Venues will likely start to open by summer, with various restrictions progressing in phases.
In the Wilmington area, many local businesses have begun to reopen from the coronavirus pandemic. The arts and area performance venues aren’t quite there yet.
“Our business is community. Bringing people together,” said Shane Fernando, executive and artistic director of the 1,550-seat Wilson Center at Cape Fear Community College, which hosts everything from Broadway tours and big-name concerts to smaller dance performances. “That does push us to the end of the line. No one wants to go back until it’s safe.”
That means it will be summer, or later, before the Wilmington area sees the full return of things like movies, concerts, plays, comedy shows and art openings.
The Wilson Center, for one, doesn’t have a definite re-opening date. The next scheduled concert at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater isn’t until Aug. 1 (guitarist Eric Gales).
“Touring is down,” Fernando said, adding that the Broadway tours the Wilson Center hosts, as well as many concerts by touring acts, are not possible financially if venue capacity is limited to 40 or 50 percent.
At historic Thalian Hall, the calendar on the downtown venue’s website doesn’t list any events until October, although it’s possible the Hall opens before that. (In Thalian’s studio theater upstairs, the set for “Puffs,” the Harry Potter parody that was running in mid-March when the Hall closed, is still intact, and will likely start back up when the Hall reopens.)
Rhonda Bellamy, director of the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, said artists and arts organizations are “looking at a real paradigm shift. It is definitely going to require us to rethink how we do business,” she said. “Up until now, we’ve all prided in being able to pack the house.”
Bellamy said Fourth Friday Gallery Nights, the monthly crawl of downtown galleries, won’t be back until at least June 26, if not later.
Arts groups and presenters are having to look at their programming in innovative ways. Big Dawg Productions and Panache Theatrical Productions, for example, just teamed up to present an audio-only theatrical experience via download, “The War of the Worlds.”
At the University of North Carolina Wilmington, events are shut down through summer, including the third annual Lumina Festival of the Arts, which has been moved to the spring of 2021.
Dr. Jeanine M. Ming, associate vice chancellor for community engagement and executive director of the office of the arts, said she and others at UNCW are working out a variety of scenarios for what arts events on campus might look like come fall.
“If we have to maintain virtual offerings in the fall, we will,” Minge said. “But I do think everyone’s really sick of screens right?”
At least of the hand-held variety. One option UNCW is looking at, Ming said, is a drive-in movie screening in partnership with the Cucalorus Festival.
Once performances do start again, things will be different than what was normal.
“It’s going to be a little more structured,” predicted Fernando, who’s on a task force advising N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper on the best ways to reopen everything from performance venues to outdoor festivals.
Masks and hand sanitizer could be required. “Concessions might be ordered ahead and brought to your seat,” Fernando said.
Still, by the time summer is in full swing, Fernando said, “I think you’ll see (most venues) opening back up in a limited capacity.”
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or John.Staton@StarNewsOnline.com.