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August 7, 2020: “On the Great Outdoors”

Good day,

Sometimes to think outside the box you have to step outside the box.

Summer allows the opportunity to explore options for outdoor events, free from audience’s fear of being indoors in confined spaces, close to others. This week there were several reports of various arts groups taking advantage of the warm weather to try something quite different to keep engaged with audiences.

This past weekend the dance company Pilobolus held its annual Five Senses Festival but re-envisioned it as a “art safari,” a series of short performances the audience safely experienced from foot or by car while practicing social distancing along more than 100 acres in the Northwestern hills of Connecticut.

In Connecticut magazine, co-artistic director Renee Jaworski quoted Leonardo da Vinci: “Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom.”

Re-imagined al fresco dance also thrives one state over.

Throughout August and September Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli, N.Y. along the Hudson River will present an outdoor dance festival taking place on weekends on a stage in the middle of a field.

“Kaatsbaan also has the advantage of being self-contained, with studios, living areas and the newly built stage, all on site,” writes Marina Haras in The New York Times. “And of being only two hours from New York City, home to a large number of dancers, who can travel there with relative ease and safety. The dancers will drive up after quarantining for 14 days, during which time they will take two coronavirus tests. They will stay secluded on the property in the days preceding each week’s performances…The programs, made up mostly of solos and socially distanced duets, will be refreshingly eclectic, ranging from ballet to flamenco to tap to Broadway to postmodern dance.”

Over in the U.K., some performing arts groups are thinking in imaginative ways, too — turning to circus tents “with sidewalls raised and seats spaced out” — to create more spacious spaces.

“For six weeks over the summer, Lost in Translation’s Marybelle tent won’t only stage juggling and acrobatics… but also drama designed for the Norwich Playhouse stage…In the vast circle of the tent floor, hundreds can be accommodated with plenty of ground in between. Marybelle comfortably holds a socially-distanced audience of 300 – the same as the Playhouse at full capacity. The advantages of acting under a big top go beyond simply complying with Covid-19 guidelines. If diversifying audiences is in a theatre’s future plan…then classical circuses have a lot of lessons to share.”

These tent shows are just another way to explore alternatives to traditional venues and yes, even find new audiences not prone to enter hallowed halls. 

The first classical concert series by a major arts organization in the U.S. since the quarantine began was presented by Mainly Mozart, a non-profit based in San Diego. The free outdoor show was held as a drive-in concert in a dirt parking lot at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

“The concertmaster also thinks that drive-in concerts will be the new normal until it's safe to perform for audiences indoors,” wrote Marina Watts in Newsweek. “ ‘They’re also so much fun I could see them making a big come back even when social distancing requirements loosen,’ he said.”

In Southern Spain, Festival Internacional de Música y Danza de Granada was held recently, yes outdoors. “All performances at the festival, a yearly event, were held outdoors, including in a courtyard inside the complex of the Alhambra, with audiences required to wear masks, and seating capped at 50 percent…It was the culmination of months of careful planning, involving the development of protocols, testing and a careful, minutely orchestrated return to the studio.”

Europe is cautiously reopening and there are even some instances of returning to the indoors, too. The Salzburg Festival is trying out a scaled-back version and the Arena di Verona will have a series of opera concerts. But the Salzburg Festival offers a peek at the challenges of indoor events.

“Even with a drastically reduced number of tickets — 80,000 instead of 242,000 — very few performances are sold out,” wrote A.J. Goldmann in The New York Times. “In the festival venues, every other seat is left free. At one performance, a woman in back of me was furious that she could not sit alongside her partner. “This is a mistake,” she hissed before trying unsuccessfully to pry open the roped-off seat.”

— Frank Rizzo


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