It’s been over a year since most indoor performing arts spaces in Colorado went dark. But as more people are vaccinated, and restrictions are lifted in communities, local theaters are getting creative to reopen safely.
One of the most unique ideas can be found at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center. Crews have constructed a plexiglass wall around the stage. This set piece will allow the theater to open its first musical on the stage since March of 2020.
“We’re bringing back the musical, ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,’ which can be done with a smaller set and two musicians instead of a whole orchestra,” said Littleton Town Hall Arts Programming Manager Matthew Kepler.
The venue usually seats 260 people, but the audience will be limited to 60 for now. Seats will be sold mostly in groups of two or three, spaced apart from other groups. Patrons will be required to wear masks.
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” runs Friday, March 19 through Sunday, April 18.
Boulder Dinner Theater also announced it's reopening its stage April 2, and will start showing the musical "Forever Plaid" on May 7.
Colorado’s large venues like the Denver Center for Performing Arts and the Arvada Center have yet to resume live shows. But community theaters are taking advantage of their small size. The Aurora Fox Arts Center has been open since September but has kept cast sizes and audiences small. They even cast a married couple in their current production, “The Pavilion.”
“It’s a very different experience right now,” said executive producer Helen R. Murray.
The theater has worked closely with the Tri-County Health Department. Murray said they’re gathering the names of everyone who enters the space in case they need to talk to contract tracers.
The next show at Aurora Fox, “Queens Girl in the World,” has just one actor. Denver comedian Janae Burris will play all the characters in a story focused on a 12-year-old black girl growing up during the 1960s civil rights movement. Burris moved back to Los Angeles during the pandemic but said she’s aching to get back to a live stage.
“I desperately need the audience. I need their energy, their timing their rhythm,” said Burris.
During their down time, Aurora Fox started the “Voices Project” as an online interview program. Co-host GerRee Hinshaw said it was a chance to examine how theater can connect people, even without a live show. The series examined the arts and social justice issues.
“(We’re) re-thinking how we come back in all ways, not just from the virus, but the pandemic of racism, the pandemic of marginalizing people,” said Hinshaw.
Hinshaw isn’t alone in her belief that theater will evolve post-pandemic.
Littleton Town Hall Arts Center Education Manager Robert Michael Sanders said streaming shows and virtual education programs have become popular. Aurora Fox Center will also host a virtual fundraising gala in April, featuring past performances and a preview of upcoming shows.
“We’ve learned a new skill. We’ve learned a whole new way of presenting a story. I don’t think that’s going to go away,” said Sanders.
But, as they say, the show must go on. For many theater lovers, the live performance is an important part of the experience.
“I watched Broadway HD, but there’s just something missing (with streaming). There’s an emotional connection that’s missing. There’s a human factor that’s missing,” Kepler said.