Now others are following suit. There are big examples: Lincoln Center, the vast New York nonprofit, has announced that it will create 10 outdoor spaces for performance on its plaza, starting next month, while the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Playwrights Horizons are planning to stage Aleshea Harris’s play, “What to Send Up When It Goes Down,” in June in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
And on Monday, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association said it anticipates limited-capacity live performances at the Hollywood Bowl this summer.
The finances are complicated so long as there are capacity limits imposed by health officials. For some, performing outdoors promises more revenue than working indoors with social distancing.
“I was sitting in my theater alone, looking out at the empty seats, and realized that if audiences were forced to sit six feet apart, it reduced my audience size from 80 to 12, which is not a robust financial model to present to your board of directors,” said Stephen Sachs, a co-founder and artistic director of the Fountain Theater. “So why not go outside?”
But for larger organizations that cost more to sustain, capacity limits pose a different challenge. In San Diego, the Old Globe says that, at least in the near term, it might only be allowed 124 people in its 620-seat outdoor theater.
“Just to turn on the lights requires an investment that will eat up most of what those seats will yield,” said the theater’s artistic director, Barry Edelstein. “It’s just incredibly challenging to figure out what we can afford to do — maybe a little cabaret, or maybe a one-person performance of some kind.”
Nonetheless, Edelstein said he expects, like his peers, to present work outside soon. “There is a lot of stuff happening outdoors — dining, religious services, sports,” he said. “We’re not really fulfilling our mission if we’re sitting here closed.”
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