On May 6, the woods of Merriweather Park in Columbia were filled with the sounds of music as musicians performed from the Chrysalis stage for the first time this year.
“We are open, and people are coming,” said Nina Basu, president and CEO of the Inner Arbor Trust, a nonprofit that controls Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, home of the Chrysalis. “It’s been incredibly popular.”
While the green, modern stage hosted two live performances in late 2020, the month of May signaled the opening of the Chrysalis stage for the summer season with performances and yoga sessions planned through August.
“We anticipate having at least one event every week,” said Basu, noting the smaller West Woods concert area of the Chrysalis was also now open for events.
The Chrysalis has already reached available capacity of between 300 and 350 attendees for events in May, Basu said. Starting June 1, the capacity will go up to 700, she said.
“Of course, we would love to have 5,000 people on the lawn again,” Basu said. “We are still trying to create appropriate distances between groups. We have a lot of offerings for children and families and want them to feel comfortable.”
Large circles — or pods — have been painted on the lawn around the Chrysalis to mark appropriate places to sit, Basu said. For the month of May, guests have been asked to leave their masks on while in their pod or walking around. In June, guests will only have to wear a mask while entering and exiting the property or while standing in line for concessions and restrooms.
Currently, there are no concessions available at the Chrysalis and guests are not allowed to eat or drink during performances, though bottled water is allowed. In June, concessions will once again be for sale. Guests will also be allowed to bring in their own food and nonalcoholic beverages to be consumed in their pods only.
“They’ve done a nice job,” said Katherine Keefe, executive director of the Columbia Orchestra, which performed “Peter and the Wolf” on May 25 to a capacity crowd. “There were circles on the lawn and families were sitting together.”
Orchestra members also were required to be safely distanced and wear masks, Keefe said. While the orchestra was able to get smaller groups together in the winter, to have more musicians onstage was a welcome change.
“We learned a lot about how to safely get people together,” Keefe said.
The Columbia Orchestra will return to the Chrysalis stage on June 26 for its symphonic pops concert. Traditionally a free event, tickets will be required this year, Keefe said.
“We plan by next summer to be back and offering a free concert,” Keefe said. “This year, we need to charge for that concert” as the pandemic prevented the orchestra from hosting live concerts.
The orchestra’s artistic partner, the Columbia Jazz Band, will also perform “A Swingin’ Evening” at the Chrysalis on June 19.
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“It is so great to be back in front of a live audience,” Keefe said. “There were a few tears. It was emotional for all of us.”