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Arts

Fox Theatre And Opera Theatre To Reopen A Year After Pandemic Forced Doors To Close

A crowd takes in a performance at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
Courtesy Opera Theatre of St. Louis
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Opera Theatre St. Louis will host its annual festival outdoors this year. The organization typically holds performances at Webster University’s Loretto-Hilton Center.

Two of the St. Louis region’s most prominent arts organizations are preparing to reopen their doors after a year of canceled shows during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre will reopen to audiences April 17 with a comedy show and concert series that will feature local bands and stand-up comedians. But many people will be looking forward to the return of Broadway shows in the fall.

Fox officials announced the U.S. Bank Broadway Series will return to the Fox this fall. The 2021-22 season will feature “Hamilton,” “Cats,” “The Prom,” “Mean Girls,” “Pretty Woman,” “The Lion King” and “My Fair Lady.”

When the Fox opens in a few weeks, patrons will sit in socially distant spaces with tickets sold in pods of two to four seats. Maximum capacities will start at 250 and will increase depending on local health guidelines. Patrons and staff will have to wear masks.

Rescheduling planned performances for the upcoming season has been one of the most difficult challenges for venues because many theater productions have had to rebook and change schedules, Fox Theatre Director of Programing John O’Brien said.

“I will be booking these shows maybe three years out, in many cases two to three years out,” O’Brien said. “The whole touring Broadway industry has been forced to shuffle and completely change our timelines, and something that would usually take three years now has to happen in a week or a matter of months.”

Fox Theatre officials have updated the theater’s air filtration system and its cleaning procedures, he said. Other specifics will be announced prior to the Broadway premieres and will depend on health and safety recommendations at the time.

O’Brien said the Fox Theatre aims to show Broadway shows at full capacity this fall.

“What's difficult here is that the only way that Broadway is possible is at full capacity, that is more of a directive from producers in New York and the producers of the shows,” O’Brien said. “Obviously if we're not there by the time you need to be in November, we will continue to pivot and see what we need to do.”

Opera Theatre holds its first outdoor season

Opera Theatre of St. Louis will bring its festival season back in May. Performances will take place outside at one of Webster University’s parking lots. That will allow audience members, production staff and crews to be a safe distance from others during shows.

“A lot of the usual traditions will look a little different, the way that we picnic beforehand, the way that we are sitting outside under the stars, the way that we had to limit the size of casts, and choose shorter productions,” Opera Theatre of St. Louis General Director Andrew Jorgensen said. “Every cast and every show is its own bubble, an elaborate set of protocols, but all of which were done to ensure that the show could go on and that we could do so safely.”

The move to outdoor seating means fewer people in the audience than prior years where the Opera Theatre seated people in Webster University’s Loretto-Hilton Center. The Hilton Center could seat nearly 1,000 people while the outdoor festival can seat about 285 people, Jorgensen said.

Other Opera Theatre changes include boxed picnics where staff will deliver food and drinks to people who have pre-ordered during the pre-show and a first-come, first-serve option for free tickets. The show also won’t host its usual post-show champagne festivities. Jorgensen said he expects that to return next year back at the Hilton Center.

The pandemic has presented challenges for arts institutions and artists across the country. Jorgensen and O’Brien said they hope the increasing vaccine availability will show a light at the end of the tunnel for eager theater fans.

“We've gotten so much incredible support and feedback from our audiences, our subscribers, have stuck with us throughout this entire shutdown,” O’Brien said. “We're feeling pretty confident that things will come back strong, and it may take some individuals a little more time to feel comfortable. We want everyone to feel comfortable and safe. We're going to do everything we can to make sure people feel that when they come back.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

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