“I think 2020 is gone,” says Anna D. Shapiro, director of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, in a detailed and depressing look at the future of live performances published Sunday in The New York Times.
While Broadway producers have already aired their dire predictions about this autumn’s season to V.F.’s Casey Mink — “if you think you’re going to see The Music Man in 2020, you’re out of your goddamn mind,” reads one choice quote — getting word from the rest of the country is equally upsetting. Producers, promoters and executives at arts organizations from Minneapolis to Berkeley all say pretty much the same thing: forget fall.
Chris Coleman, an artistic director at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, explained that even as other aspects of American society are opening up, necessary protective measures are too limiting for most productions. “Part of it is economic,” he said. “We’ve thought about social distancing, but it makes zero economic sense.”
Nancy Umanoff, executive director of the Mark Morris dance company, was more blunt. “I am 100 percent confident that it is not happening,” she said about a curtain time before 2021. The Times‘s report reminds us of the myriad challenges facing performance venues in the COVID era: in addition to audience “choke points” that form at entrances and restrooms, backstage areas are notoriously cramped, and performers, working intimately with one another, put themselves at risk simply by doing their jobs.
This isn’t to say people aren’t thinking creatively. Deborah F. Rutter of the the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. may invite artists to present work while separated by glass from outdoor audiences. Concert promoter Peter Shapiro recently spoke with Rolling Stone, floating the idea of on-site rapid testing. (He’s still hoping the four day Lock’n Festival in Virginia, pushed from June to October, has a shot.)
In the world of live music, some artists have turned to drive-in theaters. Keith Urban performed a benefit gig in Nashville exclusively for health care workers. The jam band Spafford sold out a drive-in show in minutes in Mesa, Arizona. (The show will also be livestreamed.) These are, nevertheless, quite minor victories in the face of a major industry put on indefinite pause.
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