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Arts

St. Louis Venues To Reopen At Different Paces With Coronavirus Restrictions Lifted

Singer-songwriter Martin Sexton performs for a socially distanced audience at the Big Top in Grand Center on March 25, 2021. It was the first of many events scheduled this year for the venue, which Kranzberg Arts Center recently revamped with strict coronavirus safety protocols.
File photo / David Kovaluk
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Special to St. Louis Public Radio
Martin Sexton performs for a socially distanced audience at the Big Top in Grand Center in March, the first event of the year there.

For more than a year, St. Louis concert venues operated under strict capacity limits and requirements that audience members stay masked and socially distanced. The rules were in place to prevent spread of the coronavirus among crowds.

But concert-goers shouldn’t expect everything to go back to normal at once, following Mayor Tishaura Jones’ Friday announcement that the city is lifting those restrictions.

Different venues plan to relax safety restrictions at different paces.

“We don’t want to end up saying, OK, you bought a ticket for this event, but we’ve totally changed what that event looks like and now it’s twice as many people as we said it’s going to be,” said Peter Palermo, executive director of the Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries. “We don’t want to put people in a position where they feel uncomfortable.”

The Sheldon began a series of outdoor concerts just hours after Jones’ announcement. Coronavirus safety measures stayed in effect, including social distanced seating. That setup will remain for the rest of the series, which runs through June 18.

Though the venue resumed indoor concerts in March with strict capacity limits, Palermo said it likely won’t return to full-capacity events until September. Without restrictions, the venue can accommodate 712 patrons.

At the Big Top, an outdoor venue operated by the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, there will be a gradual transition to full-capacity events. Ticket-buyers will soon have a choice between sitting in socially distanced sections or ones that are potentially filled to pre-pandemic capacity levels. Staff members at Kranzberg venues will continue to wear masks.

“We want to ensure that we can maintain the integrity of our spaces, both for those that are ready to re-enter and be comfortable with other people around them and close to them, and also those who need more time,” Kranzberg Arts Foundation Executive Director Chris Hansen said. “We’re not going to just reopen everything at full capacity and let our guard down.”

One change will come swiftly: Kranzberg Arts Foundation officials plan to reopen High Low, its Grand Center venue housing a coffee shop and art gallery, to the public Tuesday. The organization will no longer require individual appointments to view the gallery.

At the Pageant, the 2,000-person rock club in the Delmar Loop, managing partner Pat Hagin has been eager to resume concerts to packed houses once it’s safe to do so. There are six more concerts scheduled in a limited-capacity series featuring local bands, dubbed “Endeavor for Normalcy.”

Tables installed in the previously open space will remain in place to allow for limited, socially distanced audiences at these shows. The venue will return to full capacity on June 24 for a performance by nationally touring country artist Justin Moore.

In the meantime, Hagin has instructed staffers to stop asking health screen questions and giving temperature checks to patrons at the door. New signs will ask patrons who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear masks and remain socially distanced.

“We’re not pressing anyone. We’re not asking for proof of vaccination. It’s up to the individual at that point,” Hagin said.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre will host the last in its spring series of local musicians Saturday, with its existing pandemic safety rules still in place.

“We have always been planning on full capacity in the fall, so that is still the direction we are headed,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.

Leaders of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra did not rush to revise their policies last weekend for the finale of the spring season. A spokesperson said the organization has not yet determined when it will change its audience capacity.

At the Muny, leaders are still working on an updated plan to resume productions, a spokesperson said. The outdoor theater in Forest Park previously announced plans to stage a full season beginning in early July, if pandemic conditions permit.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

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