There was plenty to gripe about on our way out of 2020, and with good reason: for many, the considerable absence of live theatre and performance was catastrophic. But the survival instinct kicked in as well, with music and theatre groups hustling to find new ways of bringing their work to audiences. In some cases, what began as stopgaps meant to keep the lights on while riding out the pandemic turned into innovative new formats and techniques successful enough to stick around long after we stop social distancing.
“I think everyone was looking for a way to keep the performing arts in the public eye, safely,” said Chris Green of the St. Petersburg Opera Company, which has been putting on outdoor, pop-up style “POPera” performances all over town since the spring. The shows have been well attended, and a casual stroll down the SPO’s Facebook page finds no shortage of love and appreciation for these events.
“After our first set of POPera events, we have had members of our community reach out to bring the event to their location,” Green said. “We are certainly always open for more; one of our sayings is ‘Opera Is Everywhere’ and we intend to live up to that. We will bring POPera and Opera itself to our community in any way that we can.”
With SPO’s POPera performances held in such varied locations – from outside the Museum of Fine Arts to Cage Brewing – they’re accessible and comfortable to just about anyone, whether they’re new to opera or seasoned concertgoers. Some locations are free and others require advanced purchase of tickets. Free locations are BYOS (bring your own seating] and may or may or may not have refreshment options, while purchase locations have seating options, refreshments and on-site restrooms.
“We are fortunate that many of our partners in the arts have outdoor spaces that lend themselves well to socially distancing and outdoor performances,” said Green.
With outdoor performances being key in the pandemic, freeFall Theatre Company took things a step further in a move that the theater hopes will pay off in 2021 and beyond. The company transform part of its venue on Central Avenue into a permanent, outdoor stage to show live, drive-in radio version of “War of the Worlds” back in October.
“Eric (Davis, Artistic Director) and team knew we had the property and parking to do an outdoor experience of some kind. They also wanted it to be safe for performers and audience members,” Matthew McGee, Outreach/Marketing Director of the freeFall, said. “Initially, there were so many obstacles. Building the stage and creating the tech were big challenges both artistically and financially. We had to create a whole new theatre.”
Not only did freeFall overcome, but the show was such a hit that the theater extended its run. When the time came to consider a holiday show, freeFall’s team took the drive-in model and applied it successfully to its production of “A Chirstmas Carol in Concert,” which ran to a packed parking lot through Christmas Eve.
If the arts community can bring big, bright lights to a dark 2020 with the likes of POPera and drive-in theatre, there’s much to look forward to in 2021.