count of the number of times the symphony revised messages to its subscribers because something changed in the space of a day.
But their efforts are not in vain. Those who are comfortable in live shows have made it clear time and time again.
“I heard an audience of 50 clap louder than an audience of 300,” Hobby says. “Just because they’re so grateful.”