Arts news for Sarasota-Manatee: March 21-27

Jay Handelman
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Audiences wearing face masks are among the safety protocols being followed by a group of local arts organizations as they return to and expand live, in-person performances indoors and outside.

Arts groups focus 
on safety protocols

Nine Sarasota performing arts organizations have been working together for months to develop safety standards and protocols to keep audiences, artists and staff members safe as they reopen after months of shutdowns.

The organizations have set up a website, SarasotaArts.org/SafeArts, which features details of those protocols and links to each individual organization’s own safety standards.

Involved are Asolo Repertory Theatre, Circus Arts Conservatory, Florida Studio Theatre, The Hermitage Artist Retreat, The Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Orchestra, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.

Leaders of the organization have been meeting throughout the year to share lessons learned in each genre of the performing arts.

“The pandemic has truly shown us that while we are different, we are all one,” the leaders said in a statement. “Each arts organization wants to return to ‘normal’ so that we can go back to doing what we love to do – providing access to high quality entertainment as we enrich the lives of our beloved community. We know that this return to ‘normal’ won’t be an overnight process, but we believe that standing together behind mask policies and social distancing guidelines is an important step in the right direction.”

As these companies begin opening up – both indoors and outside – they and other organizations are requiring audience members to wear face masks and maintain safe social distancing. 

American Stage will stream a pre-recorded preview performance of Natalie Symons’ “The People Downstairs,” the play that was scheduled to open in March 2020 when the theater was forced to shut down because of the coronavirus. From left, Allen Fitzpatrick, Teri Lazzara, Sara Oliva and Matthew McGee.

American Stage easing  
back into in-person shows

American Stage in St. Petersburg plans to resume live, in-person performances later this spring, but has canceled its annual American Stage in the Park production and spring gala, as it focuses on safety issues.

The company plans an outdoor production of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in Williams Park in St. Petersburg and some Pop-Up performances in the city as it eases into performing in front of live audiences after a year of virtual programming.

“The American Stage is ready and very excited to begin to carefully return to onsite performances,” CEO and Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte said in a statement. “By employing high safety standards to protect performers, staff, artists and audiences, and through creative approaches to content and staging, our goal is to begin to restore the joy of joining together for live performance experiences.”

In advance of the live shows, it will present a pre-recorded preview performance of Natalie Symons’ family comedy “The People Downstairs.” It was set to open last March when the coronavirus forced the theater to shut down. It will be available for home streaming March 29-April for American Stage members only.

Pop-Up performances, which are socially distanced live programs presented around the community in locations including The Factory St. Pete, will be scheduled in May. “Romeo & Juliet” will be presented in a modern retelling during the summer. Later this year, the theater also will announce plans for its 2021-22 season and welcome a new producing artistic director who will succeed Gularte. She announced last year that would step down after five years because of health issues.

American Stage Improv also will be back in August. For more details, visit americanstage.org

Jay Handelman, arts editor and theater critic, has been an editor and writer at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune since 1984. Read more of his arts and entertainment stories. And please support local journalism by subscribing to the Herald-Tribune.