In a year of incalculable loss for so many of us, the arts community has endured not only deaths among its performers that could not be properly mourned, but also the absence of its audiences and dissolution of its finances.
The arrival of spring and the vaccine rollout have pierced some of the darkness, with hope and curtains rising across Westchester’s river villages.
With the recent expansion of New York State’s Covid-19 restrictions to allow theaters and other venues to welcome back fans indoors in limited numbers, producers are preparing to accommodate live audiences — while simultaneously preparing to pivot if the pandemic takes an unwelcome turn.
State guidelines allow arts and entertainment venues to operate at 33 percent capacity with a limit of 100 people. Live music producers say capacity needs to increase to at least 50 percent to allow them to operate profitably — a number they hope will be reached by summer as more people are vaccinated. The guidelines for movie theaters permit 25 percent capacity up to 50 patrons, which could also be expanded later this spring or summer.
Livestreaming provided a digital lifeline that producers expect to become a permanent part of their programming. But watching from your couch can never duplicate the experience of “real people performing for other real people in real time,” as Tarrytown Music Hall’s Executive Director Bjorn Olsson put it.
Here’s a roundup of what’s being planned this spring and summer at some of our local venues. Programs were still being finalized at press time and could change based on current conditions; patrons are advised to call or check the website for updates and to familiarize themselves with Covid -19 crowd limits and protocols beforehand.
Tarrytown Music Hall on April 18 hosted its first live event in 13 months, in essence a rehearsal for what is hoped to be a return to robust scheduling later this year. “Intermission is over, please return to your seats!” Olsson posted on the music hall’s website.
He said everything went well during the inaugural show by Paris Monster, which he called “a very soft opening” to help his staff work through the Covid protocols.
The Main Street theater has scheduled a May 1 performance by singer-songwriter Milton and may host some movie nights as Olsson begins assembling a schedule that kicks off by summer and gradually gets back in full swing by fall. He’s encouraged that concertgoers have held onto their tickets for postponed shows.
“I always try to find a silver lining,” he said in early April. “This shutdown, this yearlong absence, has made people who didn’t realize it before, realize there’s nothing that can replace it, this deep human need to experience things with other humans.”
But, “it’s still not over,” he admitted. “There’s no telling if we’re going to have audiences back at 100 percent for the fall so we’ve got to be prepared to not be profitable, or prepare at least for that possibility… We’re going to keep working on making sure that we have enough cash to get us through but so far knock on wood we’ve been able to both keep the lights on and our staff employed.”
Mark Morganelli is planning to open his Jazz Forum Arts with the sounds of Brazil — 15 months after the Tarrytown club closed in March 2020. Pianist Helio Alves will lead a trio on May 28, to start a June schedule of live sets celebrating the club’s fourth anniversary that includes piano trios fronted by Monty Alexander, Christian Sands, Bill Charlap, Joey Alexander and George Cables. An increase to 50 percent capacity would allow him to host 45-50 people in the Dixon Lane club.
With the help of a state grant, Morganelli also is restarting his Jazz Forum Arts free outdoor summer concert series after a one-year Covid-related absence. The series starts July 7 in Dobbs Ferry and concludes Aug. 27 at Tarrytown’s Pierson Park. There will be no indoor rain contingencies for safety reasons.
Morganelli, a flugelhornist who leads the Jazz Forum All-Stars, reflected recently on the dozens of musicians he knew who died during the pandemic, including celebrated trumpeter Wallace Roney, who played at the club.
“We sustained a huge loss in the jazz community,” he said, “so we are extremely excited to not only present these concerts but to have the musicians who we know are so excited and thrilled to be able to have gigs again because they haven’t had any work and make some money and play with each other in front of live audiences. I think the public needs it, the musicians need it, we all need it.”
A return to live music is scheduled for Aug. 13 at the Paramount Hudson Valley Theater in Peekskill, with the BStreetBand performing a Bruce Springsteen tribute. What Executive Director Abigail Adams called a “soft opening” at the 1,057-seat theater commences a schedule stretching into the fall that’s been a juggling act to put together due to a litany of postponements.
“To be honest it’s like a game of Tetris,” Adams said recently “Trying to reschedule all these acts is crazy and getting them geographically spread out so they can perform without competing against each other.”
She added: “We don’t know how people are going to feel coming back, but my gut is telling me that everybody is ready and hungry for live music.”
Adams said she’s grateful the audience has stuck with them during months of livestreams, underscoring the role the Paramount and other such venues play in their towns.
“Everybody’s struggling during this, but we need people to come out and support the arts,” Adams said. “They’re important to the success of businesses. It’s not just the theater, we bring people to the downtowns, to restaurants, so we’re all in this together.”
After a one-year absence, the RiverArts Music Tour — a day of free outdoor concerts covering a variety of musical genres — returns June 5 (rain date June 6).
The communities of Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings-on-Hudson, Irvington, Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow and Yonkers will play host to a variety of performances, with an online map guiding visitors. The event caps off with an open mic night on the grounds of the Hastings-on-Hudson VFW building.
The Irvington Theater’s September-through-May season has been an all-virtual affair, but the theater is planning to welcome audiences this summer during a series of outdoor events.
An outdoor film series that would run in June, July and August is under discussion, and the theater is working with an arts partner to present an outdoor play in July, said theater manager Greg Allen.
For three weekends in August, the theater is partnering with the newly formed Irvington Shakespeare Company to present “a reimagined, 90-minute” production of the Bard’s romantic comedy “Twelfth Night” at the village’s O’Hara Nature Center.
Allen voiced the emotions experienced by so many others when he described the huge hole left by the absence of the arts.
“I’ve been in my theater during this time by myself and there’s nothing worse than an empty theater without having the sound of an audience and the sound of performers on that stage,” he said. “So it’s been an empty, lonely feeling.”
Allen is cautiously optimistic as he sees the performing arts slowly reemerge, and is looking forward to the outdoor events. But “I do long for the day when our doors can reopen and we can allow people back inside our building,” he said.