Theater Pizzazz’ Sandi Durell got some insight and information from Julianne Boyd, the Artistic Director of Barrington Stage Company, regarding how they are planning to handle live theater, during Covid-19, and reopen this summer in August in their Mainstage Theatre. On their calendar is a production of Harry Clarke, and concerts with Marilyn Maye and Ann Hampton Callaway.
With the challenges facing all the entertainment outlets in our society, theater and cabaret are trying to reinvent what they do so that both the performers and audience members can reunite. Here’s an example.
1 – Can you describe how you are planning to implement this new endeavor beginning in August?
JB: First, we came up with safety measures that we think are necessary for everyone’s safety (see attached one-pager). Then we notified our patrons and will make sure our staff and volunteers carry them out when our audiences arrive. The patrons will get a reminder email a day or two before they are plan on attending a performance, and there will be additional staff at the theatre to make sure all abide by the safety measures..
2 – With a theater that can hold 520 seats, how did you come up with the idea of seating 1/3rd of that capacity?
JB: That’s the number we arrived at after we took out every other row and allowed two empty seats between each party.
3 – In outlining the new guidelines, I see on the website how you’ve handled the seating by removing rows and issuing specifics like wearing masks and practicing social distancing, together with no intermission performances. But we know that older populations use bathroom facilities more often. How do you handle that aspect?
JB: I don’t think they will all have to use the facilities at the same time since there are no intermissions so we will have staff in the lobby near the bathrooms to make sure all safety precautions are met. By the way, no show in the summer is longer than 80 mins.
4 – Have you gotten any feedback from your subscribers about this new re-opening? If so, what.?
JB: Very positive. The season is selling extremely well. We are thrilled. I think many people are looking forward to getting out of their homes and doing something where there is a community of like-minded individuals, albeit all 6 ft. apart and taking safety measures. Of course, there will be some patrons who are uncomfortable attending for health reasons or they are not planning to travel to the Berkshires this summer. That is totally understandable.
5 – What about the finances regarding the opening of the theater, staffing and the bottom line . . . how can you realize a profit from this?
JB: We’re not planning to realize a profit. If we can do live theatre, serve the community and our patrons, then we have succeeded this summer. All of our shows on the Mainstage this summer are solo shows. Harry Clarke has minimal sets and costumes. The rest have no physical production so we did not bring on our usual large summer staff. In the fall, we’re running a reprise of our sold-out winter production, 10×10 New Play Festival– we already have the sets and costumes for that show. The only sets and costumes we will be building this year will be for The Price in the fall.
6 – What are you planning/visualizing if this pandemic continues beyond what you’ve now scheduled?
JB: We will follow all state and federal guidelines and if those guidelines dictate cancellations, we will follow them.
7 – Is there a plan to present virtual or YouTube based performances?
JB: Not at the present time although I’ve been asked by some to do so.
8 – Your thoughts on the future of theater?
JB: It’s going to be a difficult uphill battle for many months, perhaps years. We are fortunate that the seating in our Mainstage already offered ample leg-room and they are screwed into the floor and can be removed easily. The SD (social distancing) model only works for small productions with little or no production values. We will have to wait until a vaccine is developed or some sort of treatment becomes available before we can return to full-fledged theatre experiences as we knew them before March 2020. Until then, a new norm has to be created with major adjustments if we want to produce live theatre.
Visit www.BarringtonStageCo.org to see new seating – social distancing and further information