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Spiking coronavirus cases are prompting St. Louis arts leaders to pause live shows

Philip Hamer
Moonstone Theatre
Actors perform in Moonstone Theatre's production of "Jake's Women" in November 2021. The troupe postponed its second-ever show, which was due to open in February.

The spiking number of coronavirus cases in the St. Louis region is leading some local arts organizations to postpone or cancel events scheduled for this month.

Arts leaders said Wednesday they are concerned that their existing safety protocols, including a requirement that audience members and artists wear masks and show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination, may be insufficient to counter the rapid spread of the omicron variant as regional case numbers peak.

“We decided, as a result of those rising numbers, that even though we had all those protocols in place, that it was probably better for us to postpone our production ‘till the summer,” said Brian McKinley, an actor and executive assistant at the Black Rep.

To help protect its employees and audience, the Black Rep moved its production of "Dontrell Who Kissed the Sea” from January to July. It still plans to produce the next show on its schedule, “Fireflies,” in February.

Health officials say the current spike in cases may subside in coming weeks. Leaders at organizations that are now postponing events hope to resume live performances when that happens.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra announced Wednesday that it is postponing its screening of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” accompanied by a live score, from this weekend to April. Events in the film score series are among the orchestra’s most popular programs.

The SLSO canceled two concerts earlier this month, postponed another, and changed the program of another to a chamber music format, due to an unspecified number of musicians quarantining after having close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.

Sweat 4.jpeg
Philip Hamer
The Black Rep
Actors perform in the Black Rep's production of "Sweat" in September 2021. The troupe postponed a show scheduled to begin in January but plans to produce again next month.

The Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries postponed Saturday’s performance by vocalist Dianne Reeves to April. The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis moved its production of “The 39 Steps,” which was due to start performances this weekend, to April. It is continuing rehearsals for its next show, which is still scheduled to open in February.

St. Louis Art Museum will be closed until February due to coronavirus cases among its staff.

The string of postponements reminded some of the early days of the pandemic, when local officials instituted bans on public gatherings to slow spread of the virus.

“I may start writing 2020 on my checks again. It’s such deja vu,” said Edward Coffield, artistic director of New Jewish Theatre.

The company was due to present its first full production since the start of the pandemic, with performances of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” scheduled to begin Friday. The show will move to February at the earliest.

The disruptions are difficult for organizations that recently began producing events again after a long layoff.

Moonstone Theatre presented its first-ever production in November and planned for another to begin Feb. 17. The revised date is March 24.

Moonstone Producing Artistic Director Sharon Hunter also founded the St. Louis Theatre Community Task Force in 2020, a group of local arts leaders who have collaborated on reopening plans and safety protocols. She said it’s particularly difficult to reschedule a show after beginning the preproduction process.

You’ve got everything going and you’re employing people, you know, you’re working on designs and you’re working on everything,” she said. “It’s not easy, but I’ve got to say it’s the right decision for right now.”

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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