The long intermission is over:  Area arts organizations take the stage

Area actors, singers, dancers and musicians who have longed for performances for months hope they can now get back to full seasons of entertaining live audiences. The strong area arts season is revving up, even as leaders from many arts organizations and venues state they will continue to follow CDC and Minnesota Health Departments regulations and guidelines for safety measures in light of increasing COVID cases.

One of the first highlights of this fall is “Season Splash,” a free event at Wade Stadium on Sept. 9, which will include performances from many local non-profit arts organizations. 

The project was the brainchild of Sarah Lawrence of LOON opera. “This is a big thank you party for our community, a show of gratitude, a celebration of surviving the dark stages and a look ahead at what’s to come,” said Lawrence.  

Another of the event’s organizers, Chani Ninneman from Wise Fool Theater, said, “The performing arts organizations in Duluth are thrilled to have this opportunity to gather together and finally do what we do best after a long, uncertain pandemic.”

This past year, LOON Opera was among nine opera companies working with Decameron Opera Coalition to write and produce its own short opera for video streaming. 

“The Decameron project was such a success for us last year,” said LOON Artistic Director Sarah Lawrence. “It was seen in 42 states and 17 countries. We are thrilled to be doing this again this season.” In addition to the Decameron project, the rest of LOON’s 2021-22 season is still a work in progress, with a production of “Hansel and Gretel” slated for June. 

“We are chomping at the bit to be live again,” said Lawrence. “We learned a lot about technology and about how to make opera more accessible to more people. This season we will do everything we can to make our singers, orchestra and audiences safe as we hope to move into live performances.”

The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra’s 2021-22 season, “Come Together,” celebrates a return to togetherness and the shared experience of music with seven masterworks concerts and two pops concerts. 

Brandon VanWaeyenberghe, DSSO executive director, said, “We know the past year has been filled with uncertainty, but we are thrilled to be able to move forward with a full season for our community to enjoy. Our musicians have missed performing for full houses at the DECC, and while virtual concerts have helped us stay connected to each other, they can never replace the experience of being a part of a live concert.” 

The Minnesota Ballet’s 2021-22 season features the “Celebrity Dance Challenge” on Oct. 8 at Marshall School. Mainstage performances at the DECC include “Sleepy Hollow,” Oct. 29-31; “Nutcracker Suite: A Duluth Tale,” Dec. 10-12; “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Feb. 18-20; and an untitled spring production in May.

“I am proud of how our company members found ways to keep in shape and were disciplined in their approaches to staying ready to perform,” said Kelli Latuska, Minnesota Ballet’s executive director. “We had Zoom classes online, and we learned how to support each other and help find grants for artists who were out of work.” 

She added, “We are cautiously optimistic about the new season, but we feel that we are on a positive trajectory for our company and our audiences.”

In addition to DSSO concerts and Minnesota Ballet performances, the DECC is scheduled to host touring shows such as “I Love the 90s,” Home Free, an a cappella group, and “A Mannheim Steamroller Christmas.” There are many more that will be announced in the upcoming weeks, said Lucie Amundsen, the DECC’s new communications director. “The whole industry is ramping up and hiring, just like we are, so it’s all in the works.”

The DECC will continue to follow all government protocols and provide additional disinfecting to its high touch areas, said Amundsen, in addition to adding more hand sanitizing stations at the DECC.

“Entertaining is the soul of the DECC, and providing these memorable experiences is what the event organizers and entire staff are wired to do. Just knowing that we have acts and shows on the books is bringing excitement to the hallways here,” she said.

While the Duluth Playhouse held virtual performances over the last several months, it is anticipating a full season in all its venues, including the Norshor, The Depot, and the Underground theaters.

“I am ridiculously excited about the new season and the exciting productions we have planned,” said Phillip Fazio, who succeeded Christine Gradl Seitz as the Playhouse’s artistic director in 2020.

“We have so many great stories to tell, filled with everything that theater is supposed to do to hold up a mirror to society,” he said. “We are very ready to celebrate the arts after this last year.” 

Based on CDC and state recommendations at the time of performances, the Playhouse COVID protocols may include mask enforcement, vaccination and/or negative test verification, and more. These are subject to change and will be communicated to patrons in advance.

The Playhouse season will open with a production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” running Sept. 17-Oct. 3. The rest of the season includes “Annie,” Nov. 20-Dec. 19; “Clue,” Jan. 28-Feb. 13, 2022; “Ragtime,” March 18-April 3; “Diary of Anne Frank,” May 6-22; and “Footloose,” June 24-July 17.

Renegade Theater, Zeitgeist’s resident theater company, is eager to bring in live audiences with the first half of its season featuring three productions, and additional shows to be scheduled in 2022.

The run of “Daddy Long Legs” happened in August. The other two shows coming up are “Between” a one-person show about cultural identity performed Oct. 21-30, and “The Duluth Story Project,” Nov. 18-Dec. 4, which is based on interviews with underrepresented community members about dealing with COVID and racial and social unrest. 

Mary Fox, Renegade’s artistic director, said, “We are eternal optimists. As a scrappy little theater company, we have learned how to do things differently. Despite the stress and the lost revenue over the last year, we are hoping, with our policies and procedures, we can perform for our audiences again.”

Fox is also proud that Renegade and the entire Zeitgeist complex have taken the strongest stance on COVID measures. Audience members must have proof of a full-course COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result taken within the previous 72 hours. All Zeitgeist staff, and Renegade cast and crew, are 100 percent vaccinated. Masks are also required throughout the Zeitgeist Arts Building. Seating in the theater will be at a limited capacity of 88 as opposed to 120.