The Hult Center's Silva Concert Hall sits empty between shows. / photo Bob Keefer

The Show Goes On, Sort Of

Venues and performers are canceling performances as COVID continues to surge

Live performance is slowing down in Eugene once more as the COVID-19 infection rate continues to skyrocket in Lane County.

So far Gov. Kate Brown hasn’t issued any mandatory restrictions on gatherings of the type imposed at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. But with Lane County Public Health reporting more than 500 new cases a day, performers and venues have begun to voluntarily cut or postpone shows, as Oregonians wait for the curve of infections to fall.

On Jan. 14, Eugene Symphony postponed its Jan. 20 Rachmaninoff concert at the Hult Center to May 26. The performance had originally been scheduled to run in March 2020, and was put off following the governor’s health orders. “Due to the highly contagious Omicron variant and the nature of the orchestra’s work, which calls for extended hours of rehearsal and performance in close proximity to each other, ESA leadership has decided to postpone this concert,” the symphony announced.

Live theater is also taking a hit. Citing an illness in the cast, University Theatre first postponed and then canceled a production of Personal History that was to have opened Jan. 21.

Actors Cabaret of Eugene has put off a Jan. 28 production of the musical Forbidden Broadway, which had already been postponed from a September date. “Rehearsals for Forbidden Broadway have been suspended for now. Ticket sales have been postponed. We ask you to keep in mind that Actors Cabaret is a volunteer-based theater. The last thing we want is for one or more of our volunteers or patrons to be exposed to the ill effects of Covid-19 while visiting Actors Cabaret,” ACE’s website says. Forbidden Broadway is now scheduled to open Feb. 25 for a three-week run.

Some music concerts are being canceled by the performers themselves. “​​As of now, we still have shows, but many artists have been canceling this month,” says Torrey Newhart, president of the board of the Willamette Jazz Society, which runs The Jazz Station in downtown Eugene.

And the indie singer-songwriter Cat Power backed out of a scheduled Feb. 5 concert at the McDonald Theatre, citing COVID. The early part of her national tour was postponed, but there has been no new date set for the Eugene concert.

Other shows are still going on. At least as of press time, Eugene Opera was still planning to open a two-performance run of The Magic Flute on Jan. 28. The opera was among the organizations hardest hit by the 2020 state-mandated shutdown, which led to canceling a production of Tosca just hours after the final dress rehearsal.

Oregon Contemporary Theatre is going ahead with its production of Buyer & Cellar, which is to open Jan. 21 for a three-weekend run. “We’re fortunate to have scheduled a one-person show, and we’re following all protocols, keeping everyone masked except the performer,” writes Craig Willis, OCT’s artistic director, in an email. “Staff, volunteers and patrons are vaccinated, [and] we keep the HVAC system moving air continually. We also aren’t selling concessions, so patrons remain masked the entire time they are in our space. And we’re putting a seat between groups in each row.”

OCT will also offer a streaming option for patrons not comfortable attending in person.

The Shedd Institute hosted more than 50 performances in the last half of 2021, notes Executive Director Jim Ralph, and plans to continue to present shows until ordered otherwise. The only cancellation during the current COVID upsurge was by the performer: Mark Hummel’s 30th anniversary Blues Harmonica Blowout, which was to have taken place Jan. 10.

Even without cancellations, some groups have seen ticket sales slide. Fred Crafts, founder and executive director of Radio Redux, said in an email that “ticket sales are flat” so far for its Feb. 25-27 production of The Fibber McGee and Molly Show’s “The Flying Saucer” episode at the Hult Center. “Keeping our fingers crossed and eyes open,” he said. “Hoping for the best. Working in the background on a Plan B. Again.”

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