(UPDATE: The Acoustic Brew concert mentioned in this story, scheduled for Sunday, May 30, has been cancelled due to weather.)
As the pandemic begins to recede, cultural organizations are navigating ever-changing guidelines for performers and audiences. We spoke with three arts organizations who’ve taken different approaches as they strive to get back to normal.
Mason Strouse is a board member and director of communications at Clearfield Arts Studio Theatre, called “CAST” for short.
“It’s just been really tough for theaters and for people who enjoy theater,” Strouse says.
The group does 5 or 6 major theatrical productions each year.
“And when we’re not doing the major productions, we are offering dance classes and music classes and art classes and theatre classes. And we also offer open mic kind of things that we call Friday night live.”
Strouse said when the pandemic hit, CAST had just finished a production, and had 4 more to go in the season. At that time, they postponed what was left of their 2020 season to 2021. But while their season was on hold, they were heartened to find that fundraising support from the community wasn’t.
“We still had a ton of people who were supporting us,” Strouse said. “It was really incredible that despite the negative things that were happening in 2020, we were able to still see that incredible support from our patrons and our community in general.”
And that support was crucial, because Clearfield Arts Studio Theatre has one employee, and a building to pay for year-round.
“We are a non-profit, but we have a large facility. And so we did still have quite a few bills to pay. And we were fortunate enough to receive a very generous grant through the CARES Act funding, which probably saved us in many ways.”
But Strouse said they were cautious and delayed their season one more year.
“We were still uncertain about many things, even here in 2021. And so we decided to go ahead and push that again into 2022.”
Strouse says CAST does hope to offer some acting classes and other events this summer. And although the previously scheduled productions have been moved to 2022, they hope to do some other indoor productions as soon as this fall.
Meanwhile, in Altoona, the Altoona Symphony Orchestra also had to give up some indoor performances.
“We had a regular season scheduled until the pandemic hit,” said C. David Kimmel. He’s president of the board of directors of the Altoona Symphony Orchestra Society, Inc.
Kimmel says members of the orchestra held outdoor performances last summer, called “cushion concerts,” at places like Canal Basin Park and Canoe Creek State Park in Hollidaysburg.
Then in December, the symphony moved indoors to Altoona’s Mishler Theatre. To observe masking and social distancing, the orchestra and audience were both much smaller than usual. As more musicians were added for performances early in 2021, they put further precautions in place.
“When we started with a larger group,” Kimmmel said, “we did rapid testing of all our musicians.”
The orchestra was also masked, with the wind players wearing special masks with a flap so they could keep the mask on while blowing into their instruments.
The audience was limited and separated, too.
“At the Mishler this past year, you weren’t able to select your seat,” Kimmel said. “They would assign it as you made a reservation.”
After those socially distanced concerts this spring, the Altoona Symphony has an outdoor concert planned for this Sunday in Altoona’s Lakemont Park. And they’re looking forward to a full season of concerts in the Mishler Theatre starting this fall.
In State College, a concert series is about to start their post-pandemic concert comeback outdoors.
“When the pandemic struck, we had two more of our Saturday night shows scheduled,” said Holly Foy, a board member of The Acoustic Brew. “And because we were under lockdown, we had to cancel those shows.”
The Acoustic Brew is an all-volunteer organization that puts on a series of folk music concerts each spring and fall in the State College area.
Foy said the concert series lost 10 shows due to the pandemic. But because The Acoustic Brew is all-volunteer, the financial impact was moderate.
“We were in better shape than many people,’ Foy said,”because we don’t have paid staff, and we don’t pay rent except for when we hold shows.”
The Acoustic Brew usually holds their concerts in a small venue in Lemont called the Center for Well-Being.
“With that building where we’re all sitting really close, we knew that was not going to be an option,” Foy said. “So we decided to move completely outdoors.”
They organization recently scheduled a full season of concerts for this summer, beginning with singer/songwriter Van Wagner this Sunday evening. Foy said they’ll be held in a new venue, the “Boal Mansion Museum Amphitheatre,” with an outdoor stage on the grounds of the Boal Mansion in Boalsburg.
“So we’ve got plenty of room for people to bring their own folding chairs, spread out, sit with whomever they feel comfortable sitting with.”
Concert goers can make a day of it, she said, signing up for a tour of the Boal Mansion Museum, checking out hiking trails on the grounds, or playing in folk jam sessions hosted by the Acoustic Brew. There will even be food trucks.
“Since we lost so many shows in the past year-and-a-half, we’re making up for that by offering all sorts of fun things to do on our show dates.”
These and other arts organizations have made very different plans as they transition out of pandemic mode. But there’s one thing they all have in common: they can’t wait to see faces like yours in their audience once again.