Theatre: Local theatres plan for the return of in-person programming. Courtesy Photo

After over a year without live performances, there is palatable optimism emanating from local theatres as they make tentative plans for the return of in-person programming.

Starting this summer and expanding further during the fall, audiences will be welcomed back to performing arts venues across Santa Monica, although the experience will likely look a little different than they remember. Think capacity restrictions, pop up outdoor venues, and potentially showing proof of vaccination.

Plans remain murky for the moment as directors await further guidelines from the County, but one thing is certain: everyone is absolutely jazzed by the prospect of in-person performances.

“The one thing that makes live performance different from any other art form, is the word ‘LIVE’,” said Evelyn Rudie, co-artistic director of the Santa Monica Playhouse. “There is simply nothing like it — it’s a relationship with everything the word entails, and we feel that it is this connection that makes theatre such a vital component in the health and wellbeing of our local and global communities.”

Currently live performances, both indoors and outdoors, are allowed in L.A. County. However there is a 15 percent capacity restriction that makes it financially unviable for all but the largest of venues to reopen.

So while the 20,000 seat Staples Center is back in business, most local venues are awaiting Governor Newsom’s planned regulation relaxation on June 15 before they set performance dates.

This summer and fall’s art scene will likely be characterized by smaller scale events such as one act plays, open mics, variety shows, and limited cast performances.

“I’m planning right now that we will be back in the theatre in some capacity after the Fourth of July and then hopefully we’ll have a live audience in the theatre by the end of July or the beginning of August,” said Mike Myers, managing director of the Ruskin Group Theatre.

Some of the first live performances will happen in creative outdoor settings, which allow for easier socially distanced seating.

The Ruskin is hoping to launch an outdoor variety show at the Back on the Beach Cafe this summer while the Broad Stage is planning an outdoor run of six person opera ‘Birds in the Moon’ using a repurposed shipping container as a stage.

Full-scale indoor shows with packed audiences, extensive sets, big casts, and multiple performances may have to wait until the new year. Currently the Morgan-Wixson Theatre and the Broad Stage are looking to January 2022 as the start date for their next ‘normal’ theatrical season.

While the pandemic has been utterly devastating for the arts, local performance organizations were still able to find some silver linings.

For the Santa Monica Playhouse, the past year provided an opportunity to vastly expand their outreach. Their Zoom classes attracted students from all over the country and as far afield as Israel. They plan on continuing some virtual classes and will livestream all their in-person performances to continue reaching an expanded audience.

During the pandemic, The Broad Stage began hosting Zoom discussions between audience members and artists, and would like to continue doing so in the future.

“These virtual events really open up a lot of doors, not only are we no longer bound by geography, but there’s an intimacy that develops when community members can engage in direct conversation with artists,” said Eric Bloom, Broad Stage director of artistic programming.

Both the Morgan-Wixson and the Broad Stage used the pandemic as an opportunity to work on their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. They hosted several virtual discussions around these subjects and plan on incorporating lessons learned into their company culture and upcoming show selections.

Looking forward audiences can expect a flourishing and tech-savvy theatre scene in Santa Monica with diverse casting and show offerings that are sure to delight.