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Baltimore Center Stage postpones, shortens 2020-21 season of live performances due to coronavirus pandemic

Center Stage is delaying the start of its 2020-21 season by four months.
Center Stage is delaying the start of its 2020-21 season by four months. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

The coronavirus pandemic didn’t merely cut short this year’s slate of plays and concerts. It has already begun truncating the list of live public performances that will be mounted next year in Baltimore and the nation.

Baltimore Center Stage announced Thursday that it will delay the start of live shows for its 2020-2021 season by four months and will reopen to the public in late January.

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Joseph Ritsch, producing artistic director of Rep Stage, the professional theater in residence at Howard Community College, also has scrapped productions previously planned for September and November. But he Is tentatively planning to reopen Rep Stage to the public Dec. 3 for a two-week run of the musical revue “Side by Side With Sondheim.”

Other local arts groups, from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, aren’t Immediately divulging whether their stage lights will go on this fall — or possibly, not until winter.

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“All of our fingers and all of our toes are crossed in the hopes that we’ll be able to proceed with live productions in 2021,” Center Stage artistic director Stephanie Ybarra said.

Instead of the typical slate of six mainstage performances, next year Center Stage will mount four “with the necessary health and safety protocols to help keep our artists and audience safe,” Ybarra said.

Other safety protocols at Center Stage call for drastically reducing the number of tickets that are sold. The troupe’s largest theater, the 541-seat Pearlstone Theatre, won’t be used for performances until May.

The smaller, flexible Head Theatre, which could be rearranged to accommodate between 215 and 400 patrons, will be reconfigured to hold about 120 seats.

That restrained approach to reopening is consistent with decisions made by other theaters nationwide.

Earlier this week, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington canceled all productions scheduled for the fall. And officials for the Broadway League have said publicly that they are unlikely to mount performances before early 2021.

In Baltimore, many troupes’ plans remain on hold.

A spokeswoman for the Hippodrome wrote simply, “The Hippodrome does not have any news, as things are changing daily.” An Everyman Theatre spokeswoman said an announcement on its plans for the fall will be made In July.

A spokeswoman for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company wrote in an email that no definitive plans for the fall season have yet been made, and the BSO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Even those troupes that have made plans to reopen in early 2021 emphasize that production details announced now are subject to change, due to unknowable and potentially game-changing variables such as the potential availability of a COVID-19 vaccine or a second wave of infections.

”These schedules could shift because of the pandemic,” Ritsch said. “It’s important for the public to know that.”

Though Center Stage won’t begin live productions until late January, it will mount a slate of virtual programs and staged readings beginning in August, including a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women in the U.S. the right to vote. Several, though not all, of these online events be free.

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Though the virtual programming is crucial to Center Stage’s mission, Ybarra can’t wait to welcome a live audience back inside her Mount Vernon theater.

”There is so much we don’t know about what the future holds for our city and our organization,“ she said. “But one thing is crystal clear: there’s no going back to what was before.

“I just hope the world behaves itself.”

What next?

Another opening, another show? Below are details, as of June 25, about the live productions planned for 2021 at Baltimore Center Stage and at Columbia’s Rep Stage.

Baltimore Center Stage:

”The Swindlers: A True-ish Tall Tale,” Jan. 29-Feb. 28, 2021. This world commission by playwright Noah Diaz, whose affecting “Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally” ran at Center Stage in February, is based on the story of Diaz’s con artist grandfather.

“A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction,” March 25-April 25, 2021. This one-actor show about climate change will be the first opportunity Baltimore audiences have to view a professional production of a work by Miranda Rose Hall, a local playwright whose star has been ascending rapidly nationwide.

”Our Town,” April 29-May 23, 2021. Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece is Ybarra’s favorite play, and this production will have a Baltimore setting and use a mix of professional actors and community volunteers. “Our Town’s famous third act, in which the dearly departed discuss life on earth, could seem almost unbearably timely in the era of COVID-19,” Ybarra said.

“The Garden,” May 27-June 27, 2021. The Tony-nominated actress Charlayne Woodard is also a playwright; this work chronicles the relationship between a mother and daughter.

Rep Stage:

”Side by Side with Sondheim,” Dec. 3-20. This compilation of songs by musical theater maestro Stephen Sondheim ruminates on the bittersweet nature of life and relationships.

“Ghost/Writer,” Feb. 18-March 7, 2021, by Dane Figueroa Edidi. A world premiere by the Baltimore-born writer and performer moves back and forth between 1920 and the present. Characters include an Irish immigrant, a Black woman who exorcises ghosts, and an author with a killer case of writer’s block.

“The Moors,” April 29-May 16, 2021. Author Jen Silverman mashes together the Bronte Sisters with Alfred Hitchcock to tell a darkly comic fable of the English moors, a hapless governess, a devious scullery maid and a talking hen.

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