Still closed, performing arts venues get creative

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — As Michigan gyms get the green light from the governor to reopen, performance venues wonder when they will be allowed to let people in.

The Kalamazoo State Theatre is preparing for a variety of scenarios, planning every aspect of what a concert would look like with coronavirus health and safety precautions in place.

“We have a plan for if we can open for 150 people. We have a plan if we can open for 25% capacity,” Stephanie Hinman, the executive director of the venue, said. 

“There are a lot of details that go into it,” she continued. “What does that look like with temperature checks and getting to ticket scanning and the concessions line and getting safely to your seat?” 

Even with empty seats, the Kalamazoo State Theatre keeps pushing forward and bringing in at least a little revenue by streaming concerts online.

“It has been a challenge and an opportunity to be really creative and think about not so much what we can’t do but what we can,” Hinman said. 

Jay Berkow, the director of music theater performance at Western Michigan University, said the pandemic has been especially challenging on the performing arts. 

“We’re talking about an entire industry that’s really been shut down. All of Broadway is shuttered, all national tours are shuttered, most major regional theaters are shuttered,” Berkow said. 

Her students are rehearsing outside with masks and planning to perform the musical “Sunday in the Park with George” outside on campus starting Sept. 18. Tickets are available for multiple shows at the Gilmore Theatre box office.

“The audience has to wear masks as well, and when you’re sitting down, you’re given kind of a section of the audience to sit in where you can be with the people that you came with but you can’t be closer than 6 feet to anyone else in the audience,” Berkow said. 

The program is also working with a company that makes clear masks so the audience can see the expression on the faces of the actors and actresses. 

Inside the Kalamazoo State Theatre on Sept. 4, 2020. The theater has been shut down for more than five months under of the governor’s coronavirus mitigation orders.

Even if indoor venues like the Kalamazoo State Theatre are limited to a digital audience for now, the business appreciates the support it is receiving from the fans. 

“Big thank you to the community for tuning in, because when people do that, we get the positive reinforcement we need,” Hinman said.