More than a year after metro Atlanta arts venues and organizations shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many expect to return to in-person performances as early as this summer.
They’re ready for a return to normalcy after most spent the past 12½ months being limited to providing only online content, including educational programming, for their fans.
The Fox Theatre in Midtown has scheduled in-person events starting June 10 with an Eckhart Tolle concert, according to its website.
And while that event and others may have to be rescheduled again if restrictions on large-scale indoor events aren’t lifted by then, Fox President and CEO Allan Vella said, based on the pandemic’s situation improving, he’s confident the venue will be able to reopen at full capacity by Aug. 25. That’s when the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta series returns with the blockbuster “Hamilton” to lead off the 2021-22 season.
“I’m very optimistic,” Vella said. “I feel like the state of Georgia and our governor has done a good job of getting the vaccine in arms and getting those programs going. … What I don’t know is how (many) productions we’ll be able to program into the theater. I think it will take several years to get back to the same level of programming. I’m not certain if all the audiences will come back at the same level.”
He added the Fox financially can’t host in-person events at less than 100% capacity.
“Acts that tour nationally really require full capacity as well,” Vella said. “It’s really expensive to not only mount a tour and tour the nation but also to purchase that act for that evening when you add up all the costs: the artists, advertising, staff, facility costs, etc.”
Russ Belin, vice president for the Southeast region for Broadway Across America, the New York-based parent company for Broadway in Atlanta, is equally excited about the series returning to the Fox.
“Right now it’s March and we’re not scheduled (to resume shows) until Aug. 25. That feels like enough time,” he said, adding the fact that any Georgian 16 and older can get the vaccine helps. “There will still be requirements and health and safety protocols the Fox Theatre will require. We’ll continue to work with state and local officials to manage that process. Hopefully everyone will do their part and get vaccinated, and we can open in that time frame.”
Two arts organizations – the City Springs Theatre Company in Sandy Springs and Georgia Ensemble Theatre in Roswell – are resuming in-person plays and musicals later this year but at outdoor venues.
City Springs, which normally has shows at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, will host “Mamma Mia” May 7 through 9 at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre in Alpharetta. Georgia Ensemble, which normally performs at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center, will hold “Summer Surf Party,” a musical revue at Roswell’s Chattahoochee Nature Center for three weeks in July.
“I’m very optimistic,” said Anita Farley, Georgia Ensemble’s co-founder and producing artistic director. “I don’t think it will be a return to normal as we have known it in the past. It will be a new normal. We’re really fortunate because we operate at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center, and they have 600 seats. So when you do social distancing, we can still sell 200 seats if social distancing is still in place.”
City Springs Executive/Artistic Director Brandt Blocker added, “Our hope is to be back indoors in July for ‘West Side Story.’ However, we do have a plan for an outdoor production of ‘West Side Story’ if numbers are staying the same or are rising and regulations keep us feeling uncomfortable about getting back indoors.”
Shaun Albrechtson, executive director of Sandy Springs’ center, said the city may not host indoor events again until the end of August.
“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I’ve been … pushing to do more. It’s been this wasteland of arts and culture that’s been this last year. I’ve wanted to find new ways to engage in the community the entire time. … The hope is, by the time we get into the fall, we’re really seeing sizeable audiences again and people with the comfort level of sizeable audiences.
“Now whether that will happen or not is really the big question. We’re ready to make changes when we need to, but it seems like America in general is moving in that direction, and the current rate of vaccines in the nation are moving in that direction, so the signs are good. I feel like we’re making progress towards that.”
The Grand Theatre in Cartersville, which rents its space for events including dance recitals, plays and musicals, is being more cautious. It plans to resume in-person events in December, one of the big months each year when it hosts events, Program Director Kristy Montgomery said.
“That’s part of why we’ve pushed off for as long as we have,” she said, adding she’s “not very” optimistic about returning to in-person events sooner. “We hope our area will take advantage of the vaccine as soon as possible so we can feel as safe as possible when we return to events.”
Messages left with representatives of the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts Center in Decatur and the South Fulton Arts Center in the city of South Fulton requesting interviews were not returned by the Neighbor’s deadline.