New guidelines bring back outdoor music and theater to California

Josue Torres

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The state Department of Public Health has released a long-awaited series of guidelines paving the way for live theatre, music, and other shows to reopen outdoors this summer, which is welcoming news for California theater companies looking to make a huge move up out of a deep pandemic hole.

The new rules provide for temporary outdoor platforms, such as those set up in parking lots, as long as they have designated seating and defined or marked positions that allow for six feet of room between audience participants.

Reservations are expected in advance, and entrance and exit points must be carefully watched to avoid crowding.

The standards refer to outdoor venues that are “a permanent and fixed facility, focused around a stage round, field court, or other central area designed primarily for viewing entertainment or athletics by an audience or a defined and demarcated outdoor area.” The venues must be open air, with at least 12 feet between the crowd and the stage or performing field.

Until early March, live entertainment was completely absent from the California health department’s color-coded plan for reopening. 

Beginning April 1, live outdoor performance would resume at 20 percent capacity in the red stage, which is inhabited by the majority of the state, including Los Angeles. As counties hit the orange tier, as Los Angeles and Orange counties are projected to do next week, the percentage increases to 33%. Ability restricts boost to 67 percent in the yellow category.

Many arts organizations have reported that normalcy would not be returned for months, if not years. Institutions that have outdoor spaces are keen to utilize them, while organizations that do not are concentrated on securing an outdoor venue. Large theaters, which would lose revenue if they decreased space, are now more organizing streaming shows for the summer, aiming for a lighter, less distant fall.

Many groups expressed gratitude for receiving government pandemic relief. But, according to Jon Lawrence Rivera, creative director of Playwrights’ Arena, the money would be wasted easily if it is spent on budget-busting, limited-capacity plays. For tiny houses like his, 25% capacity is only 12 spectators, but moving outside is his only real choice if he wishes to perform in front of a wider crowd.

As mentioned above, prior to the introduction of the latest guidelines on Friday evening, arts organizations lacked clarification on outdoor pop-up performance spaces that did not have set seating. Current guidelines only extended to proven outdoor venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, leaving arts groups unsure whether and how they might stage performances in locations such as patios, gardens, and parking lots.

The Fountain Theatre, for example, had declared that it had secured approval from the city of Los Angeles to create a stage on its parking lot and was hoping to host the Los Angeles premiere of Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ “An Octoroon.”

Availability stays the same under the expanded guidelines: 20% capacity for counties in the state’s red tier of the pandemic limitations, 33% capacity for counties in the orange tier, and 67% capacity for counties in the yellow tier. Only in-state attendees are permitted in the red and orange levels.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles and Orange Counties are scheduled to switch from the red tier to the orange tier.

As organizations press ahead with proposals for socially distant summer shows, small theaters with limited funds remain concerned about finding an outdoor venue. 

Although, if it does return indoors, it would almost definitely do so with severe ability limitations that will render performing shows financially impractical for many organizations.

Are you excited about these spaces reopening for the public?

Article Photo by Tim Toomey on Unsplash

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