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Outdoor Entertainment, Ambiguity Ahead For Northeast Ohio Arts Scene

Cleveland Orchestra concerts may return to Blossom Music Center this summer, but there would be limits in attendance and social distancing. [Aerial Agents]
Blossom Music Center

The past year of canceled events and closed theaters inspired much of the arts scene to move online.

Moving into the second year of the pandemic, virtual programming isn’t disappearing. The Greater Cleveland International Film Festival will stream completely online this April. Many theaters and musicians also continue to perform online to stay connected.

But museums have reopened with limited crowds and the promise of vaccinations and better weather could make way for more outdoor entertainment.

The Cleveland Orchestra hopes to present concerts at Blossom Music Center this summer.  

 “We’re thinking we could do one concert a week for 10 weeks and see how it goes,” said Ross Binnie, the Cleveland Orchestra's chief brand officer.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced earlier this month outdoor venues can plan for 30 percent of capacity, provided other safety guidelines are in place.

“That means the Blossom pavilion goes from about 5,000 to 1,500 people," Binnie said. In addition, about 2,500 patrons could be seated on the Blossom lawn, he said.

While planning is underway, the orchestra isn’t ready to make a formal announcement.

“What I don't want to do is take things away from people again, put something on sale and say, ‘Look, we can't do it,’” Binnie said. “I think we're all past that point with this thing now.”

Another organization looking to perform in the open air this summer is Cleveland’s BorderLight International Theater and Fringe Festival.

“Heck, if the Greeks and Shakespeare can do theater outside, then so can we,” said Jeff Pence, one of the festival directors.

The first version of the biennial festival included a mix of indoor and outdoor theater offerings in 2019. This year’s plans focus only on outdoor productions in July, with some online program offerings.

"A Kingdom, A Chasm" by Vagabond Inventions at the 2019 BorderLight Festival. [Steve Wagner / BorderLight Festival]

While Pence isn’t ready to share details about the locations of performances, he said they are “looking at small stages with social distanced audiences.”

That could include, for instance, staging performances on two stages for the same show in order to also space out the performers, Pence said.

With the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, BorderLight plans to wait to announce festival details until May or June.

Of course, that leaves both audiences and performers without concrete plans for their calendars. This is the current reality for many in the arts scene.

“Typically… I'd already have my summer planned out,” said local musician Rachel Woods.

Not this year. While she worked recently on Near West Theater’s virtual production of “Les Miserables” and Blank Canvas Theatre’s in-person, drive-in productions, her upcoming schedule is wide open.

Rachel Woods snapped this selfie while double masked and working at Blank Canvas Theatre's drive-in production in February at 78th Street Studios. [Rachel Woods]

Without regularly seeing others in her field in person, it’s also hard to find out about opportunities.

“It's all networking in Cleveland,” she said.

The only firm project on her calendar for the summer is Shining Star CLE, a singing competition for high school students. It’s already planned as a virtual event, but because it is late in the summer Woods said there could possibly be some element in person.

Of course, another variable for the return of in-person events is how people about feel mingling. Recent national data from the market research firm Morning Consult shows increasing comfort with museum trips. Thirty-eight percent of U.S. adults say they are comfortable visiting a museum. Twenty-four percent say they would attend a concert.

One thing to count on is more playing it by ear.

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.