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How can theaters possibly reopen in the fall? The Broad Stage answer: Go outdoors

The Broad Stage in Santa Monica
The Broad Stage in Santa Monica becomes the second major company in the region, after Long Beach Opera, to push the restart of indoor performances to January.
(Benny Chan/Fotoworks)

Hope. It’s the driving force behind any theater or concert venue contemplating how to plan a 2020-21 season and when to announce it in the midst of the lingering coronavirus crisis.

The emotion, known to spring eternal, has inspired the Broad Stage’s artistic and executive director, Rob Bailis, to forge ahead with his announcement Wednesday evening of the Santa Monica company’s next season. In what could be a bellwether for other arts leaders enmeshed in discussions about when it will be safe to restart performances, the Broad Stage is placing its bets on two answers: The fall for outdoor performances, January for its indoor stage.

The season will open on an undetermined fall date with the world premiere of the theatrical chamber opera “Birds in the Moon” by Mark Grey and Júlia Canosa i Serra (Elkhanah Pulitzer directs). The opera, about a young family seeking refuge, is to be performed at various outdoor locations in an open shipping container with high-tech sound and video projections. It requires the talent of one singer, one actor and a string quartet, making it possible to socially distance the performers, along with the audience.

“The piece was basically designed for this moment, without knowing that this moment would arise,” Bailis said, adding that the company had been planning the performance long before coronavirus struck.

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The organization cannot confirm which outdoor spaces on the Westside might serve as locations, Bailis said. More will be known as the summer progresses and Santa Monica charts a course for reopening.

Logistical questions, including health and sanitation considerations such as bathrooms, will be tackled as they arise, said Bailis, for whom the coming season is his first as artistic director. He was in his position for just nine months when the venue, on the Santa Monica College campus, was forced to close. (The college has announced that it will continue distance learning through the fall semester.)

The Broad Stage is counting on reopening its usual indoor auditorium from January to July 2021. The season features the likes of Yo-Yo Ma in a multimedia collaboration with photographer Austin Mann; New York-based Heartbeat Opera’sFidelio”; Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s experimental theater piece, “Nassim”; and Monique Jenkinson, described as the first cisgender woman to win a major drag queen pageant, in “The F Word.”

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Also in the lineup: Keb’ Mo’; Chucho Valdés playing duets with Dianne Reeves and Joe Lovano; the Takács Quartet; pianist Simone Dinnerstein; Mark Morris Dance Group and MMDG Music Ensemble; the return of the acrobatic 7 Fingers; and the cabaret of Alan Cumming and Ari Shapiro.

Austin Mann and Yo-Yo Ma
Photographer Austin Mann, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma will appear together in a night of conversation, music and images.
(The Broad Stage)

“For us it is a very hopeful view of a horizon, and it is certainly announced with a deep understanding that safety comes first,” said Bailis, explaining that the start date for the indoor performances can be pushed back if necessary. “If we wanted to be ready by April, we still had to have the gears running by January — knowing full well that we may have to shift.”

If the Broad Stage does manage to resume indoor productions in January, it will be because the need for social distancing will have lessened, Bailis said. In his opinion, as long as social distancing is required for the safety of performers and the audience, indoor performances are not sustainable for midsize venues like the Broad Stage.

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If social distancing remains a necessity, he said, theaters will have to look at a whole different mode of operation.

“The indoor social distancing question is, at this time, unanswered for any venue,” he said, adding that the Broad Stage has been trying to offer a robust roster of online programming instead.

A scene from Geoff Sobelle's "Home," which played at the Broad Stage just before the coronavirus outbreak shut down theaters across the country.
(Sea Sloat)

As Bailis sees it, three possible developments could prove to be game changers for the theater community: the creation of a vaccine, an effective treatment for COVID-19 or the development of accurate and rapid testing, so people could know their infection status immediately.

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Until one of those things happens, theaters, orchestras, opera companies and other performing arts organizations will have to map out steps to a destination they cannot yet see. Although a few theater companies such as A Noise Within in Pasadena and South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa announced 2020-21 schedules starting — indoors — in August or September, the Broad Stage’s announcement Wednesday makes it the second major company (along with Long Beach Opera) to postpone indoor performances until January.

To see more of what that season has in store, visit the Broad Stage website.


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