Intermission is Ending: Live, In-Person Performing Arts Return to Kent State After 16-Month Hiatus
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the performing arts to halt their work in March 2020, the industry and Kent State University’s College of the Arts had no idea how long the self-described “intermission” would last. In keeping with the protocols set by the university and the state of Ohio, music, theatre and dance performances within the College were suspended or moved to a virtual format for the remainder of the Spring semester.
School of Theatre and Dance director Eric van Baars spoke words of encouragement to the college and the entire university in May 2020 when he reminded that “we are all in this show together now, waiting in the wings and in preparation for the lights to come back on, the orchestra to cue, and the audience to take their seats, and to hear that most magical word in the theatre – “places” – to be called again.”
After taking time to regroup, Kent State’s Schools of Music and Theatre and Dance pivoted over and over throughout 2020 and 2021 to find new and innovative ways to keep the performing arts and performing arts education alive in the midst of the pandemic. Concerts and productions were scaled down and adapted, performances were recorded from home and edited together, rehearsals and costume fittings took place over Zoom, instruments were played while students were masked, and more. And, while this time of “intermission” was not an easy one, it demonstrated the fortitude and creativity of the performing arts and how essential the arts are to everyday life.
Now, more than 16 months after safety protocols suspended in-person music, theatre, and dance performances, “intermission” is finally ending around the world and at Kent State University. This summer, after more than a year of uncertainty and due to the easing of COVID-related restrictions, the School of Theatre and Dance and the School of Music were able to successfully resume their celebrated Porthouse Theatre and Kent Blossom Music Festival (KBMF) programs.
Both organizations were forced to make difficult decisions regarding programming and audience capacities. Porthouse’s normal 10 month period of preparation and planning was condensed to less than 10 weeks for a season of musicals with smaller casts, limited sets and costumes, and reduced overall staffing. Producing artistic director Terri Kent wrote to Porthouse’s nearly 4,000 annual subscribers to announce the season and expressed sentiments of caution and hope as the theatre prepared to return to live performances – even if everything wouldn’t quite be business as usual. Regardless of the challenges, however, Porthouse remained committed to presenting as robust of an in-person summer season as possible, highlighting her mantra that “our work is only complete when it is shared with an audience.”
Kent Blossom Music Festival, Kent State’s advanced music training institute in cooperation with The Cleveland Orchestra and Blossom Music Center, faced the challenge of facilitating chamber music effectively while maintaining COVID-19 protocols and keeping KBMF participants safe. When it became apparent that the educational component of KBMF, in which students from around the world take study with Kent State music faculty and members of the Cleveland Orchestra, could not occur in person, the decision was made to go virtual. “Live, in-the moment, collaborative interaction is crucial when working with a small ensemble,” explained KBMF director Ricardo Sepulveda. “The virtual environment allowed us to engage with our young artists…and provide them with expanded opportunities for masterclasses with our guest artists.”
As university and state safety protocols were gradually reduced as summer approached, both Kent Blossom Music Festival and Porthouse were able to relax their policies and increase their audience seating to full capacity for concerts and performances. Both organizations continued to offer streaming as an option for patrons who were not yet comfortable attending in person. Additionally, Porthouse was able to re-open its iconic pre-show picnic spaces and bring back opening night parties.
The resumption of live, in-person programming at Porthouse Theatre and Kent Blossom Music Festival marks the first milestone in a return of the performing arts to Kent State and the wider northeast Ohio community in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the College of the Arts continues to operation with caution, in-person live performances and programming is planned for the upcoming Fall semester in the Schools of Theatre and Dance and Music. Additionally, in-person gallery shows in the School of Art, The School of Fashion’s annual Fashion Week, and exhibits at the Kent State University Museum round out the College’s arts programming for the coming year.
After nearly a year and a half, “intermission” is ending and Kent State’s performing artists are more than ready to see the lights come up, hear the chatter of the audience, and hear the stage manager say that magic word: “Go.”
Kent Blossom Music Festival’s 2021 in-person performance season runs through the end of July and has featured performances by Kulas Visiting Artists Paul Huang (violin), Helen Huang (piano), Demarre McGill (flute), Rodolofo Leone (piano); the Miami String Quartet; and members of the Cleveland Orchestra. For more information about Kent Blossom Music Festival, visit www.kent.edu/blossom.
Porthouse Theatre’s 2021 season runs through Aug. 15 and has featured productions of “Quilters,” “BKLYN the Musical,” and “Altar Boyz.” For more information about Porthouse Theatre, visit www.porthousetheatre.com.