Live arts return – Albeit slowly, and with COVID-inspired caution

October 2021 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Community

By Melissa Wagoner

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, in the spring of 2020, the students at Silverton Ballet and Performing Arts Company were weeks away from the annual spring recital. The culmination of months – if not years – of practice and hard work, it was never really an option to cancel the show. Instead, studio owner Paula Magee got creative, moving the performance to her own backyard and breaking it up into smaller groups. 

“It took four full days to get through every class, but the kids were so excited,” she recalled.

Then, in June 2021 – with the pandemic somewhat under control – Magee’s students returned to the stage, holding that year’s recital in Silverton High School’s auditorium for a very limited crowd.

“[W]e were able to be in the theater, still one class at a time, socially distanced, with limited audience,” Magee said, describing the many health and safety protocols still needed to make the performance possible. While at the same time adding, “It was just so amazing to be back in the theater again, on an actual stage.”

She’s not alone in feeling that way. In the past five months artists across the country have rejoiced as, little by little, live art has returned. 

It’s still tenuous as COVID numbers remain high. Few – including the Brush Creek Players, organizers of community theater held in the Brush Creek Playhouse – are willing to plan too far into the future.

“The Brush Creek Players are in good shape and ready to return to the stage when we are confident that both casts and audiences will both be safe and feel safe staging shows and attending performances,” board member Michael Wood said when asked about this year’s schedule. 

It’s an understandable position. Forced to cancel the last week of performances in March 2020 – a show the cast had been rehearsing since early January – the players are nervous when it comes to committing to another big show. 

“We had hoped to restart our schedule this fall but with the rise of the Delta variant we decided to hold off a bit,” Wood said. 

“We plan to open our 2022 season with our annual children’s show – but we haven’t made a final decision on whether that will be late February/early March (as it normally would) or a bit later in the spring.”

Also utilizing a wait-and-see approach is the Missoula Children’s Theater.

“Silverton is the longest standing sponsor of the Missoula Children’s Theatre in the world,” community liaison Don Kelley said of Silverton’s relationship with the organization. Before COVID hit there had been 38 annual shows. 

“It broke my heart to not be able to schedule for our kids for the last two years,” he added.

Fortunately, MCT generally visits in late spring, nearly eight months away, providing Kelley with some hope that this year will be different.

“We are tentatively scheduled for next June,” he said.

Also cautiously planning for the future is Graystone Lounge owner Joshua Echo-Hawk.

“[W]e are hesitant to move into it too quickly,” Echo-Hawk said.  He and  his wife, Paige, purchased Graystone Lounge only weeks before the pandemic started. “We can’t create a situation that isn’t following common sense during this current situation.”

Instead, Echo-Hawk has begun hosting single performers in his other venture, the Irish Pub, for “Piano Bar Saturday”.

“[Y]ou can hear folks singing along all the way out on the street,” he said. “It’s been a terrific response – and we know it’s because people want to enjoy love music in public again.”

It not just music, theater and dance. Other arts are also seeing a resurgence of interest. The Silverton Arts Association is offering in-person and livestream art instruction in a variety of art forms.

“Nurturing arts expression, especially for our youth, is a top priority for the association,” board member and artist Jonathan Case said. “We have a lot of experienced, talented teachers who live in the area, and many are proficient in both traditional and new media. In spite of the limits imposed by COVID, our creative folks need to continue to grow and thrive, and we’re trying to enable that.”

Creativity can be helpful in coping with difficult times.

“I saw firsthand what performing meant to our students. They have all had so much ripped away from them these past 18 months. The pride they had in their accomplishments, and the joy they felt performing for a few family members was palpable,” Magee said. 

“In a time of such uncertainty, it was a little slice of normalcy for all of us; parents, teachers and dancers alike,” she added.

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