Arts community leaders plead for social distancing

Local theater patrons are hoping that the now dark Ellen Eccles Theatre and other Cache Valley performing arts venues will come back to life after statewide social distancing guidelines are relaxed.

LOGAN – Cache Valley performing arts organizers and managers have added their voices to the rising chorus of calls for Utahns to hold the line on statewide social distancing and self-isolation guidelines.

Heretical as it may seem, even theater professionals whose livelihoods depend on performing for large audiences are urging their friends, neighbors and patrons to just stay at home for the time being.

“What you do over the next few weeks can either help or hinder the return of some of your favorite events this summer and fall,” said Wendi Hassan, the executive director of the Cache Center for the Arts, in an open letter to performing arts patrons. “By following some simple guidelines, you may help save summer and fall fun for Cache Valley and all of Utah.”

The joint letter was co-signed by the founders and managers of Utah’s most prestigious performing arts organizations, including the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, the Utah Opera, the Utah Symphony, the Utah Arts Festival and 20 others.

Like all of Utah’s performance spaces, the Cache Center for the Performing Arts and the adjoining Ellen Eccles Theatre have been closed since mid-March due to the Coronavirus outbreak. The CVCA was forced to postpone the final offerings of its 2019-20 season including the touring production of “AIRPLAY” and a “Sons of the Pioneers” concert. Local productions of “The Firebird” by the Cache Valley Civic Ballet as well as “Magic Hat Shop” and “ITER” by the Valley Dance Ensemble were cancelled, along with the center’s usual schedule of art classes.

“Like everyone in the arts community,” Hassan says, “I’d like nothing better than to open our doors tomorrow and start performing again. But that would be the worst thing we could do now, if it meant that our audiences would eventually become ill. But, if we can ride this out for a few more weeks, the crisis might ease and our local summer theater programs could begin as usual.”

In the meantime, the arts community letter echoes the common sense guidance being provided by state and local officials: “While at home, stay home. If you must venture out, only do so for food, medicine or essential work. If you go out for needed exercise, please follow social distancing guidelines. Wash your hands often and refrain from touching your face. The small steps that you take now can help stop this virus for you, your neighbors and your community.”

The arts community plea for self-discipline comes too late, however, to save the 2020 season of the Lyric Repertory Company. Artistic director Richie Call announced April 2 that his troupe’s summer theater season had been postponed until 2021.

Until recently, Call had hoped to preserve the Lyric’s summer season by delaying the start of rehearsals until mid-May. But the latest round of extensions of social distancing guidelines from state and Utah State University officials finally made postponement of the Lyric’s promised “Six Hot Shows in Three Cool Venues” the only reasonable course of action to safeguard the welfare of both audiences and performers.

But Hassan still hopes that the rate of Coronavirus infection will flatten enough by mid-May that social distancing guidelines will be relaxed and the Utah Festival Opera season can proceed. Michael Ballam, the founding general director of UFOMT, was still signalling that the show must go on as of April 2.

“When this emergency has passed and our social interaction returns to normal,” Hassan says, “all (performing arts) events will be an important part of the recovery. They will provide people with a sense of community, local pride and the opportunity to return to the kinds of social interaction that build and maintain strong neighbors and communities.

“Help us flatten the curve (of infection) now in order to help your favorite events return as soon as possible.”

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1 Comment

  • Sue Nuhn April 3, 2020 at 5:22 pm Reply

    The show must go on but what about us? As a summer citizen with no place to stay (USU program cancelled), I would hope we would receive refunds on our opera tickets. If not, I would not pre-order tickets in future years and I have a feeling most others of us from the Southwest would not either. Since we make up the majority of the Utah Opera Festival audience, do they really want to alienate us?

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