Arts Groups Get Creative to Resume Programming Safely

After shutting down for months and facing financial uncertainty, arts organizations in Lakeland are finding creative ways to continue their missions under conditions intended to keep patrons and performers safe.

Along the way, they’ve had to face new questions: Can the coronavirus spread farther if it is blasted from a trombone? Should ballet dancers wear masks as they pirouette and leap?

“It’s gotten to the point now that we’re past the frustration because we’re doing something,” said Amy Wiggins, executive director of the Imperial Symphony Orchestra.

Her sentiment was echoed by other directors of arts organizations that have scheduled events for the fall and beyond, albeit in different venues or in more limited ways than usual. Here is a roundup of the status of these groups and what they have planned.

FLORIDA DANCE THEATRE

Over the summer, Florida Dance Theatre produced a video of a new production, “Six Feet Together: A Series of Responses to the World,” billed as “a digital concert of short dance films.” The video was viewable for a fee and was screened as part of a fundraising event the organization held in July – at the Silver Moon Drive-In, which allowed for plenty of social distancing. About 130 people attended, said Jermaine Thornton, executive director.

Jermaine Thornton

Thornton said the company is working on a new virtual concert, plus “a few collaborations” for the fall, including a performance of some of the dances from “The Nutcracker” with the Imperial Symphony. The Dance Theatre is also working on its own version of the “Nutcracker” using students from its academy.

The theater’s academy is holding a full slate of dance classes this fall, Thornton said, although class sizes are reduced and safety measures are being observed.

IMPERIAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Handout photo Amy Wiggins

The Imperial Symphony has settled on a strategy of doing its usual three concerts in the fall but at an outdoor venue, the 10,000-square-foot Aerospace Pavilion at the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo in Lakeland.

After the orchestra played a Flag Day concert in another Sun ‘n Fun facility in June, Wiggins and others realized the venue had not only the space for musicians and patrons to spread out but also the necessary amenities such as lighting, sound and restrooms.

“Everyone is hungry for something to do, for the healing and joy music has the power to bring,” she said.

The concerts will be abbreviated, at about one hour each, and the programs will be tailored for a smaller number of musicians. The October 13 concert will consist of one work, Franz Schubert’s six-movement chamber piece, Octet in F major, requiring just eight musicians.

Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” will be on tap for November 10, and a Christmas concert featuring the “Land of the Sweets” dances from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” is scheduled for December 8 with dancers from the Florida Dance Theatre joining the orchestra.

There are plans to live-stream the concerts at no charge.

In addition to the live concerts, Wiggins said the orchestra will offer a Salon Series of four virtual concerts this fall, available free through the Imperial Symphony website, from the Pinewood Estate at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales. As the name of the series suggests, the concerts will be intimate, featuring chamber music. The first concert, on September 27, will have works for violin, piano and cello by Beethoven.

LAKELAND COMMUNITY THEATRE

 Lakeland Community Theatre already has one show under its belt, staging the fractured-fairy-tale comedy “Disenchanted” earlier this month. Two more productions are scheduled for the fall – the Sherlock Holmes-themed mystery comedy “Baskerville” on the weekend of November 6 and for Christmas, “Elf: The Musical” on the weekend of December 4. In addition, there is a children’s show, “Stellaluna,” on the weekend of October 9.

Alan Reynolds

A full slate of shows is scheduled for the spring and summer as well.

Reynolds said the seating at the Lake Mirror Center has been restricted to 90 audience members for each show, or about 25 percent of capacity. All those seats were filled for the performances of “Disenchanted,” he said.

“Zoom is not theater. Readings on the internet are not theater,” he said. “It was nice to sit in the dark and hear people laugh again. Theater is essential.”

LKLD LIVE

Lkld Live, a nonprofit venue for live performances, has been the home of the Swan City Improv comedy troupe. Shows by the improv group resumed earlier this month, and are scheduled for roughly every two weeks, said Nate Fleming, executive director of Lkld Live. There are also stage readings scheduled for the weekend of September 25.

Nate Fleming

In addition, shows are lined up for October, including “Walrus,” a Beatles singalong concert, and a murder-mystery show for Halloween.

Fleming said he has reduced the seating capacity of Lkld Live to nine tables, or about 36 audience members, to allow for social distancing.

“It was not an easy decision to reopen because things are not 100 percent safe,” he said. “But it was a necessity because of our expenses. We’re doing everything we can to keep things going.”

PLATFORM ART

Platform Art’s mission has narrowed in recent years to concentrate on the creation of public works of art. In July, it facilitated the creation of a “Sound Wall,” a kinetic sculpture, which was donated to Bonnet Springs Park.

The organization has a new project lined up, a sculpture honoring the Buffalo Soldiers, the Black U.S. Army unit that was briefly stationed in Lakeland before it fought in the Spanish-American War. The sculpture, which Pennsylvania artist Becky Ault has been commissioned to create, will be placed at Veterans Memorial Park when completed, said Cynthia Haffey, executive director of Platform Art. A series of receptions and presentations related to the Buffalo Soldiers is planned, with the first scheduled for January at the outdoor patio of the Red Door.

POLK MUSEUM OF ART

The Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College reopened on Sept. 8, with its exhibitions from the spring, when the museum was forced to close, still hanging through the end of the month. A recent article gives details on the reopening and the museum’s plans for the upcoming season.

POLK THEATRE

After closing for three months in the spring, the historic Polk Theatre resumed film screenings and hosting live events in June. It also created a “Virtual Cinema” series that allows patrons to rent and view independent and foreign films at home. Upcoming films at the theater, with reduced seating, will be a series of classics and fan favorites, including “Bull Durham” on Friday. Check a list of upcoming events.

Four live events are scheduled for the fall, including two tribute rock concerts – “7 Bridges: The Ultimate Eagles Experience” on Oct. 4 and “The Hits of the Brits: The Beatles and the Rolling Stones” on Nov. 14.

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